Young residents of Bialowieza are leaving in droves, and those remaining want to cut down the primeval forest. But the park director says turning the forest into a protected reserve can breathe new life into the region.
Managing and tending to a huge biodiversity hotspot like the Bialowiza National Park is relatively easy for Aleksander Bolbot. What’s far more difficult for the park’s director is convincing local villages that the famous forest in their backyard can benefit the region.
“Many people still think that clearing a forest is the only way to develop a region,” Bolbot said. Nearly 100 years ago, the then 4,700- hectare large Bialowiza primeval forest land was placed under protection.
Since then, the reserve has more than doubled in size. Ever since logging was declared illegal, many factories and companies have closed up shop, taking local jobs with them. Now, Bialowieza’s young people leave early on to seek work and opportunities elsewhere.
Up close and personal
But Aleksander Bolbot believes he has just the plan to create jobs and revitalize the region: a special enclosure that will allow tourists to see the nature and explore Bialowieza up close and personal.
Visitors can wander through the woods and experience the wildlife, without putting the creatures or the ecosystem in the national park at risk. But Bolbot says he will need subsidies from the European Union to be able to fund the project.
The current funds, says Balbot, are simply not enough to maintain the park. “Every year, we are awarded a subsidy from the Polish government that covers a part of the costs. The rest is covered by the income we generate through tours and by renting out guest rooms,” he said.
Some 140,000 tourists come to Bialowieza every year, but many are disappointed to learn that they cannot explore the depths of the virgin forest land.
’’Because the forest is so valuable, we can only take a limited number of people on tours – and only as long as the tours don’t affect the nature,” Bolbot said. Instead, Bialowieza’s ecosystem alone determines the rhythm of life and death in the primeval forest, not humans.
Those strict regulations help save money, too: “60 percent of the park is left to nature’s course. In the rest of the park, we don’t want to change anything for the next 20 years. So preserving the national park really isn’t so expensive,” Bolbot said.
Maintaining the forest may not be costly, but Bialowieza remains a precious commodity as Europe’s last primeval forest.
Writer: Marta Grudzinska/ss
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar