Ancient forest Punios silas in Lithuania under threat

Forest in Europe is permanently attacked. The excuses for heavily logging broadleaf and conifer forests are not only natural disturbances such as windfall, snow or drought, but also the impact that insect pests and fungal disease have. However, besides that it seems that private interest and recreational activities play a role. Here is an example from Punios Šilas forest in Lithuania threatened with increased hunting and logging.

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In July, the Lithuanian government announced a surprise U-turn on the previous commitment of the Ministry to enhance the protection of the ancient Punios Šilas forest. The forest is part of the Natura 2000 European ecological network due to its high ecological value. Furthermore, it is one of Europe’s most ancient forests, home to more than 100 endangered species. However, NOW it is at risk from commercial logging and the threat of increasingly intensive hunting.

New Lithuanian Minister of the environment Mr. Kęstutis Mažeika announced the plan to intensify the commercial hunting activity in this ancient woodland.

The Punios Šilas forest – located within a dramatic bend of the River Nemunas – is currently split between a small highly protected 457-hectare nature reserve and a larger 2,313-hectare botanical zoological reserve where hunting and logging is permitted. Therefore, the former Minister of the Environment Kęstutis Navickas pledged to enlarge the highly protected area to cover the entire forest and outlaw all commercial activities. However, Mažeika discarded the plans as he vetoed the proposal.

Punios šilas is “small brother” to Białowieża

The Punia is one of a very few ancient forests left in Lithuania. It is a “small brother” to Białowieża primeval forest in located in Poland but due to its large landscape and habitat diversity it is a shining pearl of natural heritage in Europe. Some of its oak trees are around 600 years old. Such ancient forest is now nearly extinct in Europe.

Mr. Žymantas Morkvėnas
Director of the Baltic Environmental Forum

Behind the scenes: hunting

Experts assume that real motivation of Mazeika (who is himself if passionate hunter) is actually hunting. Currently, the state forestry company organises hunting in Punia. However, Mazeika said that he would like these rights to be administered by a private hunting club instead. Consequently, this could lead to more intensive and less regulated hunting practices.

Mazeika issued his decision to stop the enlargement of Punios Šilas strict protection status on 12 July, the day of the new president’s inauguration. As the president expressed a vision to make Lithuania “greener” during his term, this decision acts like a slap in his face.

The full text of the a campaign statement and more information is in the attachement below.

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