Exclusive interview with a European Bison

Congratulations, you are the largest mammal in Europe!

Yes, thank you! I feel honoured to be the largest, but I also have to admit that my family over in America is still a bit bigger. But I guess everything is bigger in America, right? I’m really proud to roam around the European countryside again. It has been a while since my grandparents walked around here, before most of them were killed.

It came this close for you to go extinct?

Most of my family was hunted down during the 20th century, I don’t really understand why. It’s not like we hunt people or kill their dogs, we just eat grass and shrubs. Anyway, in the end there were animals from just over 10 descendants left, mainly in your zoos. And then, people realised they were about to lose us as a species. Those people created a whole programme for us, choosing with who we had to mate. Ridiculous, I rather choose my own partner.

But the genetic selective breeding saved your species.

For now, yes. But many of my family cope with difficulties, because there is so little genetic variation in our genes. It’s like creating a whole new population with your close relatives, nature doesn’t like that.

Yet, your relatives are walking around different European countries again.

People are breeding my relatives in these so-called ‘re-introduction projects’ across Europe. I’ve heard we can be found all the way into the Netherlands nowadays. But most of my family can be found in eastern Europe, especially around the Carpathian Mountains. One of the biggest groups is living in Poland, but they are facing quite a problem there.

The population in the Bialowieza forest you mean?

Yes, this area is one of the last old-growth forests in Europe, home to nearly 1,000 of my family members. It is a beautiful forest from what I’ve heard, and it’s on your World Heritage list. And now, you humans have started to cut down the trees in Bialowieza forest. Have you guys not learnt from the past? You are definitely going to get us extinct if you continue with this. No wonder my nephew left Poland to search for a better place in Germany last September.

That was the first wild bison in 250 years to reach Germany!

And the same one who was killed instantly as soon as he crossed the river Oder. It is such a shame, he was really an explorer. He was always trying to be unique, I think he really wanted to be in your newspaper. Being the first wild bison in Germany would make some headlines, but things took a dramatic turn. Some guy spotted him in the fields near a little town, and all that those people could think of was to shoot him. With the excuse that the bison would be a threat to the local community, he was killed a few hours later. He must have been proud that he made it to your newspapers, but not the way he expected… Did you know that the killing was unlawful?

So, humans should not be afraid of bison?

Are you afraid of the millions of cows in Europe too? Come on, we are a big brown grass-eating mammal, topped with two horns. There is not much to fear if you just leave us alone. A female bison will be a bit more aggressive when her babies are around, but most of the time we are actually quite calm and friendly. We don’t really look for contact with humans, that’s why you find us in the forest most often.

Are you hiding from us then?

I’ve heard you call us a ‘refuge-species’ sometimes. I like to be both in the forest and the open field actually. Sometimes I end up at those delicious farmlands, eating crops and haystacks. But I guess it’s human responsibility to fence their land properly, not mine. And besides that, I love these young little trees in the forests. They are very juicy, you should try it sometime.

Anything else you like to say?

I’ve got to go actually, I see our herd is moving. Our alpha female found a good spot where we can spend the afternoon. She’s a great leader, I have much respect for her. Let me tell you a quick joke about her. You know what she said to her son, when he left our herd in search of another girl?

I’ve got no idea…

Bison!

Curious to read more? Click on the interview with the brown bearwolverinewolf, lynx and golden jackal!

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3 thoughts on “Exclusive interview with a European Bison

  1. Dear Mr. Perzanowski, let me briefly respond to that, confirming all your facts, as were also described in the interview. As the 5th question confirms, the population in Poland is indeed in Bialowieza forest. Yes, bison normally prefer semi-open forest surroundings. However, in Bialowieza several studies also showed habitat occupation in less open-forest habitats (due to lack of semi-open forest habitats). Whether logging operations impact habitat quality or not, it will impact the bison population’s behaviour due to disturbances and increased human presence if bison share the same area. The bison that was killed in Germany indeed came from a herd in Poland, as stated likewise in the interview. Independent of the original location of the bison, it remains absurd that a bison is killed as soon as it crosses a human-made border, due to different legislation or protection. And the remaining number of bison in captivity could indeed be traced back to just over 10 (i.e. 12) descendants, as was also stated in the interview.
    We thank you for your comments and for sharing our story among the wilderness advocates around the world.

  2. Please, at least try to be in accordance with facts. First – the largest wisent population in Poland is not in the Carpathians but at Białowieża, second – logging in the commercial part of Białowieska Forest does not affect wisent habitat because this is not a close canopy dweller but requires open spaces, third – an individual that was immediately shot by Germans (similarly like wolves crossing Oder River few years ago) did not originate from Białowieża but from West-Pomeranian herd. And finally – after eradication of last wild wisents, 54 animals were left in captivity. Though their genotypes could be traced to just 12 ancestors, but the number of animals that took part in restitution program was different.

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Join more 100+ forest experts demanding a radical change in German forestry management.

Sign the Open Letter to the German Federal Minister of Forestry and Agriculture

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.

Motto: SYSTEMIC FOREST ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT INSTEAD OF WOOD FACTORY

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