Poland celebrates bison’s 90th anniversary by killing 40

In 2019, Poland is celebrating the 90th anniversary of the return of the European bison. The European bison is the largest mammal on land in Europe, and present in several populations. Many conservationists and researchers continue their work to secure the future of this species. The Polish General Director of the Environmental Protection has a different point of view, as Greenpeace Poland states. With the Director’s latest approval, Poland will kill 40 bison this year.

A returning challenge

The consent for killing 40 bison regards the individuals as unwanted for several reasons. Some individuals are supposedly carrying diseases, while others are perfectly healthy. In other cases, the population size is apparently to big. It is not the first time that Poland is trying to reduce the number of bison. In 2017 and 2018, there was a lot of international attention demanding to stop the bison hunt. Greenpeace Poland even published a thorough report alongside a petition with over 80 000 signatures.

Killing as last resort

Back then, Poland wanted for example to kill 10 bison in the Borki Primeval Forest, as the population of 111 individuals exceeded the limit of 95 that was set by authorities. The Polish Ministry of Environment started a discussion on the status of the bison in response to Greenpeace’ actions early 2018. So far, no major changes occurred and unlawful hunting practices continue. In fact, there are even hunting advertisements on the internet, promoting the bison hunt in Poland. According to the Environmental Protection office, killing bison is the only solution. Opponents do not share the view that killing is the only solution. Also according to regulations, all other means must be implemented, before killing can be used as last resort.

Nature under pressure

A big bison population is residing in Bialowieza Forest, which is also facing large pressures. Last years, the EU threatened to fine Poland for illegal logging operations in protected old-growth parts of the forest. The European Court of Justice declared the logging unlawful, as the excuse of preventive bark-beetle control was incorrect.

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3 thoughts on “Poland celebrates bison’s 90th anniversary by killing 40

  1. This comment was written by J.D. Ferro, requesting to post this on his behalf.

    I was trying to post a comment in this article in your website but it was impossible since the Post Comment button was covered by the Partners information making it impossible for me to comment the comment of Madam Prof. Olech-Piasecka. If you would be so kind to repair the page or to post my comment since this subject is very dear to me. To this last comment I have a few things to say. First of all you mention that bison experts were included in the research team to give opinion about the process of culling the bison but you must correct it since the only ones included were the of the State Forest and no one included the opinion of the Mammal Research Institute since the opinion of the researches from this Institute are contrary to the opinion of the State Forest and the Environmental Ministry and very negative regarding all the process and the philosophy behind it.

    Different NGO’s including Greenpeace base their information in local research made by local experts they don’t take information from the air and they do discuss it with the local experts (maybe not the experts the government prefers). The way the information is applied is debatable and many times as much propaganda as the information delivered by the State Forest or the Polish Government.

    The bison population is growing because the carrying capacity allows for it and the numbers presented by the government to limit the bison population are not based on the capacity of the environment to sustain the population but on the numbers accepted by the Forestry services to limit the bison impact in what they call managed forests. Otherwise how would you explain that the carrying capacity of Bialowieza is about 1 bison for each 50ha of land like it was 8000 years ago?!

    The best way to preserve the genetic diversity of any population is not by shooting them even when you use an argument like tuberculosis outbreaks, maybe you are not aware but deseases are part of nature cycles.
    Elimination or hunting has the same efect… a dead animal, you can call it in a fancy way but the practical efect is the same and the moral of it very questionable when the all european bison population in the world is just a bit more then 6000 individuals.

    And the last of your arguments could not be more far from the truth! That the bison profit from forest logging is at least sad and neither the director of the Mammal Research Institute neither the director of the Bilaowieza geobothanical station agree with this argument since logging is only good for the pockets of some people in the wood business.

    The last statement, Madam Prof. Olech-Piasecka with all the respect for you as a person I must say every body in the real scientifical community in Poland and abroad knows your philosophy and the kind of statements you do and how far they are from the general perspective of modern bison conservation.

    Best Regards

  2. Dear prof. dr. Olech-Piasecka, thank you for your extensive additional information and point of view. If you want to share documents and data on this, you are more than welcome to contact us directly. We would gladly share more positive news on the Polish European bison situation.

  3. First. the 90th anniversary not “of the return of the European bison” but of the beginning of restitution in Bialowieza – so we can tell about return to Bialowieza. In 2015 we have 150 years anniversary of breeding the European bison in Pszczyna.
    Second. The Polish General Director of the Environmental Protection decided to give permission for killing some number of European bison after detailed and long process of collecting the opinions from those who are specialist in the area. The Greenpeace is organization without specialist in the area of European bison conservation and it is very sad this NGO is not discussing the problem with people directly involved in species conservation in Poland but it is making the sensation in media. You wrote 40 animals will be killed and remember that in Poland in last years we have ca. 250 new born European bison every spring. So from demography point of view it is some percent and population is growing every year. The reason of killing is health status and welfare of animals. We are making very detailed health monitoring to prevent the species (we have few times tuberculosis outbreak). Also post mortem we collect oocytes and sperm and conserve them for future just because of low genetic variability of the species.
    Third. The European bison is no hunting species so elimination is no hunting. In previous year it was possible to pay for killing and taking trophy. This is a method of collecting money for conservation accepted by IUCN.
    Fourth. European bison needs open spaces but within forested area, so any logging is profitable for the species. So it is not true that any cutting trees in managed part of Bialowieza Forest could have negative influence on European bison – completely opposite – for European bison the forest management is profitable. Now with many dead trees in Bialowieza forest only large carnivores have good condition because deer or wisent cannot easily escape.
    Please learn more about the subject before making such news. Please visit website of those who are working for species conservation, those who collect and give money for this. And please do not believe the first organization who is complaining without checking the other side.
    Also please very much – always use European bison (two words) or wisent because the only one word (bison) can mean any of two species from the genus.

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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.


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