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Nature protection in Poland is on the verge of a positive revolution

Nature protection in Poland is on the verge of a positive revolution - and one of WePlanet's founding organizations, FOTA4Climate, is spearheading the changes.

Taking a walk anywhere in Polish woodlands - which canopy is a third of the country - has been a dismal experience of late. Stretches of precious tree cover, protecting the soil from erosion, helping water retention, and - last but not least, by far - providing homes to an array of species from insects to large mammals, have been cleared with unnerving consistency.

Poland's state forests manager, Lasy Państwowe, would go on logging as if the recent years haven't seen dramatic changes in temperature and precipitation trends brought about by global warming. Poland is one of Europe's fastest-warming countries.

It was one thing to keep producing wood from not-so-rich plantations that started in neat rows decades ago. But letting in harvesters to wreak havoc in old biocenotic growth sparked anger.

As awareness of the climate crisis keeps spreading, however, there has been an equally dramatic pushback from the grassroots level, with activists and ordinary citizens opposing those practices.

"Enraged by the way forest management has been done in Poland in the past few years, people began to organize, and a raft of activist groups were created," says Paweł Kisiel, a biologist and member of the management board of FOTA4Climate.

"People just couldn't take it. The scale of the logging was staggering," Kisiel says.

The popular movement grew so big, in fact, that the new Polish government - in office since mid-December - has come to recognize the political power of the climate and environment movement and literally promised the exclusion of 20 percent of Poland's most precious forest areas from any more logging. "FOTA4Climate was one of the organizations that rallied against the logging as well as proposed solutions, both down on the ground in particular locations and via getting through to decision-makers," says Kisiel.

Kisiel adds that FOTA4Climate was also one of the groups that signed the so-called Forest Manifesto, a call on politicians to boost the protection of Poland's woodlands.

"It was exactly the kind of pressure that led the parties that are in the current government to write the 20 percent protection goal into their election platforms," Kisiel says, referring to the election campaign in Poland ahead of the October vote.

FOTA4Climate's Adam Bohdan, a biologist and activist from Poland's northeastern region of Białystok - home to such gems as the Białowieża Forest, Europe's last-standing primeval forest relic, says that the next six months will be decisive in getting a revolution in Poland's forest management off the ground.

Bohdan was one of several experts who met then-newly-appointed Climate and Environment Minister, Paulina Hennig-Kloska, in Białowieża to talk about the urgency of the situation.

"We needed to act fast, the new year was about to begin, and with it, a new round of logging. We had to explain to the minister that the time to move was now," Bohdan tells WePlanet.

An ad hoc crisis group set up by the ministry tabled a simple yet revolutionary idea: keep the harvesters away from 10 precious woodland areas to stop logging right away. The plan is now to sit down and write a detailed roadmap to keep 20 percent of Poland's forests free from management the way Lasy Państwowe has come to understand it.

The group had its first meeting in mid-February.

Bohdan is one of the group's members hoping to use the currently favorable political momentum to put Lasy Państwowe in line with the challenges of the climate change era. The forest manager has already seen an overhaul at the top: there is a new director general, and one of his deputies is a renowned ecologist.

"It's crucial to get the process going now so that in a couple of months we know which forests are under the new regime protecting them from logging," he says.

"We want not just precious old growth to be included but also so-called community forests. They might not be as rich, but they are important for the people and the cities the people live in," Bohdan says.

The new approach to forest management is still only budding and will require a lot more effort on top of the work of the ministerial group, Kisiel says.

"There's much opposition from the people linked to the previous government and those who have been profiting off logging. But they should realize that there's no going back to the old way now," Kisiel says.

Bohdan warns of an imminent political risk due to the upcoming local elections. Conservative forces are already stoking fears that increased protection of valuable forests will lead to job losses and economic hardship in municipalities where logging is an important part of the local economy.

"Getting all stakeholders to the table is key now," Bohdan says.

The Climate and Environment Ministry has pledged to do exactly that, with meetings to be organized in the coming weeks and months with local governments, local branches of Lasy Państwowe, and ordinary citizens from the municipalities where logging will be curbed.

The process of involving stakeholders is expected to peak by mid-April with a huge conference to present the ongoing overhaul of forest management in Poland to the wider public. As the popular view of forest protection is shifting, the ongoing revolution might just have what it takes to succeed.


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