Year of inscription on the World Heritage List 1979
Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger N/A
Previous Committee Decisions see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/33/documents/
Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/33/assistance/
UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds
Previous monitoring missions
1999; March 2004: UNESCO/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission; October 2008: World Heritage Centre / IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission
Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports
Illustrative material see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/33/
Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2016
On 30 November 2015, the States Parties of Belarus and Poland submitted a joint report on the state of conservation of the property, which is available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/33/documents/ and provides the following information:
On 9 February 2016, the World Heritage Centre received a letter from the State Party of Poland which invited IUCN to undertake an Advisory mission to “discuss current protection principles” in the Polish part of the property and subsequently invited IUCN and the World Heritage Centre to participate in a conference entitled “Białowieża Forest: myths, facts and the future”. However, due to short notice, lack of clarity with regards to the objectives of the mission and absence of background information on key concerns, it was not possible to organize it in time.
On 23 March 2016, the State Party of Poland submitted to the World Heritage Centre the report of the above-mentioned Conference.
The World Heritage Centre also received a large number of third party submissions raising significant concerns with regards to the impacts from amendments to the Forest Management Plan for the Białowieża Forest District. In conformity with Paragraph 174 of the Operational Guidelines, clarifications on this matter were sought from the State Party of Poland which responded on 5 May 2016, providing the following information:
On 5 May 2016, the State Party of Poland also renewed its invitation for an Advisory mission to the property. At the time of finalization of this report, an IUCN Advisory mission was under preparation.
Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN
The progress reported in the submitted report by the States Parties of Belarus and Poland in establishing a Steering Committee for the transboundary property, which will also be tasked with the development of an integrated Management Plan for the property, is noted.
However, the recently changed situation in the Polish part of the property raises significant concerns. The abovementioned amendments to the Forest Management Plan for the Białowieża Forest District, approved by the Ministry of Environment on 25 March 2016, indicate a threefold increase of wood extraction in the Białowieża Forest District to 188,000 m3 for the period 2012-2021. However, the amendments do not include any specification of where wood extraction would be allowed, including with regards to the boundaries of the property and the areas of old-growth forests, specifically recognized as part of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), although they foresee 1220 m3 of wood extraction in mature stands. Furthermore, the amendments do not specify what type of wood extraction would be allowed and for what purpose, nor do they mention the reasons for the increase. It should also be noted that a complaint (http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/Global/eu-unit/reports-briefings/2016/Complaint%20to%20European%20Commission%20-Poland%20forest.pdf) was submitted by a number of civil society organizations to the European Commission concerning an alleged breach of the EU law by Poland due to the abovementioned changes to the Forest Management Plan. The recently approved "Programme for the Białowieża Forest as a UNESCO Natural Heritage and a Natura 2000 site" which would allow active habitat restoration interventions in two thirds of each of the three Forest districts in Poland within Białowieża Forest also raises serious concerns given potentially significant disturbance of natural ecological processes.
The clarifications provided by the State Party of Poland with regards to the spread of bark beetle are noted. However, this information is focused on the potential impacts to the habitats recognized under the EU Habitats Directive and does not mention any potential impacts on the OUV of the property. No justification of how the proposed measures would address the spread of bark beetle has been provided. On the other hand, it is clear that a significant increase in wood extraction, including of species not affected by bark beetle, would have a negative impact on the OUV and integrity of the property, which is recognized for its undisturbed natural processes and its richness in dead wood, standing and on the ground, which supports high diversity of fungi and saproxylic invertebrates (which depend on dead wood habitats). It is notable that no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the proposed amendments to the Forest Management Plan has been undertaken. Therefore these amendments to enable wood extraction, in particular in the absence of an evaluation of potential impacts on the OUV of the entire transboundary property, clearly represent a potential danger to the property in line with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines. It is therefore recommended that the Committee request the State Party of Poland, in consultation with the State Party of Belarus, to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to assess its current state of conservation and whether the property meets the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger. It is further recommended that the Committee request the State Party of Poland to undertake an assessment of potential impacts of the amendments to the Forest Management Plan on the OUV of the property and to submit the assessment to the World Heritage Centre for review by IUCN and that it urge the State Party to ensure that no wood extraction is permitted within the entire property that could negatively impact on its OUV. Any implementation of timber extraction within the property would provide a basis for immediate inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
It is further noted that the implications of bark beetle and of the proposed measures for the entire transboundary property have not been considered. In this regard, it should be recalled that the World Heritage Committee in its Decision 38 COM 8B.12 requested the States Parties of Belarus and Poland to expedite preparation and official adoption of the integrated Management Plan for the entire transboundary property addressing all key issues concerning its effective conservation and management, particularly those concerning forest and wetlands management. While the confirmation of the foreseen preparation of the plan is welcome, it is recommended that the Committee reiterate its request, as the preparation of such a plan needs to be undertaken as a matter of priority to ensure a coordinated approach to the management of the property and guarantee that no actions can be allowed within the property that could negatively impact on its OUV.
Decision Adopted: 40 COM 7B.92
The World Heritage Committee,