1.         Białowieża Forest (Belarus,Poland) (N 33ter)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1979

Criteria  (ix)(x)

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/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/33/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

March 2004: Joint UNESCO/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission; October 2008: Joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission; June 2016: IUCN Advisory 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 2017

On 27 January 2017, 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/ providing the following information:

On 21 March 2017, the State Party of Poland submitted a letter in response to the World Heritage Centre’s request to provide comments on third party reports about large scale logging occurring in the property. It noted that all actions commenced by the forest stands managers were consistent with the Conservation Measures Plan for the Forest Natura 2000 site “Puszcza Białowieska” and were necessary for the conservation of habitats and species under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives, as well as for ensuring public safety. On 10 April and 28 April 2017, it submitted further letters in response to media articles reporting clearcuttings as well as culling of European bison in Białowieża Forest. It noted, inter alia, that in 2016 an inventory was commissioned by the State Forests to explore the values of the property. The information collected by the inventory would help design measures to address the bark beetle outbreak. It is noted that 20 European bison are culled annually, targeting diseased individuals or those involved in human-wildlife conflict. 

On 11 and 29 May 2017, the World Heritage Centre sent further letters to the State Party of Poland transmitting third party information reporting, inter alia, that large-scale logging would be carried out and that an infringement decision regarding Białowieża Forest in Poland was issued by the European Commission on 27 April 2017. At the time of the drafting of this report, no response from the State Party had been received.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

The decision by the State Party of Belarus to increase the strict conservation zone of the Belarussian part of the property by 1,250 ha is welcomed.

The commencement of the work on the Transboundary Management Plan for the property is noted. While it is understandable that such a process might require more time to be completed, it should be recalled that the preparation of this Plan was already requested by the Committee at its 38th session in 2014 when it approved the extension of the Polish part of the property. Until such an integrated management framework is in place, the property will remain subject to different management regimes with different approaches and to decisions based on individual forest management plans.

The information provided by the States Parties regarding the so-called sanitary cuttings being undertaken in the Polish part of the property is noted. The sale for firewood in 2016 of 10,427 m3 out of 47,640 m3 of wood harvested in three forest districts, and the uncertainty about what happened with the remaining wood are noted with concern.

The conclusion of the submitted SEA that the amendment to the FMP for the Białowieża Forest District, which provided for an increase in tree felling, would not result in any negative impacts on the Natura 2000 site “Puszcza Białowieska” is questionable, in particular in light of the infringement decision issued by the European Commission, which clearly indicates that such negative impacts are likely. The evaluation of the potential impacts of the amendment to the FMP for the Białowieża Forest District on the OUV of the property submitted by the State Party of Poland mainly outlines the process by which the above-mentioned SEA was prepared and its main conclusions. Although the OUV of the property is mentioned in this document, the SEA itself is focused on the conservation of the Natura 2000 site and does not specifically assess potential impacts on the OUV of the property. The additional information submitted by the State Party of Poland also repeatedly notes that the forest management measures undertaken in Białowieża Forest are in line with the Conservation Measures Plan for the Natura 2000 site. In this context, it should be noted with utmost concern that the European Commission has issued a reasoned opinion as a next step in its infringement procedure, warning the State Party of Poland over increased logging, which would be likely to adversely affect the conservation of the Natura 2000 site's habitats and species, causing irreparable biodiversity loss. Furthermore, the European Commission expressed concern over the removal of 100-year and older trees and over the fact that operations are being carried out in habitats that should be strictly protected. The reasoned opinion further notes that, according to the evidence available, these measures would exceed those that would be necessary for ensuring the safe use of the forest (http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-17-1045_en.htm). It should be recalled that in its Decision 40 COM 7B.92 the Committee specifically requested the State Party of Poland to maintain the continuity and integrity of protected old-growth forest. Therefore, felling of trees in these areas raises serious concerns. Third party reports of logging targeting species other than those affected by bark beetle have also been received, which is also of particular concern given that such logging cannot be justified as so-called sanitary cuttings. It is recommended that the Committee urge the State Party to clarify this information, recalling that the Committee expressed its position that commercial timber extraction would represent a potential danger to the property in accordance with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines.

It is recommended that the Committee request the States Parties to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to assess whether the undertaken and planned forest management operations represent a danger to the OUV of the property, and to consider whether the property meets the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Decision Adopted: 41 COM 7B.1

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/17/41.COM/7B.Add,
  2. Recalling Decision 40 COM 7B.92, adopted at its 40th session (Istanbul/UNESCO, 2016),
  3. Welcomes the decision by the State Party of Belarus to increase the strict protection zone of the Belarussian part of the property;
  4. Notes the information provided by the States Parties regarding the activities termed sanitary cuttings undertaken in the Polish part of the property and the conclusions of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the Amendment to the Forest Management Plan for the Białowieża Forest District but, noting that the separate evaluation of potential impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property mainly summarized the conclusions of the SEA, considers that the focus of the SEA on assessing potential impacts to the Natura 2000 site “Puszcza Białowieska”, does not represent an adequate assessment of impacts on the OUV of the property;
  5. Reiterates its position that commercial timber extraction within the entire property would represent a potential danger to the property in accordance with Paragraph 180 of the Operational Guidelines, and notes with utmost concern the infringement decision issued by the European Commission in relation to Białowieża Forest in Poland, which noted that increased logging is likely to adversely affect the conservation of the site's habitats and species as well as cause irreparable biodiversity loss, including through removal of 100-year and older trees, and that these measures would, according to the evidence available, exceed those that would be necessary for ensuring the safe use of the forest;
  6. Reiterates its request to the State Party of Poland to maintain the continuity and integrity of protected old-growth forest in Białowieża Forest and strongly urges it to immediately halt all logging and wood extraction in old-growth forests, and to clarify third party reports about logging targeting species other than those affected by bark beetle, which cannot be justified as so-called sanitary cuttings;
  7. Requests the States Parties to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to evaluate current and potential impacts of ongoing and planned forest management operations on the OUV of the property and to assess whether the property meets the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger;
  8. While also noting the conclusion of the States Parties that the preparation of the Transboundary Management Plan for the property will require several years, also reiterates its request to the States Parties to prepare such a Plan as a matter of priority in order to ensure a coordinated approach to the management of the property and to guarantee that no actions can be allowed within the entire property that could negatively impact on its OUV;
  9. Also requests the States Parties to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2018, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 43rd session in 2019 , with a view to considering in case of confirmation of ascertained or potential danger to Outstanding Universal Value, the possible inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.