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Polish Forests Face Ecological, Social, and Economic Strain Due to Climate Change and Intensive Management, Scientists Warn

ECOLOGYPolish Forests Face Ecological, Social, and Economic Strain Due to Climate Change and Intensive Management, Scientists Warn

Tree felling in recent years in conjunction with climate change have caused Polish forests to gradually lose their ecological, social, and economic functions. To restore these and allow ecosystems to adapt to climate changes, increased protection measures and a decrease in commercial forest management is required, according to scientists from the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN). Dr. Wiktor Kotowski, a professor at the University of Warsaw, member of the PAN Committee for Climate Crisis highlights that we need to disentangle the commercial function of forests from their other functions. This also calls for a more rational management of timber.

Climate change currently impacts the functioning of forest ecosystems, and this impact is set to intensify in the future. The reach of many species is changing, and some are gradually disappearing from Polish forests altogether. Frequent fires, drought, and hurricane winds strengthen or weaken tree stands, subsequently leaving them at the mercy of fungal pathogens and leaf-eating or bark-boring insects such as spruce bark beetles. The pace of tree growth and the structure of the tree stands and forest undergrowth are also gradually changing.

In natural conditions, forests would adapt to these changes, but in Poland, we have forests that serve primarily commercial purposes. Primarily artificial tree stands planted by humans will undergo significant transformations, giving priority to coniferous tree species such as spruce and pine. Pine and spruce forests, which are currently the primary production forests, will grow faster, therefore, decaying and dying off earlier. Experts state that we must be aware that in Poland’s future warmer climate, mainly deciduous forests will flourish.

Intensive forest management and unprecedented tree felling over the years worsen vulnerabilities associated with climate change, resulting in forests gradually losing their ecological, social, and economic functions. This degradation must be mitigated through enhanced protection measures on a significant part of forests that are withdrawn from forest management.

At present, only 1% of forests in Poland are protected. Aspiring to reach 20%, the goal should be to withdraw a considerable portion of forests from timber management and to restore water where forests have been drained, says a member of the PAN Committee for Climate Crisis.

In response to the appeal by 116 non-governmental organizations and PAN Committee to the newly formed Ministry of Climate and Environment and the State Forests to cease tree felling urgently, the Ministry informed in January that it was limiting logging anticipated in 2024 in Poland’s most significant forests (Bieszczady, Puszcza Borecka, Puszcza Świętokrzyska, Puszcza Augustowska, Puszcza Knyszyńska, Puszcza Karpacka, Puszcza Romincka, and Trójmiejski Landscape Park, as well as around Iwonicz-Zdrój and Wrocław).

Forests retain water, which then evaporates, decreasing temperature and later generating rainfall making the micro-climatic role of forests extremely significant. Additionally, forests also control the water flow through basins. If water retention occurs in forests, we encounter less violent flows. Moreover, forests are among the most important carbon dioxide absorbers in nature. Photo-synthesizing plants absorb CO2, and decomposing wood leaves carbon in the soil for a long time.

Research by the “Workshop for All Beings” Association published in March 2023 reveals that 75% of Poles demand an increase in the forest area where logging is not conducted, with 78% believing that the priority of State Forests should be nature conservation.

The Ministry of Climate and Environment is working on a systemic solution aimed at reflecting societal expectations and climate and economic issues in the present and future forest plans. This solution is expected to emerge from consultations with all parties, including forest workers, non-governmental organizations, scientists, representatives of the timber industry, and parliamentarians. An All-Poland Conference on Forests is planned for mid-April.

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