Bialowieza Forest

Białowieża Forest

 

a large forest area located on the border between the USSR and Poland in the watershed of the basins of the Neman, Zapadnyi Bug, and Pripya rivers in Poles’e and the Mazoviia-Podlasie lowland. Total area, approximately 1,250 sq km (of which 740 sq km are in the USSR, on the territories of Brest and Grodno oblasts, Byelorussian SSR).

Topographically, the Białowieza Forest is a hilly outwash plain (elevation, 150–170 m), with sandy, clayey, boggy podzolic, peat bog, and soddy podzolic soils. Pines (more than 50 percent), mixed pine forests, firs, alders, aspen groves, and large areas of oaks and hornbeams dominate the vegetative cover, alternating with swampy expanses, bogs, and peat bogs. The diversity of vegetation has created good conditions for the existence of such valuable mammals as the aurochs, red deer, boar, roe deer, beaver, hare, skunk, squirrel, pine marten, ermine, weasel, badger, otter, lynx, and fox. Birds found in this forest include the capercaillie, hazel hen, and black grouse; the merlin, red kite, black kite, short-toed eagle, greater spotted eagle, lesser spotted eagle, booted eagle, and other daytime predators; the great snipe, snipe, ruff, and other swamp birds; and various owls, ducks, the woodcock, and black stork. A total of more than 50 species of mammals and over 200 species of birds inhabits the Białowieza Forest.

In the eastern part of the forest, on the territory of the USSR, a game preserve has been organized. It has an area of 85,000 hectares (ha) with 63 aurochs (1969). In the western part of the forest, on the territory of Poland, there is a national park (a preserve) which has an area of 5,071 ha (of which 4,700 ha are an absolutely reserved territory) with 151 aurochs (1969).

The wealth and diversity of the fauna in the Białowieza Forest contributed to its becoming a favorite hunting place for Polish kings as early as the 14th century and for Russian tsars beginning in the late 18th century.

The cutting down of trees in the Białowieza Forest and large-scale lumbering operations led to a gradual reduction in the number of aurochs. At the beginning of the 20th century there were approximately 700 head of aurochs in the forest. During World War I and the first few years after the war, all the aurochs were exterminated. In 1929, eight aurochs from Sweden and Germany were brought to the Białowieza Forest; they were protected. (A feeding station for aurochs was established.) In 1939, after the reunification of the territory of western Byelorussia with the USSR, a preserve with 16 aurochs was organized on the forest’s territory.

During World War II the trees and fauna in the Białowieza Forest suffered badly. Under a treaty of 1944 about the state border of the USSR, the western part of the forest with its feeding station for aurochs and the town of Białowieza were included in Poland. After the end of the war ten aurochs were received from Poland, and efforts were begun to increase their number. Beginning in the 1950’s free maintenance of the aurochs was introduced, as well as regular feeding during the winter months.

Research is being done in the Białowieza Forest on the ecology of the game animals and birds, efficient use of its vegetative cover, the preservation of valuable plants, and the correct management of lumbering operations. The Białowieza Forest Nature Museum is in the game preserve; the Nature Museum is in the Polish national park.

REFERENCES

Kartsev, G. P. Belovezhskaia pushcha. St. Petersburg, 1903.
[Romanov, V. S., and G. B. Nadezhdin.] Belovezhskaia pushcha, 2nd ed. Minsk, 1967.
Kester, B. V., and S. V. Shostak. Proshloe i nastoiashchee Be-lovezhskoi pushchi. Moscow, 1968.
Belovezhskaia pushcha: Issledovanniia, issues 1–3. Minsk, 1958–69.
Zapovedniki Sovetskogo Soiuza. Edited by A. G. Bannikov. Moscow, 1969.

I. G. NORDEGA AND L. R. SEREBRIANNYI

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