It’s a cool, gray day in early October, and the town of Białowieża in northeast Poland looks peaceful. But outside a three-star hotel, some two dozen environmental activists have gathered, wearing masks with a photo of Poland’s minister of the environment, Jan Szyszko, and white T-shirts that say “I’m a liar.” There’s a rumor that Szyszko is coming to town today. Just opposite the activists, a similar number of people hold banners supporting him, some wearing hard hats and safety vests and others in camouflage hunting outfits. Police cars are pulling up; an ambulance is parked nearby just in case.
Białowieża (pronounced be-ah-wo-VE-zha) is the gateway to Europe’s most primeval forest, famous for its giant oaks, wild bison, wolves, and woodpeckers. The town is also the center of a battle about the future of the forest—a conflict that has sharply divided Poland and pitted foresters against ecologists and other researchers. The issue has even widened a rift between the country’s conservative “law and justice” government and the European Union. read more >>