The Białowieża Forest on the borders of Poland and Belarus is the last lowland primeval forest in Europe that is still governed by natural processes. It is now under threat from logging on an unprecedented scale, proposed by the new Polish government ostensibly to halt an outbreak of European spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus). We argue strongly for Białowieża's preservation: it provides a much-needed ecological blueprint for restoring ancient forests, and a unique laboratory for investigating the effects of global change.

The government's proposed measures are to be included as an update to Poland's 10-year forest management plan, which in 2012 set timber extraction at 48,000 cubic metres annually. This limit was enough to meet the needs of local communities and to maintain spontaneous ecological processes.

The planned large-scale felling and salvage logging of infested trees ignores the bark beetle's keystone role in shaping the long-term dynamics and structure of forests (see B. Beudert et al. Conserv. Lett. 8, 272–281; 2015). Moreover, to contain the outbreak, it would be necessary to log 80% of infested trees (L. Fahse and M. Heurich Ecol. Model. 222, 1833–1846; 2011), which would mean violating the 35% of forest area that is protected. It is notable that only 57% of the stipulated harvest refers to spruce, the bark beetle's host tree species.