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Legal status

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Brown bears have been fully protected by law in Poland since 1952. According to the Act from 16th of April 2004 about Nature Protection (Acts Laws from 2004 No. 92 item. 880) and the Regulation of the Minister of Environment from 28th of September 2004 about wild animals under protection (Acts Laws of 2004 No. 220, item. 2237) bears in Poland are strictly protected species, requiring active protection. It is prohibited to kill, injure or capture the bears; hold them captive, destroy their winter dens, disturb bear cubs, as well as to keep and sell their pelts and other parts of dead individuals without proper authorization. For wild animals it is required to determine areas of refuge, breeding or regular residence. Bears require a protection zone of 500-meter radius around the winter dens in the period from 1 November to 30 March.

The brown bear is listed in the Annex II and IV of the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC). It is listed as a priority species and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) should be designated within the Natura 2000 network to protect the species. Bears are also protected by the Bern Convention. In the "Polish Red Data Book of Animals" have the status NT (near threatened) - lower risk species, but close to danger.



Many factors are threatening the future persistence of the bear population in Poland. The Action Plan for the Conservation of the Brown Bear in Europe has identified habitat fragmentation and human access to bear habitat as the major threats for the species in Poland. These threats are also important in Slovakia and Ukraine, countries sharing the bear population with Poland. It has been suggested that the area of brown bear occurrence in Poland is contracting due to exploitation and fragmentation of forest and to an increasing human pressure. On the other hand, the increasing artificial supply of food resources, as dumps, has created the additional problem of conditioned bears, frequently documented in the Tatra mountains. Thus, the risk of conflicts between bears and people has considerably increased in the last decade. More than half of the documented bear deaths in the Polish Carpathian mountains were human-caused. Future economical development may have important consequences for the persistence of the population if adequate conservation measures and land planning are not implemented.



Habitat loss and fragmentation

pic 89Bears are nowadays restricted to forested areas. They have very large spatial requirements and need wide continuous areas of suitable habitat. Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are probably the main threat for the long-term persistence of the Polish bear population. The fast development in the mountain areas and the construction of roads and highways may lead to big problems for Polish bears in a close future. The lack of municipal urban plans and the increasing uncontrolled development of tourist infrastructures in the Polish Carpathians are fragmenting and destroying bear habitat. An important problem reducing the quality of bear habitat is building ski investments within large forest complexes.



Human disturbance

The Carpathian mountains are a popular recreation area throughout the year and unfortunately bears are also disturbed during the whole year. Tourist business is rapidly developing, with the subsequent increase in the number of visitors, and the development of infrastructures like hotels, mountains shelters and skiing stations. The growing human pressure in the Carpathian forests is particularly evident during holidays and weekends, when on the trails and forest roads can travel thousands of tourists. Intensive logging and hunting activities may also disturb bears. Forest roads are also used by off-road vehicles and noisy quads and cross motorcycles and facilitate human access to remote bear areas. The winter, the period of winter sleep, coincides with the peak of activity of skiers and snowmobile users. Climbers and free skiers, with access to remote areas, may be a great disturbance for bears. Most ski resorts are located near the bear refuges, and the noise and vibration emitted by motor scooters, lifts, and accompanying loud music, greatly disturb dormancy of these animals.



pic 90Some bears may lose their natural fear of man and later also natural instinct to acquire food. They may become used to people and link them to an easy acquisition of food. This synanthropic behaviour of animals is a direct response to man-made changes in their lives, especially the overabundant supply of food at garbage dumps and restaurants containers. This phenomenon appeared in the Tatra mountains as the earliest in Poland. More than a decade ago, a programme to monitor those nuisance bears was established. This programme included identifying such individuals with ear tags or telemetry collars, deterring them from human settlements with rubber bullets, removing garbage and using electric fences to protect garbage bins. These measures have been very successful and since then, nuisance bears are just accidental events.




Most cases of killed bears come from illegal hunting (confused with ungulate and shot) and poaching with snares. Very often the victims are young animals, for example cubs disturbed from the den or young drowned. A recent and unfortunate example is the death of a young bear in 2007, which was first attracted with food and later killed by tourists in the Tatra National Park. Collisions with cars and trains are also a cause of mortality, which it may be expected to increase in future. Bears that survive collisions, but are injured, may become dangerous for people. Such case was recorded for example in the Slovak Tatra Mountains, where a bear was hit by an electric train and few days later heavily injured a tourist.






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