“Cattle grazing is prohibited after the bison was killed in Białowieża Forest”: Woodland grazing as a traditional form of the peasant forest management in the long 19th century

Fedotova A. A. “Cattle grazing is prohibited after the bison was killed in Białowieża Forest”: Woodland grazing as a traditional form of the peasant forest management in the long 19th century // The Russian Peasant Studies. 2022. V.7. №3. P. 55-88.

DOI: 10.22394/2500-1809-2022-7-3-55-88


The article considers one of the key resources for peasants in Eastern Europe — wood pastures. Based on the new archival materials, the author shows that peasant communities, in the spirit of James Scott, consistently sabotaged the state efforts to ban woodland grazing. During the long 19th century, the state was strengthening control over many aspects of the rural economic life, which gradually made peasant conflicts with the state forest administration more acute. The author applies the casestudy approach to the relationships of peasants and local and metropolitan administration in Białowieża Forest. Its unique feature is a long history of the effective protection measures which facilitated finding sources on the topic. The research revealed the struggle for the control over forest resources between peasants and officials as experts in the ‘rational’ forestry. In the long 19th century, peasants used all available means of resistance: petitions to the authorities of all levels, sabotage of administrative orders, bribes to forestry personnel, and direct violations of orders. The decades of conflicts prove that peasant communities only partially followed the rules introduced by the state administration which tried to change the principles of forestry management to make forests more profitable and ‘rational’. The administration spent significant resources to control wood grazing but achieved very modest results in terms of both reducing the number of livestock in forests and collecting compensation for the damage from ungulates. In the second half of the 19th — early 20th century, there were the most important changes associated with the more consistent and strict control over traditional forest resources, especially in 1889–1915. The administration’s reactions to the peasant petitions were sympathetic and positive at the provincial and ministerial levels, which can be explained by the shortage of pasture and fodder and the general paternalistic sentiments of the government. The administration tried not so much to increase income from wood grazing as to ‘accustom’ peasants to the idea that forests were rather private or state than public property.


Natural resources, Białowieża Forest, long 19th century, wood pastures, peasants, Russian Empire.

About the author

Anastasia A. Fedotova, PhD (Biology), Senior Researcher, Saint Petersburg Branch, S. I. Vavilov Institute for the History of Science and Technology of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Universitetskaya Nab., 5/2, Saint Petersburg, 199034, Russia.
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 



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Russian Peasant Studies. Scientific journal

The Russian Peasant Studies is published by the Center for Agrarian studies of the Russian Presidental Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) since 2016. ISSN 2500-1809 (Print), ISSN 2949-2564 (Online). Frequency - four issues per year. The Russian registration number is PI FS77-65824 27-May-2016. Open access: All volumes and articles can be downloaded for free in the PDF format. Russian Peasant Studies included to Russian Science Citation Index, Russian Science Citation Index Core, List of Journals approved by Russian Hihger Attestation committee (Ministry for Sciende and Education) and  Scopus database. The publisher: Delo Publishing House of the RANEPA. Hard copies of the journal can be purchased at the Delo e-store or by subscription in the "Press of Russia" Agency (subscription index - Т81017). Full list of the RANEPA Journlas

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