Białowieża byälôvyĕ´zhä [key], Belarusian Bielavieskaja pušča, Pol. Puszcza Białowieska, Rus. Belovezhskaya Pushcha, large forest, c.450 sq mi (1,170 sq km), E Poland and W Belarus. The last great first-growth forest of Europe, its varied trees (predominantly pines) shelter many animals, including boar, deer, European bison, and tarpan horse. It was a favorite hunting ground of Polish kings. It passed to Prussia in 1795, was annexed by Russia in 1807, but was restored to Poland in 1921 when the country was reestablished after World War I. The first Polish national park was established as forest reserve in the center of the forest in 1921. In 1939 the forest was incorporated into the USSR after its invasion and annexation of E Poland. After World War II nearly half of the region was returned to Poland. Today both sections of the forest have national parks, and the entire Polish section is protected under European Union directives.
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