EU takes legal action over Polish forest
The European Commission is seeking a court order to stop Poland logging in one of Europe’s last ancient forests.
The argument is the latest in a string of rows between Poland and Brussels, following disagreements over the migrant crisis and judicial reform since the nationalist Law and Justice party took power in 2015.
Warsaw last year approved a tripling of felling in the Bialowieza forest, a Unesco World Heritage site, which spans about 140,000 hectares of pristine woodland on the border with Belarus. Parts of the forest are thought to be untouched by humans.
Poland felled 30,000 cubic metres of coppice in the first four months of this year, leading Unesco to threaten putting Bialowieza on its list of world heritage sites in danger.
Agata Szafraniuk of the ClientEarth environmental organisation said that “decisive and immediate action is the only way to avoid irreversible damage to this ancient forest”.
The 8,000-year-old forest is home to the endangered species, like the European bison, but is prone to outbreaks of the spruce bark beetle, which can fell otherwise healthy trees.
EU environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella, said: “We have asked that Polish authorities cease and desist operations immediately. These actions are clear, practical steps that the European Commission has taken to protect one of the last remaining primeval forests in Europe.”
Poland says logging protects the forest from the beetle while the European Commission ruled in April that the felling was “not compatible with the conservation objectives of the site and exceed those necessary for ensuring the safe use of the forest”.
Environment Minister Szyszko, a hunter who is backed by powerful forestry and hunting organisations, has said residents needed logging to protect the forest and their livelihoods, and accused the “leftist and liberal leaning” media of stirring unnecessary international anxiety.
“I firmly object to insults directed against Poland and the Poles,” Szyszko said this week.
Poland dismissed Brussels’ concerns and commenced the logging programme leading the EU’s executive to commence “interim measures compelling Poland to suspend the works immediately” from the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
It usually takes the ECJ around a fortnight to decide on interim measures, lawyers said, but as the court’s summer holiday starts on July 21, a ruling might not be issued before September.
The European Commission took action against Poland in June over its refusal to take in migrants who arrived in Italy and Greece and is also demanding changes to recent Polish legislation which it alleges harms Poland’s democratic institutions.
Poland Bialowieza Hunters’ Mansion. Picture credit: Wikimedia