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ECJ tells Warsaw to halt Bialowieza forest logging

November 20, 2017

Europe's highest court has ordered Poland to stop logging immediately in its primeval Bialowieza forest. It includes one of the largest surviving parts of a forest that covered the European plain about 10,000 years ago.

Protest against deforestation in Bialowieza forest
Image: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/M. Luczniewski

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Monday that Warsaw would be fined €100,000 ($117,379) for every day it continues logging.

"Poland must immediately cease its active forest management operations in the Bialowieza forest, except in exceptional cases where they are strictly necessary to ensure public safety," the ECJ said in a statement.

The EU referred Poland to the ECJ in September for allowing a three-fold increase in logging operations in the Bialowieza forest district.

The court described the forest as "one of the best preserved natural forests in Europe, characterized by large quantities of dead wood and ancient trees, some of which are centuries old."

The Bialowieza forest in northern Poland
The Bialowieza forest in northern Poland

A test of wills

The government has been accused by the European Commission of logging trees that are 100 years and older, an act which is illegal under EU law.

Many believe the move to open up logging in the Bialowieza forest is a show of strength by the nationalistic Law and Justice (PiS) government, intent on showing the EU – which has accused Warsaw of undermining democracy – that it has the power to do what it wishes with its own land.

The Polish Environment Ministry has said it was not in violation of an EU order as it is only felling trees for public safety reasons.

In recent weeks, the Polish government has accused the Commission of "spreading lies" and "manipulating the facts."

Biological Diversity - The Primeval Forest of Białowieza

Opposition united

Forest patrols by Greenpeace Poland in August found evidence of loggers violating the EU Court's decision in 16 of 30 forest areas. Police detained 22 protesters last week at the headquarters of Poland's forest management agency.

The government began logging in May last year, saying it was clearing dead trees to contain damage caused by a spruce bark beetle infestation. It also justified its move saying it was combatting the risk of forest fires.

This saw the limit raised from 63,000 cubic meters (26.7 million board feet) to 188,00 cubic meters, with about 80,000 cubic meters estimated to have been cleared since the limit was increased.

Bialowieza includes one of the largest surviving parts of a primeval forest that covered most of the European plain about 10,000 years ago.

The Fight for Europe's Last Primeval Forest

jbh/kms (dpa, AFP)