Poland says it′s complying with EU warning to stop logging or face fines | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 22.11.2017
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forests

Poland says it's complying with EU warning to stop logging or face fines

Although the Polish government insists it is following a European Union court ruling that ordered a stop to logging in the Bialowieza forest, it continues to cut trees — for the purpose of "public safety."

Poland has reacted coolly to a warning it must immediately stop logging in the forest, admitting that it wants to avoid fines but also claiming its actions are entirely lawful.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ), based in Luxembourg, said on Monday that the country will be fined €100,000 ($118,000) per day if it does not stop large-scale logging in the ancient forest, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Jan Szyszko, environment minister for Poland, was dismissive and unclear when asked whether the government would follow the order. When questioned during a conference, he simply replied: "Why are you talking about logging?" Meanwhile, speaking to radio Wnet, he claimed the government "100 percent" fulfills the tribunal's recommendations.

The minister said there is no risk Poland will have to pay the fine, as it already observes EU law and the court's decision. He reiterated that any tree-cutting actions in Bialowieza are for the safety of visitors. 

The EU had said: "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."

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#SaveBialowieza forest in Poland

Poland's actions hinge on interpretation of the word "necessary" — Szyszko considers the term "logging" to be an unsuitable description of actions in Bialowieza. Instead, the ministry has referred to "sanitary cutting" or "actions taken."

The government has argued that its actions would help stop an unprecedented bark beetle outbreak that harms spruce trees. It would also ensure the safety of people strolling in the forest, where trees have been weakened, the government previously said. 

This stance is fiercely disputed by activists, who have been in an ongoing battle with the government since it decided to triple the amount of logging allowed in the Bialowieza forest in March 2016.

This month, Polish police detained 22 people "for disturbing the peace" after they staged a sit-in at Poland's forest management agency. Police were also accused of using force to remove up to 50 protestors, some of whom had chained themselves to a gate.

Katarzyna Jagiello, from Greenpeace, told reporters in front of the ministry's building on Tuesday that trees from the Bialowieza Forest continued to be "logged, taken away and sold."

But Poland's Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski countered to radio RMF that the government does want to avoid losing money. "We will be doing everything to avoid the fines," he said.

ayp/sad (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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