EU Demands Suspension of Logging in Poland's Bialowieza Forest

  • Poland says it’s cutting primeval forest’s trees to save it
  • EU Commission seeks measures to stop logging immediately

The European Union referred Poland to the Court of Justice over increased logging in the primeval Bialowieza forest, adding to political tensions between the trading bloc and the government in Warsaw.

According to the European Commission, the EU’s executive, the Polish authorities adopted the decision last year allowing for “a three-fold increase in logging operations in the Bialowieza Forest district, as well as for logging in areas so far excluded from any intervention.” The operation poses “a major threat” to the Natura 2000 site, which protects “species and habitats that are dependent on old-growth forests,” the commission said. It’s seeking measures to suspend work immediately.

“Following our repeated calls, we had evidence that logging was still going on and after assessing the reply of the Polish authorities we decided to refer the case to the court,” EU environment spokesman Enrico Brivio told reporters in Brussels on Thursday.

Polish Deputy Environment Minister Andrzej Konieczny told TV Trwam on Wednesday that Poland is “pleased” with the expected decision about the suit as the ministry has “hard data” proving that logging is necessary to stop a beetle infestation in the forest.

Poland’s conservative Law & Justice government has drawn objections from the EU and other international organizations for what they said was an erosion of democratic standards. In a vote on Wednesday, parliament agreed overhaul the judiciary system, a move move criticized the European democracy watchdog, which called it a “major setback for judicial independence.”

The Bialowieza forest, which covers about 1,500 square kilometers (579 square miles) of north-eastern Poland and Belarus, is a Unesco World Heritage site and a part of it forms a national park. The Environment Ministry has said trees will be cut down only in state-managed parts, leaving the park itself unaffected.

“Referring the case to the Court of Justice shows that the proceedings before the Commission were a defeat” for Environment Minister Jan Szyszko, according to non-government organizations, including Greenpeace and ClientEarth, in a statement on Thursday. “His vision of ‘saving’ the primeval forest by logging it hasn’t persuaded experts.”

— With assistance by Marine Strauss

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