Polish tree-felling illegal, European Union rules

Cheryl Sanders
April 18, 2018

Back in 2016, Poland had tripled logging quotas and said spruce and pine trees that were more than 100 years old had to be felled because of a beetle infestation.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CURIA) ruled Tuesday that Warsaw's forest management operations had violated EU laws, resulting in the loss of part of Europe's Puszcza Bialowieska Natura 2000 pristine forest site, which is located on the Polish-Belarusian border.

Spanning large swaths of Poland and Belarus, the Bialowieza Forest is a World UNESCO Heritage Site and is highly regarded as one of Europe's last remaining pristine forests - a remnant of a formerly huge stretch of woodland that covered much of the continent.

"The court finds that implementation of the active forest management operations at issue results in loss of a part of the Puszcza Białowieska Natura 2000 site", Tuesday's press release from the Court of Justice states.

The court a year ago also ordered an injunction, aimed at stopping logging while the case was being decided and threatened Warsaw with fines if it failed to obey.

"This is a real chance to seek a compromise solution, which would be in the interest of Poland and the EU", Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski said after the ministerial talks where he presented Warsaw's latest thinking.

The decision comes after the European Commission launched its infringement procedure to stop large-scale logging last July over concerns it would negatively affect conservation efforts and threaten the integrity of the site protected under the EU's Natura 2000 program.

The ruling also compromises Jan Szyszko, Poland's previous environment minister, who said for months he observed European Union law in full in the forest.

"Poland will comply with the judgement of the CJEU", the ministry of environment said in a statement. The ECJ said that was not justified.

"The Polish government should consider enlarging the national park", said James Thornton, head of the environmental campaign group ClientEarth.

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