After months of protesting against the illegal logging in the protected Białowieża old-growth forest, the European Court of Justice now threatens Poland with a €100.000 fine per day if the country does not end interventions within 15 days. The Court only permits exceptions for the protection of the public safety. This acknowledges a previous order of the EU commission.

In 2016 the Polish government approved the extraction of 188.000 cubic meters of timber in the protected Białowieża forest till 2023. This massive intervention was justified with measures against the spreading of the bark beetle and safety measures for forest roads. Even though it is known that the bark beetle plays a significant role for the natural forest rejuvenation in near-natural forests and contributes to a forest’s biodiversity. Furthermore, NGO’s like Robin Wood, and news sites like Zeit Online and The Guardian state that most of the logging took place far away from any roads.

Excuses for timber harvest

Logging activities to minimise spreading of bark beetle or other infections is defined as sanitary logging. However, authorities often use sanitary logging as an excuse for harvesting of timber. This seems also be he case here in Białowieża forest. And Poland is not the only country where these activities take place. A special report on the deforestation in Romania shows the impact on the old growth forest, and the devastating consequences.

Violation of the European nature conservation law

The EU commission filed a suit against Poland in the European Court of Justice this July. Reason for this suit was the disregard of a claim to stop the illegal logging in the Białowieża forest. This is thus a violation of the European nature conservation law.  Thereupon the European Court of Justice ordered a suspension of the logging, but without the threat of a penalty payment. The Polish government stated to respect the court’s decision, but continued the logging till now.

By the end of October, a formal letter of complaint was addressed to the European Commissioner for Environment. The letter was signed by Angelo Caserta (Regional Director of BirdLife Europe and Central Asia), Prof. Dr. Pierre Ibisch (Centre for Econics and Sustainable Management at the University of Eberswalde), Prof. Dr. Hans Dieter Knapp (European Beech Forest Network and Member of the Executive Board Euronatur), Vance Martin (President, Chairman of the WILD Foundation), Max A. E. Rossberg (Chairman of the European Wilderness Society), Anelia Stefanova (CEE Bankwatch Network) and Radosław Ślusarczyk (Chairman of the Association Workshop for All Beings).

With this new order, the European Court of Justice confirmed the suit of the EU commission. The Polish government immediately stopped the logging in the Białowieża forest. Official reason for this is the successful completion of the measures against the bark beetle. Nevertheless, the clearing already left significant damage in the unique ecosystem. According to investigations of the environmental organisation “ClientEarth”, the foresters cut down 140.000 trees  in the oldest part of the forest between January and August of this year.

One of the last primeval forests in Europe

The Białowieża old-growth forest stretches over 150.000 hectar in the boarder region of Poland and Belarus. It is the only lowland primeval forest of Europe. And it is also home to a lot of endangered species, such as the European bison. A National Park protects the Belarusian part of the old-growth forest. Whereas this is only the case for approximately a fifth of the forest in Poland. However, a part of the Białowieża old-growth forest is UNESCO World Heritage.

 

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