€100,000 fine per day when Poland continues illegal logging in Białowieża forest

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.

Please also read: Preliminary ruling says Polish logging Bialowieza was illegal

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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Sign the Petition for resilient forests


90 signatures

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


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