Poland seeks support for logging in ancient forest
The Polish government has opened an exhibition in the European Parliament to justify logging in the primeval Bialowieza forest.
"We want to save the forest from its false defenders, who would allow the forest to rot away before our eyes,” said Jadwiga Wisniewska, the MEP from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party who organised the event.
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Poland’s environment minister Jan Szyszko attended the event's opening on Wednesday (31 August).
Bialowieza - located on Poland’s eastern border with Belarus - is one of Europe’s last primeval forest. It is home to the European bison, the continent's largest mammal, and is protected by Unesco and Natura 2000, an EU conservation programme.
Now, conservationists say, it’s in danger.
The European Commission recently launched an inquiry into the Polish government’s plans to chop down a part of the forest, as this could breach its laws on habitats and birds.
But Szyszko said the extra logging is needed to save Bialowieza from a bark beetle outbreak, which he said was the real threat to the Polish forest.
”More than 4 million cubic meters of wood are rotting, depreciating, species are dying, habitats are lost,” the minister said.
”Meanwhile, the local population has nothing to heat their homes with, and must import dirty coal from Belarus.”
The plan is to increase logging in two thirds of the Polish part of the forest, while leaving one part to nature.
The consensus among scientists and green watchdogs is that the bark beetle outbreak is best dealt with by leaving the forest alone.
Some have also accused Szyszko - a former park warden and professor of forestry - of being too close to the logging industry.
On Wednesday, the minister said he regretted the ”huge misunderstanding” about how the forest should best be defended.
Anti-logging advocates "probably have huge hearts, but know little about ecology", he said.
He said Poland was ready to help other countries restore their habitats, both with expertise and financially.
Poland would, in particular, be happy to help spread the bison to other places where it could thrive.
The EU parliament exhibition was meant to show that Bialowieza has been subject to human intervention for more than 500 years.
Among the guests invited by PiS to speak at the event was Roman Catholic priest Tomasz Duszkiewicz, who cited the Bible as having said that men should “subdue” the earth.
He said the EU must base its decisions on the Biblical Ten Commandments otherwise it would "turn into dust".
Polish opposition party the Civic Platform said the exhibition had just highlighted how the PiS intended to ruin the forest.
"We are both surprised and happy about this exhibition,” centre-right MEP Janusz Lewandowski told Polish news agency PAP.
”Mr Szyszko is not seen as someone nurturing the Bialowieza forest, but rather as someone who risks destroying it with logging.”
The EU Commission is currently studying Poland’s replies to its questions on the logging plans.
An aide to Szyszko said the project had been frozen until the EU query was cleared up.