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22nd Jan 2021

Poland wrong to log in ancient forest, says EU lawyer

  • Storks in the Bialowieza forest. The Polish government justified its increased logging in the primeval forest by arguing there was a unprecedented spread of the spruce bark beetle (Photo: lehorhe)

Poland has neglected its European obligations by logging in the primeval forest of Bialowieza, according to one of the EU's most senior legal advisers.

Advocate general Yves Bot of the Court of Justice of the EU said on Tuesday (20 February) that Poland "has failed to fulfil its obligations" under two nature-related EU directives – the Habitats directive and the Birds directive.

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Bot's opinion released on Tuesday is non-binding, but the court generally accepts the opinion of an advocate general.

The case involves Poland's decision to increase cutting of ancient trees in Bialowieza to combat the spread of the spruce bark beetle.

In 2016 the Polish environment minister authorised an increase in wood harvesting in the forest. This was followed by a 2017 decision by the Polish forestry office to fell trees colonised by the spruce bark beetle.

The European Commission subsequently began a legal procedure aimed at reversing the Polish decision, which is now before the Luxembourg-based court.

The advocate general said, according to a press statement, that Poland had not carried out necessary measures to protect the Bialowieza site, which is part of the EU's Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

He said that the logging as a means to fight the beetle was not substantiated by sufficient scientific evidence.

The measures "cannot be justified by an unprecedented spread of the spruce bark beetle, in view of the divergence of scientific opinion on whether they are appropriate", the statement said.

Poland also failed to carry out required assessments before starting to increase the logging, the advocate general said.

The environmental lobby group ClientEarth said in a statement on Tuesday that the legal opinion was not surprising, and that it confirmed its stance.

It noted that the minister responsible for the decision, Jan Szyszko, has since been dismissed.

"We hope that minister [Henryk] Kowalczyk, who took over from Jan Szyszko a month ago, will put an end to the destructive policy of his predecessor and grant the whole of Bialowieza Forest national park status," said ClientEarth.

Before leaving, Szyszko had already ordered an end to the increased logging last November, when the court of justice told Poland to suspend it.

Later on Tuesday, the Polish environment ministry issued a statement, saying that Poland "will adhere to the final judgement of the court regarding the Bialowieza Forest".

"The Bialowieza Forest is an exceptionally valuable area for Poland, and all activities to date have been undertaken with its preservation in the best possible condition for present and future generations in mind," Kowalczyk said in the statement.

This article was updated 20 February, 14:16, to include the statement by the Polish environment ministry

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