Published: Thu, February 22, 2018
Arts&Culture | By Kristi Paul

ECJ adviser says Poland broke law over ancient forest

ECJ adviser says Poland broke law over ancient forest

Poland's decision to increase logging in the primeval forest of Bialowieza breaks EU law, an advisor to the EU's top court said on Tuesday, backing the European Commission against the Polish government.

Poland had argued that the felling of parts of Europe's last remaining primeval forest, where 800 European bison, wolves and lynx roam across shaded clearings, was necessary as part of forest management.

Judges are not obliged to follow the advocate general's opinions, but often do.

Their efforts stalled until 2016, when Poland's new environmental minister - a former forester - approved plans to triple the amount of logging in the Bialowieza Forest. However, on the Polish side, Białowieża is divided into two major segments - one a protected National Park in which natural succession is allowed to occur, and the other designated for state-managed forestry.

Warsaw in 2016 authorized a almost three-fold increase in logging operations in the Białowieża Forest district and also authorized logging in other areas.

In response, a number of Polish and global environmental NGOs filed complaints with the European Commission, claiming that the activities run in breach of EU environmental law.

Last July, the EU Commission announced that it would commence legal proceedings against the Polish government on the matter, and instructed Polish authorities to cease logging activities in the ancient woodland pending the ECJ ruling.

As an interim measure, the ECJ said previous year Poland would be fined 100,000 euros per day if it did not stop large-scale logging in the forest.

According to EU Timber Regulation, illegally harvested timber may not be traded within the EU.

Under the EU's Habitat Directive, EU countries have to take appropriate conservation measures for special areas.

"Poland, as a rule of law state, respects the advocate general's opinion", said Environment Minister Henryk Kowalczyk, who will be in Brussels to meet the EU's environment commissioner on Wednesday to discuss the forest. Its ruling is expected at a later date.

"We welcome the opinion as it is in line with Polish law, global commitments and scientific knowledge".

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