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An activist being removed from the protest - 6 Sept 2017. © Grzegorz Broniatowski, via Greenpeace
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Polish government must be fined for ignoring logging ban, commission says

Catherine Early

16th September, 2017

Pressure is building on the European Court of Justice ahead of a decision on whether to uphold a logging ban in Poland. CATHERINE EARLY reports

We hope, for the sake of the forest, that the court will uphold the emergency logging ban.

The European Commission has called on the EU’s most senior judges to penalise Poland for flouting an emergency ban on logging in Białowieża Forest, the best preserved forest ecosystem in Europe.

In July, the court ordered all chainsaws and harvesters to be stopped immediately while it considered the case. EU judges issued the emergency ban due to intensive logging taking place in the forest, which is in breach of EU nature laws.

Polish authorities have claimed that they are removing trees to tackle a bark beetle infestation. Last year, the government approved a plan that would allow a threefold increase in logging in the forest – about 140,000 hectares of pristine woodland on the border between Poland and Belarus, parts of which are untouched by humans.

The forest is home

But many scientists and the European Court confirm that bark beetles are not a threat to the forest, and if the natural ecosystem is left alone, it will thrive. Dead trees are extremely important for the biodiversity of the forest, they argue.

The timber harvesting has been opposed by the Polish public, scientists and environmental campaign groups including Greenpeace, WWF and ClientEarth. The forest is home to many rare birds, lynxes, wolves and the biggest wild-ranging herd of European bison.

But Polish environment minister Jan Szyszko not only ignored the court’s temporary ban, but declared his intention to openly, the first time this has happened in the history of the European Union, according to campaign group Client Earth.

ClientEarth lawyer Agata Szafraniuk said: “We hope, for the sake of the forest, that the court will uphold the emergency logging ban and do everything to make Minister Szyszko obey the law, which is here to protect Bialowieza’s unique nature.

“Ten years ago, when Mr Szyszko was first Polish Environment Minister and was served another emergency interim measure to protect nature, he changed his attitude and complied. He must do the same now,” she added.

Activists removed

The Polish government now has four days to respond to the court, which is then expected to make its decision by the beginning of October.

The commission launched the legal case, which has been fast-tracked at every stage, in 2016, after a formal complaint by ClientEarth and seven other campaigning organisations.

This week, activists from across Europe have joined Greenpeace Poland to stop the logging. Dozens of people have been chaining themselves to trees and logging machinery to stop foresters.

Marianna Hoszowska, head of communications for Greenpeace Poland, has argued: “Some of the activists have already been removed by guards, but we aren’t moving until we know that this forest is protected.

“We will not let this ancient and fragile ecosystem be cut down for profit. We won’t stop resisting until the entire forest is recognised as a National Park."

Strict protection zone

In July, a meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Poland reiterated concern about the running commercial logging damaging the Bialowieza Forest and urged Poland to immediately halt wood extraction in the old-growth forests.

Poland had allowed the increased logging activities without evaluating the potential impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value of the Forest, for which it was inscribed on the World Heritage List, UNESCO said.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian government has increased the strict protection zone on its side of the forest by 1,250 hectares. The court’s verdict on the ban is expected in the next few days.

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and the former deputy editor of the environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.

 

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