The European Commission has threatened Poland with legal action if it continues large-scale logging in the Bialowieza Forest, one of Europe’s last remaining primeval woodlands and home to rare species of wildlife. The statement from the Commission marks an escalation in its disagreement with the Polish government stemming from its decision to triple the size of the area in which it allows timber harvesting to take place in the protected forest. The Polish government has defended its position on the grounds that the measures are necessary to combat a bark beetle infestation affecting the trees. Environmental groups, however, have accused the government of using this as an excuse to expand commercial logging in the forest. According to the Guardian newspaper, half the trees earmarked to be cut down are from species that are not affected by the outbreak. In its press release, the Commission said that “…the available evidence shows that these measures are not compatible with the conservation objectives of the site and exceed those necessary for ensuring the safe use of the forest. The logging is likely to adversely affect the conservation of the Natura 2000 site’s habitats and species as well as cause irreparable biodiversity loss.”
Bialowieza Forest has been called Europe’s Serengeti because of its exceptional biodiversity, counting some 5,500 plant species and more than 11,000 animal species including large mammals like wolves, Lynx and the largest population of free-ranging European bison. It is also one of the last remaining portions of the ancient forest that once covered Europe more than 10,000 years ago.
It is not the first time that Poland has been threatened with legal action having fallen afoul of EU environmental regulations. In 2015 the EC took Poland to the Court of Justice over poor air quality resulting from its dependence on coal as a source of energy. Home to six of the ten most polluted cities in Europe, some 40,000 Poles die prematurely because of poor air quality.
Due to the ‘threat of a serious irreparable damage’ to Bialowieza, the Polish government has been given one month to respond to the Commission’s concerns, rather than the customary two months, after that, if it fails to comply, it could see itself hauled in front the Court of Justice again.