WARSAW – Poland’s environment minister said that it would continue to fell trees in selected areas of an ancient forest despite an order from the European Union’s most senior court to halt all logging activity in what is a protected heritage site.
The European Court of Justice ordered the Polish government to end its timber-felling activities in the Bialowieza Forest, the final remnants of a primeval forest that once spanned the entirety of the European Plain and now is home to the continent’s last remaining wild bison.
“We are acting within the laws of the European Union,” Environment Minister Jan Szyszko insisted at a press conference, adding that certain selected areas of the woodland would continue to be logged in order to thwart a recent outbreak of bark-eating beetles.
“We have to complete the protective measures and that it was we are doing,” said Konrad Tomaszewski, who heads the state forestry board, reiterating a long-held government position on logging in the Polish side Bialowieza, which stretches into neighboring Belarus, too.
Environmental activists in Poland, however, doubt the veracity of the populist-nationalist government’s agenda with regards to the outbreak of European spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) and claim it is a pretext to use areas of the protected woodland for timber and increase political support in those areas by investing money in that industry.
Currently, around 10,500 hectares (25,946 acres), which is approximately 16 percent, of the Bialowieza Forest has designated national park protection in Poland, meaning no logging can take place.
Another 20 percent receives partial protection, but the rest is open to commercial deforestation.
The forest, which dates back around 10,000 years, is not only home to Europe’s last-standing wild bison, but also hosts an array of spectacular animals such as the European wolf, the Eurasian brown bear and the Eurasian lynx.
The Law and Justice (PiS) party government in Poland has been at odds with the European Union over a host of separate issues.