(CN) – In the latest salvo in the battle to save what’s left of an ancient forest that once covered the European plain, an EU magistrate said Tuesday that Poland’s logging plans violate EU law by causing irreparable harm to the breeding sites of protected species.
The Bialowieza Forest is one of the largest and last remaining parts of an immense primeval forest located in Poland and Belarus. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the once-mighty forest – home to the threatened European bison – was severely plundered of timber and wildlife in the 20th century.
In 2007, the European Commission moved to protect the forest under its Natura 2000 environmental program, designating it as important as home to numerous bird and wildlife species. Since then, however, forest managers lobbied for logging under the guise of cleanup since almost have the wood in the forest is dead.
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. The minister denied the forest is 8,000 years old, claiming instead it was created by “an enterprising hand of man” on what used to be wheat fields.
Also, an outbreak of spruce bark beetle created more dead trees and led the Polish government to increase the logging area from 84,000 acres to nearly 156,000 acres. The European Commission sued, claiming the entire project violates the Natura 2000 designation, and sought an emergency injunction of logging activities while the case is litigated.
The European Court of Justice issued the injunction in July, which Poland promptly defied. This led the Luxembourg-based high court to up the ante this past November, issuing an order to cease and desist all “active forest management operations” or face fines of at least $117,000 for every day the order is violated, according to a statement issued by the court.
In his advisory opinion for the EU high court, Advocate General Yves Bot wrote Tuesday that the temporary injunction should be made permanent because Poland’s plans violates its obligations under laws protecting animal habitats and birds.
According to Bot, Poland hasn’t even implemented Natura 2000 conservation measures for the forest. Furthermore, its failure to do so – and its plans to expand logging operations in the forest – cannot be pinned on the spruce bark beetle infestation given the lack of scientific agreement on whether logging is even the best way to combat the beetle.
Bot also noted Poland’s plan to pillage the Bialowieza Forest will cause irreparable harm to the habitats and breeding sites of other beetles that are essential to the health of the forest.
“Consequently, I propose that the court should declare that, by adopting and implementing the forest management measures without satisfying itself that those measures will not adversely affect the integrity of the Natura 2000 Puszcza Białowieska site, and by failing to ensure the conservation and protection of the protected habitats and species, referred to in the commission’s application, for which that site was designated as a site of community interest and a special protected area, the Republic of Poland has failed to fulfil its obligations under the Habitats Directive and Birds Directive,” Bot wrote in the 24-page opinion.
Bot’s opinion is not binding on the court, which has begun its deliberations in the case.