BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union warned Poland Wednesday not to continue logging in Europe’s last pristine woodland after Warsaw vowed to defy a ruling by the EU’s top court to stop cutting down trees in the Bialowieza Forest.
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said “complying with decisions of Court of Justice of the EU is indeed an integral part of European law upon which our very union is founded.”
Poland’s environment ministry said Monday it would keep logging despite the ban. Polish news channels have broadcast footage of fresh logging this week.
The Bialowieza Forest, one of Europe’s last primeval woodlands and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the subject of a heated political dispute over large-scale logging ordered by Poland’s conservative government. Environmentalists and the EU oppose the logging.
On Saturday, the Commission launched action against Poland claiming that it has restricted judicial independence in the country in violation of EU laws, part of a wider row between Brussels and the EU-skeptic government in Warsaw.
The Commission fears the independence of Polish courts could be undermined by new powers granted to the country’s justice minister.
Andreeva said Wednesday “if it is confirmed that the logging continues to take place in the Bialowieza Forest, the issue will be taken up in the ongoing rule of law procedure with Poland.”
“Poland will have to explain its decision in front of the court,” she said.
The forest covers tens of thousands of hectares (hundreds of thousands of acres) in Poland and Belarus, and is home to hundreds of animal and plant species, including bison, lynx, moss and lichens.
Younger parts of the forest have been traditionally used to produce some timber, which is a source of income for residents.