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EC calls for immediate suspension of logging in Poland's Białowieża Forest

The European Commission (EC) refers Poland to the Court of Justice of the EU and requests interim measures to stop logging operations in Białowieża Forest, one of Europe's last remaining primeval forests and a protected Natura 2000 site. As logging operations have started on a significant scale, the Commission is also requesting the Court for interim measures compelling Poland to suspend the works immediately.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and an EU protected Natura 2000 site, the Białowieża Forest/Belovezhskaya Pushcha on the border of Poland and Belarus is one of Europe’s last remaining primeval forests and home to 25 percent of the European Bison population (photo © Mateusz Szymura).

On 25 March 2016, the Polish authorities adopted a decision allowing for a three-fold increase in logging operations in the Białowieża Forest district, as well as for logging in areas so far excluded from any intervention.

These measures – which include the removal of century-old trees – pose a major threat to the integrity of this Natura 2000 site. The Natura 2000 site protects species and habitats that are dependent on old-growth forests, including the availability of dead wood. For some of these species, the Białowieża Forest is the most important or the last remaining site in Poland.

The available evidence shows that these measures are not compatible with the conservation objectives of the site and exceed those necessary for ensuring the sustainable use of the forest. In addition, the decision was preceded by an inappropriate assessment of the impacts of the measures on the Natura 2000 site.

In April 2017, the Commission issued a reasoned opinion urging Poland to refrain from large-scale logging and giving Poland one month to comply. In spite of this, Poland has begun to implement its plan.

The Commission considers that the increased logging in the Białowieża Forest requires the adoption of interim measures, which are granted by the Court only in exceptionally urgent and serious cases. According to EU law (article 279), the Court of Justice can prescribe interim measures to require a Member State to hold back from activities causing serious and irreparable damage before a judgement is given.

The Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC) requires the establishment of the Natura 2000 network which made of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), and Special Protection Areas for Birds (SPAs). Each Member State identifies and proposes sites that are important for the conservation of species and habitats listed in the Habitats Directive occurring naturally in their territory. The Birds Directive (Directive 2009/147/EC) creates a comprehensive scheme of protection for all wild bird species naturally occurring in the EU.

Białowieża Forest World Heritage site

Bialowieza Forest is a large forest complex of primary forest including both conifers and broadleaved trees situated on the watershed of the Baltic Sea and Black Sea located on the border between Poland and Belarus. The property includes a complex of lowland forests that are characteristics of the Central European mixed forests terrestrial ecoregion. The Bialowieza National Park, Poland, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979 and extended to include Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Belarus, in 1992. A large extension of the property in 2014 has resulted in a 141 885 ha property with a buffer zone of 166 708 ha.

 

This includes extensive undisturbed areas rich in standing and on the ground dead wood displaying a high diversity of fungi and saproxylic invertebrates. The property protects a diverse and rich wildlife of which 59 mammal species, over 250 bird, 13 amphibia, 7 reptile and over 12,000 invertebrate species. The iconic symbol of the property is the European Bison: approximately 900 individuals in the whole property which make almost 25 percent of the total world’s population and over 30 percent of free-living animals.

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