Lawyers sound alarm over new Polish plans to log Bialowieza Forest

Lawyers at ClientEarth have criticised moves by the Polish state-owned forestry company to restart commercial logging in the Bialowieza Forest.

ClientEarth is part of a coalition of environmental organisations calling for an urgent suspension of plans, which are aimed at opening up parts of the UNESCO – protected forest for further commercial exploitation.

Last year, campaigners fought a legal battle culminating in a ruling from the European Union’s highest court that logging in Bialowieza, one of Europe’s last remaining primaeval forests, was illegal.

But the coalition – which includes ClientEarth, Wild Poland Foundation, Greenmind Foundation, Greenpeace Poland, Workshop for All Beings and WWF Poland – have sounded the alarm over plans to cut down hundreds of thousands of trees in the next three years.

In a joint statement, the coalition said: “This is a blatant contradiction to UNESCO decisions, may violate EU directives and rekindle the conflict around our most valuable forest. Wounds inflicted by (former environment minister) Jan Szyszko have not yet healed in the Bialowieza Forest, and the state forestry company is making a fresh attempt to start commercial logging.”

After then minister Szyszko approved intensive felling in 2017, foresters used up logging quotas that were in force until 2021. To continue commercial exploitation of the forest, State Forests started adding new logging permits to the forest management plans for the Bialowieza, Browsk and Hajnowka forest inspectorates.

These new logging permits are formally necessary to continue logging. Yet recommendations of the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) and UNESCO clearly state the development of the annexes should be suspended until an integrated management plan for the World Heritage site is prepared.

Without this, there is no guarantee that the requirements of the World Heritage Convention would be respected by State Forests. Ignoring these recommendations might lead to the removal of the only Polish natural area from the UNESCO list.

The coalition is calling on the environment minister to stop working on these new logging permits and instead enlarge the national park to include the whole of Bialowieza Forest – a plan developed by a team of scientists and submitted to the government in recent weeks. Currently, just one-fifth of the forest is covered by the national park.

According to public opinion polls, more than 80% of the Polish public are in favour of protecting the entire area of Bialowieza with a national park.

“Minister Kowalczyk must clearly state whether he is in favour of real protection of the forest or further commercial exploitation of our natural heritage by State Forests,” the coalition stated. “If he chooses the latter, he will rekindle the conflict over the Bialowieza Forest and inflict another blow on our greatest natural treasure.”

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