The Bialowieza Forest is one of the last and largest patches of remaining primeval forests in Europe, covering an area of 1,500 square kilometers. It’s a protected area recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and serves as a refuge for European bison, the continent’s largest mammal, as well as a wide range of other endangered species.
None of this, though, stopped the Poland’s Law and Justice party-ruled government from authorizing commercial logging activities in the area, which it did n 2016, thereby enraging environmentalists both in Poland and farther afield in Europe. The government’s decision triggered persistent protests against it by Polish environmentalists.
Last July the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ordered Poland to suspend all logging in the forest and later the court followed its ruling up with the threat of a fine of 100,000 euros per day if logging continued in the forest. Now the court’s judges in Luxemburg have ruled that Polish authorities violated European Union law by allowing commercial logging to be undertaken in Bialowieza Forest.
“The forest management operations concerning the Puszcza Bialowieska Natura 2000 site that have been undertaken by Poland infringe EU law,” the ECJ said in a statement. “The implementation of those operations in fact results in the loss of a part of that site.”
Encouragingly, Poland’s openly Eurosceptic government has said it would abide by the ruling and suspend all logging activities in the primeval forest, which 800 or so beleaguered European bison call home.
Conservationist groups have hailed the ruling with James Thornton, the CEO ClientEarth, calling it a “huge victory for all defenders of Bialowieza Forest, hundreds of people who were heavily engaged in saving this unique, ancient woodland from unthinkable destruction.”
He added, however, that “This is not the end of our fight. The ruling is just on paper for now: we need to see concrete action.”
Yes, we must.