The Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the EU has issued a legal opinion confirming that increased logging in Poland’s Bialowieza Forest is in breach of EU nature laws. The final ruling will be published in a couple of weeks.
Bialowieza Forest is a large forest complex located on the border between Poland and Belarus. It is the last remaining part of European primeval forest and as such it is declared a World Heritage Site. The forest is home to many rare species, including the European bison.
In March 2016, amid warnings from scientists that it would be harmful for the forest, Polish minister of environment issued a decision to triple logging quota in Bialowieza. In 2017, despite of wide-spread protests, nearly 190.000 cubic meters of timber were harvested in the forest: four times more than the average yearly logging in the area in the past.
More than half of timber harvested came from legally protected trees over one hundred years old. For the first time in the history of the Forest, huge logging machines – harvesters– were used, devastating the most valuable lowland part of the forest. The ancient forest faced a near total destruction.
The logging in Bialowieza is massively unpopular in Polish society, with three-quarters of the population against it. In protest to the logging operation, in June 2016 the Camp Forest was set up in the area. It describes itself as a group of people following the idea of self-organization, working together to protect the Bialowieza Forest. The activists from the camp believe that, since petition writing and discussions proved insufficient as a way to save the forest, there is the urgent need for civic mobilization and non violent direct action aimed at saving this unique place from on-going devastation. The activists in the camp conducted many actions in order to sabotage the logging operations. They blocked roads, locked themselves into the heavy machinery, organised a number of well attended protests in the area, set up regular guarding missions and documented the devastation of the forest, and occupied the General Directorate of State Forests offices in Warsaw.
As the support for the forest defenders grew and logging in Bialowieza became international news, Polish state has moved on to persecute the activists, and many of the people involved in actions in defence of the ancient forest face ongoing legal problems. The participants of the camp often meet with intimidation and violence from Forest Guards who secure the logging operations. The occupation of the General Directorate offices in Warsaw resulted in 22 arrests followed by police visits to the homes of the activists. The next of kin of the arrested found those visits rather intrusive, with police asking questions about mental health and drug problems and other personal matters of the arrestees.
The Advocate General of the Court of Justice recommendation, as much as it is welcomed, unfortunately does not mean that Białowieza will finally receive protection from logging. Polish extreme right government is not exactly known for following international rules and it is likely that it will decide to continue the devastation of the forest and that more protest actions will be needed in near future.
All pictures: Camp for Forest