An adviser to the EU’s Court of Justice backed the European Commission Tuesday saying that forestry management decisions made by Poland concerning the Natura 2000 Puszcza Białowieska site violate EU laws.
Poland’s decisions to increase logging operations in the primeval forest of Bialowieza “are necessarily liable to result in a deterioration of the breeding sites of the protected species,” the court’s advocate general Yves Bot said.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Bialowieza, which straddles the border with Belarus, is one of Europe’s last primaeval forests and home to its largest herd of the nearly extinct European bison.
Under the EU’s Habitat Directive, member states must take appropriate conservation measures for special areas.
The Polish government has said cutting down trees there was necessary to make forest paths safe for hikers and protect existing trees from a bark beetle infestation.
“Those decisions are necessarily liable to result in a deterioration of the breeding sites of the protected species,” the court’s advocate general Yves Bot said.
Environmental protection activists and EU experts say the large-scale felling of trees destroys rare animal habitats and plants, in violation of regulations. They held protests and brought the case before the court last year.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will make a ruling in the coming months and, while judges are not obliged to follow the adviser’s recommendation, they do so in most cases.
As an interim measure, the ECJ said last year Poland would be fined 100,000 euros per day if it did not stop large-scale logging in the forest.
Logging quotas to 2021 had already been reached and in one part of the forest an expanded quota declared illegal by the European Commission, had been more than half fulfilled despite an injunction, official forestry data shows.
The standoff over the forest is one of several flashpoints between Warsaw and Brussels that include pan-European migration quotas and judicial reform plans.
At stake is not only the unique biodiversity of the woodland but also, some lawyers and environmentalists say, the future of European institutions and the rule of law.