Activists lobby EU about logging in Poland's ancient forest

Environmental activists march in defence of Europe's last ancient forest, the Bialowieza Primeval Forest, in Warsaw, Poland in this Jan 17, 2016 file photo. The banner reads, "Forest has not yet perished".
Environmental activists march in defence of Europe's last ancient forest, the Bialowieza Primeval Forest, in Warsaw, Poland in this Jan 17, 2016 file photo. The banner reads, "Forest has not yet perished". PHOTO: REUTERS

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's plans to increase logging in the Bialowieza Forest could breach European Union law because it would destroy some of its natural habitats, campaigners lobbying the European Commission for action said on Tuesday (April 19).

The forest is a Unesco World Heritage site that sprawls across the border between Poland and Belarus, occupying almost 580 square miles of woodland and providing home to rare European wood bison among others.

Environment Minister Jan Szyszko said in March he would approve a tripling in the volume of wood to be harvested because of an infestation of the spruce bark beetle.

"We told the minister his action was illegal, but he didn't listen. We cannot challenge this decision under Polish law, so complaining to the Commission is our last resort, said Agata Szafraniuk, lawyer at environmental law firm ClientEarth said.

The complaint was sent on Tuesday by seven Polish and international organisations, including ClientEarth, Greenpeace and WWF.

They said Szyszko's decision breached Europe's Habitats Directive, which conserves natural habitats and rare fauna and flora, and could result in Poland being taken to the European Court of Justice.

Iris Petsa, spokeswoman for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries at the Commission, said the Commission was concerned about Poland's decision and was looking into it. "The Commission decided to contact the Polish authorities to make sure that the proposed interventions are in line with EU law. Based on the replies received yesterday from the Polish, the Commission will decide on any further steps," Petsa said in response to the groups' letter.

Many local communities support the foresters plans and say the environmentalists are attacking their way of life and the source of their livelihood.