Poland violated environmental laws when it allowed large-scale logging in the ancient Białowieża forest, according to a new ruling by the European Union’s highest court, Reuters reported. The Białowieża is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the last remnants of a primeval forest that once stretched across the European continent.
In the final ruling of European Court of Justice (ECJ), released today, the justices wrote that Poland had “failed to fulfill its obligations” to protect the habitats of animals and birds. Two years ago, Poland tripled logging quotas in the forest as a way to combat a bark beetle infestation that the government said endangered human safety. An estimated 10,000 trees, including centuries-old pine and spruce trees, have been felled within the forest since. But the ECJ said Poland’s reasoning was not justified and that logging was doing more damage to the forest than the infestation would.
In November, the ECJ threatened to fine Poland nearly $125,000 per day until logging in the Białowieża forest stopped. Poland halted logging earlier this year and replaced the environment minister who had approved the increased logging quotas — all part of a larger effort to repair its relationship with the European Union.
Henryk Kowalczyk, the country’s new environment minister, said in a statement that “Poland will respect the [ECJ’s] verdict. The Białowieża forest is our national heritage.” The country also announced plans to create a protection and conservation strategy for the forest.