The European Court of Justice has warned Poland that if the country doesn't immediately cease its active forest management operations in the Białowieża Forest, it will face penalties of at least €100,000 per day.
Back in 2007, the Natura 2000 Puszcza Białowieska site was designated by the EU Commission as a site of ‘Community importance’ due to the presence of natural habitats
and the habitats of certain animal and bird species. That site is also a special protection area for
birds under the Birds Directive.
Moreover, the Białowieża Forest is one of the best preserved natural forests in Europe, characterized by large quantities of dead wood and ancient trees, some of which are centuries old.
In 2016, as a response to an outbreak of Spruce Bark Beetle, the Polish Minister for the Environment
authorized an increase in logging in the Forest District of Białowieża. Thus, 34 000 hectares of dead trees and trees affected by the beetle infestation, were removed from the total surface area of 63 147 hectares. Only that the Commission, on 20 July 2017, brought an action against Poland for failure to fulfill its obligations under the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive because of the negative impact on the maintenance of favourable conservation conditions for natural habitats
On Monday, 20th of November, it ruled that the ban should stand until a final ruling on the substance of the case is delivered, which is expected at some point next year. However, it added that active forest management operations that are strictly necessary and proportionate in order to ensure public safety should be allowed to continue.
Poland also has to send the commission details of all measures that it has adopted in order to comply with the order within 15 days.
Now, the Commission argues that, subsequent to Poland being notified of the order of the Vice-President of the Court of 27 July 2017 requiring that certain operations be temporarily suspended, those operations have continued, in breach of the interim measures imposed.
Poland’s environmental ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent after working hours in Warsaw.
Now, the ECJ is expected to rule on the substance of the case next year. The decision on interim measures does not prejudice the outcome of the main proceedings.