Trouble in Poland due to Białowieża, one of Europe’s oldest untouched forests

Krzysztof Maria Różański, (Upior polnocy) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It is rare to hear about Eastern Europe when one lives in Western Europe, as there are different issues and thus different news coverage. Białowieża is one of those issues that are rarely covered in media.

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For those who don’t know what Białowieża is, it is one of the few untouched forests left in Europe, covering around 140 000 hectares, extending between Poland and Belarus. This forest is protected by UNESCO, as well as a logging ban imposed by the EU court.

With the arrival of a new government in 2015, this forest has been the source of both local and European trouble, as the authorities continue giving authorisations to cut down more trees. With the outcry of locals and ecologists, pointing out the importance of this forest for research as well as the conservation of the environment, the EU Court imposed a logging ban, which was ignored by the authorities. In 2016, the Polish government tripled the volumes that could be cut on a specific section of the forest, increasing the limit from 60 000 m3 every 10 years to 188 000 m3. Originally, the government wanted to increase the limit by 5 times, up to 315 000 m3, but due to a complaint from the local environment agency, it was kept at 188 000m3.

The official version given by the government and used to oppose the ruling from the European Court is that the cuts are done in an effort of fire prevention, as well as fighting against an invasion of spruce bark beetles.

This comes after a series of issues between the Polish government and the European Union, as the Polish government has disobeyed multiple times to guidelines imposed by the EU, approaching the country to eventual financial sanctions from the European Commission.