Credit: Radosław Slusarczyk

Stop flow of EU funds to illegal loggers in Poland, campaigners say

Campaigners from environmental NGOs in Poland have led a direct appeal to the European Commission to deny the funding to the Polish State Forests Corporation which manages around 7.6 million hectares of forests.

The government-owned Polish State Forests Corporation could receive 150 million euros of EU money earmarked for adapting to climate change and wildlife protection – despite a pending decision from the EU’s top court on whether to fine the Polish government 5 million euros for breaching an EU ban on logging in Białowieża, a protected primeval forest.

Diana Maciąga, Climate Coordinator from the Association Workshop for All Beings, said:

“It’s absurd that an institution which blatantly breaks European law and destroys wildlife applies for and is granted European funds. As the possible financial penalty for logging in Białowieża is only 5 million euros, stopping the EU funding would be a more severe punishment.”

In 2016 the Polish government increased the number of logging licences granted for the forest, citing concerns about a bark beetle infestation as justification for ramping up the culling of the precious trees. But experts dismissed the idea that increased timber production would control the bark beetle outbreak.

The European Commission said that logging in Białowieża was a breach of EU nature rules as the forest is part of the EU’s ‘Natura 2000’ network of protected sites where nature-damaging activities are restricted. The forest – also recognised by the United Nations as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is almost unique in mainland Europe, with untouched pristine woodland home to hundreds of natural treasures such as the European Bison and the three-toed woodpecker.

On 28 July the EU Court of Justice court issued an emergency ban on logging in Bialowieza stating that further logging could cause “serious and irreversible damage” to the forest. Poland has ignored this ban, and the court will soon issue a decision on whether to extend the ban and accept a European Commission request to fine Poland for flouting it.

For Diana Maciąga, the wait for the EU court decision is an agonising one:

“Given the Polish government’s current policy, even if the EU Court of Justice upholds its ban on logging we cannot count on the Polish government to comply with any decision. The situation in Białowieża Forest has reached near-tragic proportions. Harvesters have been allowed into the forest and they even cut down 200-year old oaks. This work is being done under the constant protection of the State Forests Corporation, brought here from all around the country. The foresters sometimes work even at night.”

The Polish government has also amended an Act that regulates the operations of the State Forests Corporation so that it now effectively exempts forest management from EU environmental protection laws.

Diana Maciąga said:

“What we are witnessing is a systemic non-compliance of Polish law with European law – the State Forests Corporation may log without taking into consideration protected habitats such as wolf sanctuaries or the breeding season of birds. Additionally, as Forest Management Plans are basic documents outlining forest management, including the level of timber harvesting, the public has no way to challenge them in court.