Credit: Frank Vassen

The cost of logging a priceless forest? €100,000 a day

€100,000 a day. That’s the price the Polish government will pay if it doesn’t stop illegal logging in Białowieża, a protected primeval forest, within two weeks.

In a landmark ruling on Monday 20 November, the EU’s top court has accepted a European Commission request to slap a hefty fine on the Polish government following its refusal to respect an emergency ban on logging in Bialowieza, issued by the EU Court of Justice in July.

The ruling is the first of its kind to impose fines on a country before a case has been concluded.

Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of EU Policy, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia said:

“Enough is enough. EU Member States cannot pick and choose those elements of the rule of law they like as if in a fast food diner. Poland must immediately stop contemptuously destroying Bialowieza and the EU must immediately back up this reassuring court decision with action if one more tree is felled. Polish citizens, largely opposed to the logging, shouldn’t have to pay for their government’s arrogance.”

In 2016 the Polish government increased the number of logging licences granted for the forest.

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.

Agata Szafraniuk, a lawyer from environmental law group ClientEarth, said:

“Currently, financial penalties are, unfortunately, an essential tool to ensure that the best-preserved primeval forest in Europe is protected from further harm. Trees are still being cut down every day, so the Court prescribed this measure to guarantee the full protection of this unique forest, and to avoid irreparable damage.”

The ruling also has implications for other nature spots around Europe where environmentalists say their governments are not complying with EU nature protection rules.

Agata Szafraniuk added:

“This unprecedented decision of the Court of Justice has also a wider impact across Europe as it creates a practical and worthwhile instrument – financial penalties, to ensure that all member states abide by European law.”

Dariusz Gatkowski, Biodiversity Specialist at WWF-Poland said:

“Polish citizens, most of them against logging in Bialowieza Forest, risk paying penalties if Polish authorities continue to ignore the official order by the European Court and all previous warnings by the European Commission and the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The Court decision is a signal to the Polish Ministry of the Environment that disrespect for the law and our country’s valuable natural treasures cannot be tolerated.”