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Poland Broke Law by Logging Ancient Forest, E.U. Court Official Says

The woodland, a United Nations World Heritage site in northeast Poland along its border with Belarus, is a relic of ancient forests, with some of the largest and oldest trees in Europe. Scientists have long argued that they can use the forest — a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees towering over thick undergrowth — to study how natural processes worked for thousands of years, before humans deforested most of the Continent.

The forest, part of it contained within a national park, is also home to the largest colony of European bison, or wisent, as well as to species that are rare or even extinct elsewhere.

Poland has argued that its widely criticized operations in the primeval forest have complied with European law. It says they have been aimed at combating an invasion of bark beetles.

Still, Poland’s environment minister said the government would study Mr. Bot’s opinion closely and respect the court’s final ruling.

“Poland is a state of law that respects the opinion of the spokesman of the European Court of Justice,” the minister, Henryk Kowalczyk, said in a statement published on Tuesday morning. “The Bialowieza Forest is an exceptionally valuable area for Poland, and all of the past actions had been undertaken in the interest of maintaining it in the best possible condition for the present and future generations.”

The clash over the forest is just part of a larger dispute between the conservative Polish government and Brussels, which has accused the governing Law and Justice Party of undermining democracy and the rule of law. The government has tightened its control of the judiciary and imposed new restrictions on speech and demonstrations.

This month, it enacted a law making it a crime to say that Poland bore any blame for Nazi atrocities, and specifically banning the use of the phrase “Polish death camps.” That measure has put a great strain on Warsaw’s relations with Israel and the United States.

The final ruling of the European Court of Justice in the Bialowieza Forest case is expected in several weeks, said Krzysztof Cibor, an official from the Polish branch of Greenpeace.

“The European Court of Justice has been moving exceptionally swiftly here, probably recognizing the urgency of the problem,” Mr. Cibor said in a telephone interview. “It usually takes years to resolve such disputes.”

He said he did not expect or want the court to penalize Poland financially in its final ruling, only to halt the logging.

“The money, even if it’s millions of euros, wouldn’t be the biggest loss,” Mr. Cibor said. “The last time Poland logged so many trees in Bialowieza as it did in 2017 was 30 years ago. That’s our biggest loss.”

Source: NYT > World

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