Poland says compliant with EU court order against ancient forest logging

Warsaw - Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko has insisted Warsaw is already "100 percent" compliant with an EU injunction to stop logging in one of Europe's last primeval forests after the bloc's top court threatened heavy fines.

The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice on Monday warned Poland's right-wing government to "immediately" stop logging in the Bialowieza Forest or face fines of up to 100,000 euros ($118,000) a day.

Szyszko responded at a press conference that "Poland cannot be hit with any fine for any future activity (in the forest) that will not take place, because Poland is 100 percent following the law."

"Poland will, as before, respect the decision of the European Court of Justice concerning the Bialowieza Forest," he said, adding that Poland would respond within the allotted 15 days to the decision.

Activists, scientists and other critics allege Poland is engaged in commercial logging but the government insists it is only felling trees for public safety reasons in accordance with the EU injunction.

The EU court did allow for exceptions, saying: "Poland must immediately cease its active forest management operations in the Bialowieza Forest, except in exceptional cases where they are strictly necessary to ensure public safety."

The problem lies in the word "necessary," which Poland has interpreted more broadly than the EU court.

Poland's national forest director Konrad Tomaszewski told reporters Tuesday that heavy forestry vehicles, or so-called harvesters, were no longer being used and would notably be replaced with chainsaws to continue the work "to ensure public safety in the forest."

The government began logging in May last year, saying it was clearing dead trees to contain damage caused by a spruce bark beetle infestation, as well as to fight the risk of forest fires and preserve road traffic.

Poland in row with EU over logging in protected forest

On Tuesday, a Greenpeace Poland activist, Kasia Jagiello, said that the group was calling for the creation of a commission that would include representatives of the environment ministry, as well as independent scientists and NGO representatives.

"Only in this way will we be able to know for sure whether the safety rationale is being misused to violate the law in the Bialowieza Forest," she told AFP.

Szyszko told reporters Tuesday that he has repeatedly invited scientists, environmental activists and foreign diplomats to visit the forest to see the situation for themselves.

Bialowieza includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10 thousand years ago.

The vast woodland, which straddles the border with Belarus, is home to unique plant and animal life, including 800 European bison, the continent's largest mammal.