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Polish logging in ancient forest breaches EU law, top court rules

Luxembourg - Poland's decision to authorize logging in the protected Bialowieza forest is in breach of EU law, the bloc's top court ruled on Tuesday.

Poland was brought before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) by the European Commission after the country had authorized in 2016 the tripling of logging activities at the site, which, as one of Europe's last remaining primeval forests, is protected under EU law.

Poland: measures were necessary

Poland would respect the ruling, Polish Environment Minister Henryk Kowalczyk said in a statement, noting that his government was analysing the decision.

"The Bialowieza Forest is our national heritage," he said. "Every action in the forest was undertaken with the aim to preserve it in the best possible state for future generations."

Poland had previously said that active forest management measures were necessary to contain damage caused by a spruce bark beetle infestation and to fight the risk of forest fires.

The court ruled that Poland "has failed to fulfil its obligations" to protect the forest because national authorization to carry out activities at protected sites can only be given after an assessment showing that the intervention would not have "lasting adverse effects."

"In the present case, the Court finds that, as the Polish authorities did not have all the data relevant for assessing the implications of the active forest management operations ... they did not carry out an appropriate assessment of those implications," according to a press release from the court.

"Ruling is a great win for the Polish people"

The commission designated the forest in 2007 as a "site of community importance," because of its ancient environment, which offers a habitat for thousands of plants and hundreds of animals, including such protected species as bison, wolves and lynx.

The site has also been designated as a "special protection area" for birds.

The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), an environmental preservation organization, welcomed the ruling.

"This is a great win for the Polish people who consider the Bialowieza Forest an intrinsic part of our heritage," said Dariusz Gatkowski, Biodiversity Specialist at WWF-Poland.

"But the actions and legal violations that led to the ruling are an important reminder that our efforts cannot stop here."

The ECJ ruling is yet another point of disagreement between Poland and the European Union, whose relations have soured after the bloc's continued warnings over the erosion of rule of law by Poland's national-conservative Law and Justice party (PiS).