student at Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw
From June 17, 2017, new regulations on nature protection and tree clippings and bushes in Poland have been introduced under the Act of May 11, 2017, item 1074. The biggest changes concern owners of private properties who may cut down trees for purposes not related to running a business without permission.
This law is negatively affected by the natural environment and forest areas throughout Poland through the legal clippings of trees on which sawmills earn the most and receive many offers and financial benefits.
Why the Bialowieza Forest is important for the European Commission?
In 2007 the Commission designated the Natura 2000 Białowieza Forest site in accordance with the Habitats Directive as a site of Community importance due to the presence of natural habitats and the habitats of certain animal and bird species. That site is also a special protection area for birds under the Birds Directive. The Białowieza Forest is one of the best preserved natural forests in Europe, characterised by large quantities of dead wood and ancient trees, some of which are centuries old. Also Bialowieza Forest belongs to the list of IBA bird refugees run by BirdLife International since 2010. Furthermore, it is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Currently, the biggest problem of the Minister of the Environment, Jan Szyszko and Polish government, is a complaint against Poland on 20th of July 2017, filed by the European Commission against Poland (case C-441/17), where the European Commission accused Poland of illegally cutting wood in Natura 2000 areas in the Białowieza Primeval Forest. On 27 July 2017, the Vice-President of the Court of Justice granted interim measures to stop felling trees, although work in the Bialowieza Forest continued. On 11 September 2017, a hearing was held regarding non-compliance with provisional measures.
The Court of Justice in a press release dated November 20, No. 122/17, ordered a cessation of the cutting of trees in an interim verdict, except for situations threatening public safety. However, Poland did not meet these requirements, arguing that the activity is carried out only where they serve to ensure public safety in the Bialowieza Forest.
On November 20, the Court of Justice has forbidden tree felling and threatened with high fines up to 100,000 euros per day. On November 22, this led to a temporary cessation of tree felling in the Bialowieza Forest. The Ministry explained that cutting trees is necessary due to the gradation of spruce bark which attacks spruce and leads to their extinction.
According to the Court, operations involve the removal of old, dying or dead trees, including both those affected by bark beetle and those unaffected, it does seem very likely that they will have an impact on the relevant habitats. That is also shown by the fact that until 2016, one of the measures for conserving those habitats was a prohibition on operations of that type in certain areas.
Also the Court notes that such consequences are likely to constitute serious and irreparable damage for the interests of the EU and for its common heritage.
On December 12, a hearing was held before the CJEU regarding the substance of the dispute between the European Commission and Poland regarding the Białowieza Forest. The Tribunal decided that the opinion of the Advocate-General of the CJEU in the case regarding the Białowieza Primeval Forest is to be released on February 20, 2018 and the final judgment of the CJEU soon afterwards. At present, the European Commission is investigating whether tree felling is carried out only for reasons of public security and whether the Polish Minister of the Environment, Jan Szyszko, broke the law, allowing an increased felling in the Białowieża Primeval Forest. If the Court of Justice declares that the European Commission was right in this dispute, Poland may be charged with financial penalties, not counting penalties for November’s call for an immediate stop cutting wood, which will suffer from the state budget and the taxpayers themselves. In addition, environmental organizations claim that despite the ruling of the CJEU, timber harvesting continues in the forests.
According to Minister Jan Szyszko, Poland adheres to EU law with the Natura 2000 directive and believes that only a piece of infected spruces can help.
However, the CJEU wants to protect the Bialowieza Forest from further cutting, as it threatens the habitats of some species of animals and birds, which may lead to the extinction and irreversible degradation of the Bialowieza Forest.
At present, Polish government received a draft resolution establishing an investigation committee to explain the activities of the minister of environment in the Bialowieza Forest and the project was submitted by a group of Civic Platform deputies. The Commission would investigate the activities conducted and commissioned by the minister of the environment and institutions supervised by him in the Białowieza Primeval Forest, in particular it is about mass logging of old trees.
Summing up, the public opinion in Poland and the newspapers are negative about the new act on environmental protection and cutting down trees in the Białowieza forest and possible penalties for felling trees in the forest.