WARSAW, Poland – The European Union has opened a review of whether Poland might be breaching environment protection regulations with a recent decision to increase the volume of logging in the ancient Bialowieza Forest.
Poland's Environment Minister Jan Szyszko has ordered extensive logging, saying it would fight the spread of bark beetle, which has killed some spruce trees. He insists the logging is closely consulted with the EU environment authorities.
Enrico Brivio, a spokesman for the European Commission, said Thursday in Brussels that an infringement procedure has been launched against Poland out of concern that the logging may endanger bird habitats in the forest that includes some of Europe's oldest woodland and is on the UNESCO list of world heritage.
On Poland's invitation, EU and UNESCO experts visited the forest and inspected the logging earlier this month.
Brivio said that Poland has one month to reply to the concerns but did not say what consequences it might face. The procedure may ultimately lead to bringing Poland before the European Court of Justice and to substantial fines.
Poland said it has not yet received any notice of the procedure being launched, but keeps furnishing the commission with required information.
Environmentalists, who have protested the logging to the European Commission, welcomed the infringement procedure.
"The Polish government has the responsibility to protect this ancient forest that is home to thousands of plants and animal species - cutting down trees is no way to safeguard it for future generations," said a statement signed by Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund and five other organizations.
They argue that, while giving no guarantee of success in fighting the bark beetle, the large-scale logging would have a negative effect on the integrity of the forest and would be "especially damaging for species dependent on dead wood" such as some rare kinds of woodpeckers, owls, plants and fungi.
"It is estimated that around 50 percent of biodiversity within the Bialowieza Forest is dependent on dead wood," the environmentalists said in their statement.
The forest covers around 60,000 hectares (148,260 acres) in eastern Poland and stretches into Belarus. It is home to hundreds of animal and plant species, including bison, lynx, moss and lichens. About 4,000 hectares (9,885 acres) are deadwood now, because of the bark beetle, the ministry says.