WARSAW, Poland – Poland's environment minister said Friday that he will use an upcoming UNESCO conference to defend his position on allowing logging in a pristine forest.
Jan Szyszko is under heavy criticism from environmental groups and from European Union authorities who say that Bialowieza Forest, in eastern Poland, is threatened by a triple increase in logging that the minister permitted there. The EU is threatening sanctions.
The entire forest is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, while a part of it is Europe's last unspoiled woodland.
Szyszko argues that the increased logging is only carried out in younger sections traditionally used for timber production and that it fights bark beetle infestations in line with EU laws.
"Poland is currently defending EU law, recreating destroyed habitats, but across the world it has been described as the felling of trees," Szyszko said on the Polish Radio station on Friday . "Of course, this amounts to slandering Poland and is untrue and I believe it will be clarified."
He said he is ready to show the forest to attendees of a conference of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee that will open Sunday in Krakow to demonstrate that his policy is in the best interest of the forest.
"The Bialowieza Forest is of great cultural and natural heritage, a great heritage of the local residents, a great heritage of Poland's forestry and of Poland's school of the protection of nature," he said.
The forest covers tens of thousands of hectares (hundreds of thousands of acres) in Poland and in Belarus, and is home to hundreds of animal and plant species, including bison, lynx, moss and lichens.