WARSAW, Poland – Participants in a UNESCO World Heritage Committee's session threatened to put the oldest part of Europe's last pristine forest on a list of endangered heritage sites and called on Poland Wednesday to stop logging there immediately.
Meeting in Krakow, the U.N. committee called on the government to "maintain the continuity and integrity of protected old-growth forest in Bialowieza Forest" and said it "strongly urges" Poland to "immediately halt all logging and wood extraction in old-growth forests."
The committee also requested that a mission of World Heritage experts visit and evaluate the situation at the site. It obliged Poland to submit by the end of 2018 a report on how it is protecting the forest.
In addition, the panel warned it might put the forest on its List of World Heritage in Danger, a step that would open the path for immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund.
Deputy Environment Minister Andrzej Konieczny said Poland would respect the committee's call.
Poland's environment minister, Jan Szyszko, has been criticized by ecology groups and the European Union for having increased logging three-fold in the Bialowieza Forest, parts of which are Europe's last unspoiled woodland.
The EU has threatened sanctions for what it says is a threat to the forest, which is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.
Szyszko claims old-growth trees are cut only to control a bark beetle infestation and calls it "sanitation." Ecologists say it is done for profit.
Logging in newer parts of the forest has been done for decades and is less controversial.
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.