Expert team for Białowieża Forest being set up - Environment minister

Polish Environment Minister Henryk Kowalczyk Marcin Obara / PAP

An expert team for the Białowieża Forest is being set up, Polish Environment Minister Henryk Kowalczyk announced on Thursday, expressing his hope that "it will work out a protection plan for the forest."

Kowalczyk said that many experts "have been invited to join the team."

"We have also invited foreign experts. We have received answers from Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, among other countries," Kowalczyk said, adding that there would be nine foreign experts sitting on the team.

"I am very glad that we will be supported by experts from abroad as their experience is different from ours," he stressed, expressing his hope that "the recommendations prepared by the team will be very objective."

He also declared that the team "will be taking into account the ruling of the EU Court of Justice" regarding the Białowieża Forest.

The Białowieża Forest is Europe's last pristine forest and has been entered on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is home to a great number of animal species, including Europe’s largest mammal, the European bison.

The European Commission called on Poland to abandon logging in the forest and respect the EU's Habitat and Birds directives.

The European Commission claimed that Poland has breached articles 6 and 12 of the Habitats Directive and article 5 of the Birds Directive by allowing an increase in logging in the forest, which is a Natura 2000-protected area. According to the Commission and its experts, Poland failed to conduct an adequate environmental impact assessment prior to granting permission to increase logging.

The EU Court of Justice (CJEU) ruled that decisions of the Polish authorities to increase logging in the Białowieża Forest violate EU law and cannot be justified by the unprecedented gradation of the European spruce bark beetle.

The ruling, which ended the 2016-instigated dispute, was issued by the Grand Chamber of the CJEU consisting of 15 judges. There is no appeal against the ruling, which took full account of the complaint lodged by the European Commission against Poland. Poland's Environment Ministry has already announced that it will comply with the court's ruling.

The ruling did not entail any financial consequences because Poland, facing a penalty of EUR 100,000 a day, had previously withdrawn heavy equipment from the forest and ceased logging. If, however, logging was resumed, the Commission could again motion for fines.

On Tuesday, Minister Kowalczyk requested the lifting of a decision which permitted the removal of trees infested by the European spruce bark beetle from the Białowieża Forest.