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Statement of the Ministry of Environment

On 11 September 2017, a hearing before the Court of Justice of the European Union was held in case 6-441/17R – Białowieża Forest due to a complaint of the European Commission against the Republic of Poland. The European Commission submitted that Poland carried out for-profit logging operations on a Natura 2000 site PLC200004 Białowieża Forest, which posed a threat for the habitats and species of Community importance, specified under Natura 2000 in accordance with the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. When presenting the grounds for its complaint, the Commission referred to the unique nature of the Białowieża Forest due to the natural character of its stand, suggesting that the trees had been allegedly unaffected by human activity to date.

Considering the amount of disinformation relating to the Białowieża Forest, disseminated in a leftist and/or liberal press, both Polish and foreign, I hereby inform as follows:

PLC200004 Białowieża Forest site with the area of 63,147.6 ha, covering the Białowieża National Park with the area of 10517.27 ha and production forest divisions with the area of 52630.33 ha had been established on the basis of the Standard Data File (SDF) in 2007 (fig. 1, 2) due to the existence of habitats and species of Community importance. The predominant habitat referred to in Annex I of Council Directive 92/43/EEC was Galio-Carpinetum oak-hornbeam forest 9170 (fig. 1), accounting for 63.05% of total cover (fig. 1).

In accordance with Article 2(1), Article 2(2), Article 2(3) and Article 11 of Council Directive 92/43/EEC, Poland is responsible for the state of habitats and species in Natura 2000 sites and for their supervision.

The state and percentage of cover of habitats, including Galio-Carpinetum oak-hornbeam forests 9170 (fig. 1, 3), as well as of the species existing on those sites at the time of their inclusion in Natura 2000 (fig. 2) resulted from the use of the Forest in the past (obtaining wood from stands planted in the past). This has been thoroughly documented in many documents (fig. 4-12), which has been fully ignored by the European Commission, according to whom the Forest constitutes a forest untouched by man.

Due to the pressure exerted by the European Commission who claimed that the Białowieża Forest was the best preserved natural forest, and to the resulting dramatic drop in 2012 in the logging of ageing trees planted in the past, the stands, in particular spruce, started dying massively as a result of the European spruce bark beetle infestation caused by those actions.   The dying trees affected the habitats listed in Annex I, which was particularly visible in the case of the Galio-Carpinetum oak-hornbeam forests 9170 predominant in the Forest (fig. 3). Depending on the level of ground water, oak-hornbeam forests turned into fens (fig. 13) or grasslands (fig. 14). The Commission was being informed about the situation on an ongoing basis.

Considering a major threat for the habitats, in accordance with Article 18 of Council Directive 92/43/EEC, on 12 and 13 March 2016 Poland organised a scientific conference “The Białowieża Forest - myths, facts and future”, to which it invited the European Commission, who nevertheless declined the offer. On the basis of the conclusions from the conference (Appendix 1), a remedial program was developed (Appendix 2) assuming that the program should be based on a thorough inventory of habitats and species on PLC200004 Białowieża Forest site. Both the conclusions and the assumptions of the remedial program, translated into all EU languages as well as into Arabic, Chinese and Russian, were submitted to the European Commission.

During the 2016 growing period, with the assistance of dozens of experts in fields ranging from archaeology and soil science to biology and ecology of respective plant and animal species (Appendix 3), a representative natural inventory was completed on almost 1,400 research areas covering the entire Białowieża Forest, i.e. both the Białowieża Natural Park and three production forest divisions of Białowieża, Browsk and Hajnówka (fig. 15). The obtained results confirmed the tragic situation of habitats, in particular the Galio-Carpinetum oak-hornbeam forests 9170 (fig. 16), and well documented the quantity of many species, including the species listed in Annex II to the Habitats Directive, as well as the birds referred to in Annex I to the Birds Directive (fig.18-84) and dead wood (fig. 85, 86) and soil organic carbon with particular focus on the humus layer (0-10 cm) of mineral soil (fig. 87). Tree stands, in particular spruce, dying because of reduced logging led to extinction of oak-hornbeam forests on 71 research areas, which accounted for over 10% of the area of that habitat compared to 2011.       

The logging in Białowieża forest division in the spring of 2017 as planned in the Appendix was an attempt to return to the previous management method in order to slow down the process of habitat decline and thus to ensure the sustainability of all species listed in SDF of 2007. This activity supports the integrity of SCI and SPA sites of PLZ200004 Białowieża Forest, initiates the process of setting up the necessary measures to protect natural habitats listed in Annex I and species referred to in Annex II to the Habitats Directive, as well as birds specified in Annex I to the Birds Directive. This also supports strict protection of saproxylic Coleoptera by guaranteeing the sustainability of their food base in the future.

Therefore, the complaints should be rejected in full and a petition to dismiss the complaint as groundless should be submitted, in particular given the fact that the Commission was informed about all activities of the Polish party. Another argument for the dismissal is that Poland decided to prove the efficiency and the relevance of its activities on the basis of research. Therefore, 1/3 of production forests in the Białowieża Forest on Natura 2000 site was covered by passive conservation without any possibility of logging, and 2/3 is subject to remedial measures aimed at restoring economic activity from the period before the Białowieża Forest was included in Natura 2000, thus ensuring the integrity of SCI and SPA sites, i.e. also protection of habitats and species listed in SDF of 2007.

The Białowieża Forest is a natural treasure. It is a cultural and natural heritage of local community, Polish forestry model and Polish approach to environmental protection. It is an example to be followed for the entire world in terms of sustainable development, of which Natura 2000 is a performance indicator. To this end, the essence of Natura 2000 should be comprehended, which requires in-depth environmental knowledge combined with historical knowledge and logical mathematical thinking. Local community should not be offended, but rather be considered a source of knowledge, as the Forest suffered the worst in the periods when local community was affected by negative events. Each disregard or hostile treatment of the people translated into damages for animals and trees. Anytime an outsider arrived with the sense of superiority and self-righteousness and ignored the locals, the Forest was affected.

See “Statement of the Ministry of Environment” (PDF, file, size: 4618 kB)

See  “Program for the Bialowieza Forest as the cultural and natural UNESCO-heritage and the area of Natura 2000 network worked out by the Minister of the Environment, Prof. Dr. hab. Jan Szyszko and General Director of the State Forests, Dr. Konrad Tomaszewski” (pdf, file, size: 356 kB)

See  “Report and conclusions from the scientific Conference on Bialowieza Forest - Myths, Facts and the Future” (pdf, file, size: 242 kB)

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