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EC to open infringement proceedings over Białowieża logging

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EC to open infringement proceedings over Białowieża logging

The European Commission is to start proceedings against Poland over the felling of trees in the eastern Białowieża forest, a UNESCO-listed site, unofficial sources say.

Polish Radio has learned from unofficial sources that the extensive logging operations in Europe's last primeval forest will be included in an EC list highlighting EU law infringements by member states. The list is to be released on Thursday afternoon.

Brussels is expected to call Poland out on the violation of EU directives on the conservation of natural habitats and wild birds in the forest. The Polish Environment Ministry greenlighted the logging earlier this year, citing the need to fight bark beetle infestation in the forest. The step has been fiercely criticised by environmentalists and academics in Poland and abroad.

In April, the commission initiated a so-called EU Pilot procedure to investigate breaches of EU environmental regulations and laws on the conservation of habitats protected under the Natura 2000 programme in Poland.
The idea behind the procedure is to resolve compliance issues through dialogue without resorting to infringement proceedings. However, Warsaw's justification for a three-fold increase in timber extraction in the forest proved unsatisfactory to Brussels.

Polish Radio has learned that Warsaw will be given one month, and not the statutory two months, to respond to issues raised by the EC. The decision to shorten the deadline was determined by the fact that "the felling activities could bring about irreversible damage" to the forest, EC sources say. The infringement process could lead to the EU referring Poland to the European Court of Justice and imposing penalties on the country.

In March, Environment Minister Jan Szyszko approved a plan to increase wood extraction in Białowieża from 63,000 to 188,000 square metres under a plan for 2012-2020, after woodcutters had felled 90 percent of the earmarked quota under the ten-year scheme.

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