WARSAW (Reuters) - Security guards in Poland’s Bialowieza Forest have forcibly ejected protesters who sought to stop the felling of trees in one of Europe’s last primeval woods, a project that has drawn the threat of a European Union lawsuit.
Earlier this month UNESCO called on Poland to halt logging in Bialowieza, saying it could otherwise decide to put the forest on its list of world heritage sites in danger, while the European Commission asked the European Court of Justice for interim steps to suspend the logging.
The row is one in a series of clashes between Poland’s nationalist-minded government and EU authorities in Brussels. On Friday, Polish lawmakers were set to defy the EU and opposition protesters by backing an overhaul of the judiciary denounced by critics as a lurch towards authoritarianism.
Soon after the conservative Law and Justice party took power in 2015, Environment Minister Jan Szyszko, a hunter backed by powerful forester and hunter lobbies, approved a tripling in the volume of wood to be harvested in part of Bialowieza.
Szyszko has argued that logging is needed to protect the woods against a beetle outbreak that is destroying spruce trees in the forest in northeast Poland.
In a video seen by Reuters and provided by the conservationist Wild Poland Foundation, guards from an agency that oversees state-run forests used force to carry away several protesters who tried to block the loggers.
“The increased logging of old growth forest stands is taking place in Bialowieza Forest. (...) The Ministry has totally ignored both UNESCO and the European Commission,” the Wild Poland Foundation said in a statement.
The Wild Poland Foundation as well as Greenpeace said their activists were continuing to protest and impede the forest harvesters and expressed concern over “escalating violence” from state authorities.
“The protests are being stopped in a more aggressive way then before. The foresters are using more people to protect the machines; they mobilized forest guards from all over Poland,” the Wild Poland Foundation statement said.
Officials at the environment ministry were not immediately available for comment.
In a separate statement on Friday, the ministry criticised non-government organisations for their appeal to protect the independence of courts as parliament pressed on with the judicial overhaul.
“The appeal clearly shows that the so called environmentalists have taken the side of the total opposition,” the ministry statement said.
Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; editing by Mark Heinrich