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Reportage. Bialowieza Forest is the last remaining portion of the primeval woods that blanketed Europe centuries ago. Poland’s right-wing government is chopping it down.

Brussels challenges Poland on deforestation at UNESCO site

Poland is again in Brussels’ sights, this time for the environmental conduct of the populist, right-wing government of the Law and Justice (PiS) Party. The European Commission has requested an explanation from Warsaw for the deforestation in Bialowieza, the oldest green lung of the European continent and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Last year, Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko gave the green light to the killing of some trees to eradicate the bark beetle from the park, a kind of pest which nestles on the forest’s spruce trees.

“We call on Poland to stop the deforestation operations in Bialowieza, which is the only example of a primeval forest on the European continent and is listed in the Natura 2000 network,” the Commission’s statement said. One part of the forest that lies between Poland and Belarus is protected as a national park in the two countries, a situation that has facilitated the roaring of chainsaws barring any bureaucratic hitch or environmental constraints.

But the trees have recently become a victim of the PiS thanks to another measure in force since the beginning of the year, known as “lex Szyszko,” which allows the felling of trees on private land without the approval of local authorities.

Meanwhile, UNESCO is ready to declare the Bialowieza site at risk. It’s an embarrassing issue for the government that could end up on the agenda of the next plenary session scheduled to take place in Krakow in July. PiS has less than one month to respond to Brussels’ allegations.

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