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EU advocate says Poland broke law by logging in forest


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WARSAW, Poland — The European Union’s top advocate said Tuesday that Poland has infringed environmental laws with its massive logging of trees in one of Europe’s last pristine forests.

The opinion published by Advocate General Yves Bot could bring a ruling from the EU’s Court of Justice against Poland’s actions in the Bialowieza Forest a step nearer.

According to the opinion, the court “should rule that Poland has failed to fulfil its obligations” under the EU’s Natura 2000 directives that protect natural sites of special importance.

Observers say the opinions from the advocate general are often adopted in final rulings.

Poland’s new Environment Minister Henryk Kowalczyk said the government will abide by any ruling.

“The Bialowieza Forest is of special value for Poland and every action taken so far were solely intended to preserve it in the best condition for the present and future generations,” Kowalczyk said in a statement.

In 2016, the previous minister authorized massive logging in the forest, saying he was fighting an outbreak of bark beetle infestation that left dozens of hectares (acres) of dead spruce trees.

Environmentalists and EU experts say the large-scale felling of trees destroys rare animal habitats and plants, in violation of regulations. They held protests and brought the case before the court last year.

In his opinion, Bot said that Bialowieza’s protected site is “one of the best preserved natural forests in Europe, characterized by large quantities of ancient trees, some of which are centuries old, and dead wood.”