Widespread tree felling sparks outrage in Poland

2017/5/9 20:30:18

Environmentalists are protesting against mass tree felling in Poland. The EU Commission is also threatening Warsaw with repercussions for logging in a nature reserve. Paul Flückiger reports from Warsaw.


From Deutsche Welle, May 9, 2017


Frascati Street, not far from Polish parliament, was one of the most beautiful boulevards in Warsaw for decades. Many of its trees were over 100 years old. Now, they have all been chopped down. Even a well-known, 200-year-old oak on Mydlarska Street fell victim to a chainsaw.


All of this became possible after an amended law went into effect at the beginning of 2017. Private landowners are no longer required to apply for permission to cut down trees on their property. Jan Szyszko, Poland's environment minister and member of the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) argues that the new law strengthens the rights of private land owners and reduces bureaucracy. As PiS rules with an absolute majority, the new law, also known as "Szyszko's law," was quickly pushed through at the end of 2016.


EU Commission threatening legal action


When the trees started leafing out and blooming in spring, the roar of chainsaws was heard all over Poland. Now things have quieted down as trees can only be felled in exceptional cases during bird breeding season, which runs from March to October. But before that, as much as possible was cut down. At least 1,350 trees disappeared in the first quarter of 2017 in Warsaw's Wawer district alone. If the chainsaws keep running at this pace, Poland may soon lose twice as many trees as it has in previous years. Environmentalists are sounding the alarm, as smog-ridden Poland is disposing of important urban regeneration areas. In Warsaw alone, a city of 2 million inhabitants, 500,000 trees stand on private property.


It was not just the trees felled on private property that sparked controversy. There was outrage - especially internationally - when chainsaws took down trees in the ancient Bialowieza forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Due to an infestation of the European spruce bark beetle, Environment Minister Szyszko allowed triple the number of trees to be logged. This is a breach of European nature conservation regulations, which is why the EU has now become involved. If the deforestation is not stopped, Poland will be taken to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for violating EU treaties. It is not the first time that Brussels has been unhappy with Poland's handling of its nature reserves.





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