Critics say Poland’s right-wing government is defying a European Court of Justice injunction to suspend logging in the forest, but the environmental ministry says it is not in violation of the order as it is only felling trees for public safety reasons.
“We’re calling for the withdrawal of heavy machinery from the Bialowieza forest. We demand an end to the logging,” said Adam Bohdan, one of the activists who had chained himself to a security gate inside the forest agency’s building.
“All of our activity — peaceful marches, petitions, blockades at the scene — had no effect. Forest management continues to fell trees despite the decision of the European judiciary. And so we opted for this ultimate form of protest,” he told AFP, as dozens of protesters vowed to continue their sit-in until police would remove them by force.
Forest management spokeswoman Anna Malinowska described the protest organised by the “Oboz dla Puszczy” (Camp for the Forest) environmental coalition as “illegal”.
“Police detained 22 people… for disturbing the peace,” Edyta Wisowska, a police spokeswoman, told the Polish PAP news agency.
Activists face penalties ranging from fines to up to a year behind bars.
Bialowieza includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10 thousand years ago.
The vast woodland, which straddles the border with Belarus, is home to unique plant and animal life, including 800 European bison, the continent’s largest mammal.
The Polish government began logging in May last year, saying it was clearing dead trees to contain damage caused by a spruce bark beetle infestation, as well as to fight the risk of forest fires and preserve road traffic.
Scientists, ecologists and the European Union protested the action and activists now allege that it is being used as a cover for commercial logging.