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Poland to resume some logging in ancient Bialowieza forest

WARSAW, March 9 (Reuters) - Poland will resume some logging in the ancient Bialowieza forest this year, according to documents signed on Tuesday by a government minister, in a move one environmental group called a “spit in the face”.

Increased logging in the forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site that straddles the border with Belarus, proved a major flashpoint between Poland and the European Union in 2016-2018.

Poland halted large-scale logging after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in April 2018 that it had broken environmental laws but authorities have been working on new forest management quotas to increase tree felling by 2021.

The climate and environment ministry signed new quotas for two of the three forestry districts on Tuesday, saying this was in line with what the European Commission expected.

The EU executive was not immediately available for comment.

The Commission has warned Poland previously of financial penalties if it does not comply with the ECJ ruling. It says Poland has yet to repeal the annexe to its 2012-21 forest management plan that allows for the amount of logging to triple.

Deputy Climate Minister Edward Siarka told a press conference in Bialowieza on Tuesday that signing the documents that allow for more logging did not violate the ECJ ruling.

Siarka said the Commission took issue only with the proposed quota for one of the three forestry districts, and said that felling in the two other districts would not begin till the end of the breeding season for wild birds in the area. Felling would not occur in areas of forest that are more than 100 years old.

The general director of State Forests, Andrzej Konieczny, said Tuesday’s move would help local communities to meet their heating needs, but Adam Bohdan of Wild Poland Foundation, an environmental NGO, slammed the decision.

“We treat it as a spit in the face... We will try to convince important institutions to stop the logging,” he said. (Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko Editing by Gareth Jones)

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