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Białowieża Forest, Poland


Bialowieza Forest is one of the remaining parts of the primeval forest that used to stretch across the European Plain. It is home to giant spruce trees, oaks and ash trees, and more than 20,000 animal species. The most famous of these is the European bison. The forest stretches over parts of Poland and Belarus, and is Poland's only natural UNESCO world heritage site. It is also a Natura 2000 area.

On the Polish side, 17% of the forest is a national park. The remaining area is divided into three districts: the Bialowieza, Browsk and Hajnowka forest districts. Since Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko approved the proposal from State Forests Service to expand the planned logging areas in the Bialowieza forest district, the forest in now threatened by irreversible degradation of natural habitats. In the original Forest Management Plan (FMP) the maximum allowed volume of logged trees was 63,417 m³ during a period of ten years. With the new proposal, 188,000 m³ can be logged during the same period. The plan to expand the logging area is motivated by claims that this would help protect the remaining forest from spruce bark beetles that threaten spruce trees. Moreover, the logging would protect tourists and rangers from falling dead trees. However, these motivations are criticized by scientists and EJOs, who claim that the spruce bark beetle outbreak is a natural process that occurs in periods of 8-10 years. Moreover, according to the only published inventory of the concerned forest area, almost half of the trees marked for logging are not trees of species affected by the spruce bark beetle. Adding to the skepticism about claimed motives for the expanded logging are commercial interests. The State Forests Service is required to be financially self-sufficient, and selling logged wood generates profits. The State Council for Nature Conservation in Poland opposes the plans for expanded logging in Bialowieza Forest District. A large part of the public is against the new logging plans, protests in larger Polish cities displayed that discontent. According to Polish legislation (Forest Act), an approval from the Polish environment minister is enough to legalize the logging plans. As a consequence, seven EJOs together with ClientEarth have lodged a complaint against the plans to the EU commission, asking the EU commission to intervene (”Urgent need for the Commission to intervene” [1]). According to the lodged complaint, the logging plans go against several EU directives. E.g.: the approval of the environment minister was given despite not having carried out  "an assessment to determine whether the increased logging would have an adverse effect on the integrity of the Natura 2000 site" [1]. The EJOs want the EU commission ”to quickly intervene to halt the irreversible loss that would be caused by intense logging and to ensure the protection of the Bialowieza Forest in compliance with the Habitats Directive”.  Both the European Commission and UNESCO have since then strongly advised the Polish government against continuing with the expanded logging project. Despite this, in February 2017 the Polish government announced that they will continue with the plans. 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Białowieża Forest, Poland
State or province:Podlaskie Voivodeship
Location of conflict:Białowieża
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Establishment of reserves/national parks
Logging and non timber extraction
Specific commodities:Biological resources
Ecosystem Services
Live Animals

Project Details and Actors

Project details

In the current Forest Management Plan (2012-2021), the European Commission and Poland agreed upon a logging limit of 63,471m³ within the Bialowieza forest district. This amount was reached almost four years after the plan's entry into force. In March 2016, Polish environment minister Jan Szyszko (PiS) approved an annex put forward by the State Forests Service that raised the logging limit to 188,000m³. The new limit is thus almost three times higher than the initial one.

It is expected that the new logging plan will raise c. 700m zlotys (€160m ).

Project area:12,593 (Białowieża Forest District)
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:17/01/2016
Relevant government actors:Państwowe Gospodarstwo Leśne "Lasy Państwowe" (State Forests Service).
Ministerstwo Środowiska (Ministry of Environment).
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace Poland (
WWF Poland (
ClientEarth Poland (
Dzika Polska (
Greenmind Poland (
Ogólnopolskie Towarzystwo Ochrony Ptaków (OTOP)
Pracownia na rzecz Wszystkich Istot (
State Council for Nature Conservation Poland (

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Violations of human rights


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:The proposal brought forward by all EJOs involved is to not raise the logging amount to a higher level than that agreed upon with the European Commission.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project is in operation.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

DIRECTIVE 2009/147/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds.

Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Complaint to the European Commission concerning alleged breach of Union law

Wikipedia: State Forests (Poland)



Radio Poland,Row-over-tree-felling-in-Polish-primeval-forest

The Guardian

Show your support: STOP destruction of the Białowieza Forest!

The Guardian. 7 April 2017. Polish law change unleashes 'massacre' of trees. (With a description of the Polish Environment Minister's thoughts).

"Last stand for Europe's remaining ancient forest as loggers prepare to move in" The Guardian (18 May 2016)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Youtube clip

Meta information

Contributor:Joel Tillgren, Philipp Kuhn, Emma Brodén (Lund University).
Last update18/08/2019



Spruce Bark Beetle

Protests in Warsaw

Logged trees


Protest in Krakow