EU warns Poland to respect top court's ruling on ancient forest

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FILE PHOTO: Logged trees are seen at one of the last primeval forests in Europe, Bialowieza forest, near Bialowieza village

WARSAW (Reuters) - The European Commission called on Poland on Thursday to comply fully with a 2018 ruling from the European Union's highest court that restricts logging in the primeval forest of Bialowieza, warning of financial fines if Warsaw does not comply.

In April 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said that Poland broke environmental laws with large-scale logging in the ancient forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site that straddles the border with Belarus.

Poland stopped large scale-loggging as it sought to ease tensions with Brussels, but environmental groups said local forestries have been working on plans to increase tree felling in some areas.

"Poland has still not fully complied with the ruling," the Commission said in a statement.

It added that Poland has not yet repealed the 2016 annex to the forest management plan for 2012-2021, which allowed for the amount of logging to triple.

"The Commission is therefore asking Poland today by letter of formal notice to take all required measures to remedy the situation," the Commission said.

If Poland fails to reply to the Commission's concerns within two months, the Commission may refer the case back to the court with proposed financial sanctions.

Poland's climate ministry was not immediately available to comment.

A plan to increase logging in the Bialowieza Forest was one of the first highly contested decisions taken by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party soon after it took power in 2015.

The environment minister, the late Jan Szyszko, said more tree felling was needed because of an infestation of the European spruce bark beetle. Environmentalists said that increased logging would cause irreparable damage to the ancient forest.

(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; editing by Barbara Lewis)