WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A European court ordered Poland on Friday to immediately stop cutting trees in Europe's last pristine woodland, the Bialowieza Forest.
The European Union's Court of Justice said the measure is temporary and is meant to give European authorities time to analyze Poland's position on the matter. Poland has until Aug. 4 to explain its policy to the European Commission, which will then decide whether to seek a permanent ban on the logging.
European authorities and environmental groups say the logging threatens the continent's last unspoiled woodland, which is included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. They say the felling of trees, done with the use of heavy equipment, destroys the forest and the habitats of animals and other native species.
Poland's Environment Ministry would not comment, saying it had not yet received the court's order.
Environment minister Jan Szyszko last year authorized increased logging in the forest through the year 2021, tripling the amount of logging over an earlier level seen as environmentally sustainable.
Szyszko said the logging is meant to save the woods from an infestation of bark beetle. He also insists that it is being carried out in line with European laws and Poland's best forestry traditions.
Younger parts of the forest have been traditionally used to some degree for the production of timber, which is a source of income for the local residents.
Environmental groups, who have been holding protests and blocking the logging equipment, say bark beetle infestations are a natural part of the forest cycle and accuse the government of using that as a pretext to log for financial profit.
They welcomed Friday's decision.
Greenpeace, WWF, ClientEarth and other environmental groups issued a statement saying that "the increased logging, not bark beetle, poses a threat to the protected habitats and species and should be stopped immediately before the damage is irreversible."
The forest covers tens of thousands of hectares (hundreds of thousands of acres) in Poland and in Belarus, and is home to hundreds of animal and plant species, including bison, lynx, moss and lichens.
Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report
This story has been corrected to show the forest's name is spelled Bialowieza, not Bialowierza.