The Białowieża forest in Poland is one of the best preserved natural forests in Europe, characterized by large quantities of dead wood and ancient trees. Since 2007, the Białowieża forest has been protected as a Natura 2000 site. Natura 2000 is a network of sites selected to ensure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats. Due to its status as a Natura 2000 site, special rules apply for logging activates. In 2016, the Polish Minister for the Environment authorised an increase in logging in the forest District of Białowieża, as well as active forest management operations due to the outbreak of spruce bark beetle. Decision of the Polish Minister drew criticism from both scientists and environmentalists.
On 20 July 2017, the European Commission brought an action against Poland for failure to fulfil its obligations under the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive. The Commission also asked the Court to impose an interim measure ordering Poland to cease active forest management operations. On 27 July 2017, the Court issued a ban on logging, because increased timber harvesting in the Forest could cause serious and irreparable damage. Since Poland did not cease its forest management operations in the forest, the European Commission requested in September 2017 the Court of the EU to impose a periodic penalty payment until the logging stops. On 20 October 2017, the Court of Justice of the EU ordered Poland to immediately cease its active forest management operations.
On 17 April 2018, Court of Justice of the European Union declared that Poland has failed to fulfil its obligations arising from the Habitats and Birds Directives. As regards the Habitats Directive, the court in its decisions on the merits found that the Polish authorities did not have all the data relevant for assessing the implications of the active forest management operations in the Białowieska Natura 2000 site and did not carry out an appropriate assessment of those implications. Thus, Poland failed to fulfill its obligation arising from the Habitats Directive. Next, the Court examined whether the active forest management operations, authorized by the Polish Minister for the Environment, could entail harmful effects for the protected habitats and species on the Białowieska Natura 2000 site. In this context, the Court noted that the active forest management operations could not be justified by the need to stop the spread of the spruce bark beetle.
As regards the Birds Directive, the court in its decisions on the merits found that the implementation of the Polish authorization did not contain any specific protection measures that would enable deliberate interference affecting the life and habitat of those birds to be excluded from their scope. Since the Birds Directive prohibits deliberate destruction of, or damage to, the nests and eggs of the species concerned, removal of their nests and their deliberate disturbance, Poland has failed to fulfil its obligations arising from the Bird Directive.