WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland will comply with an EU court order to stop cutting trees in Bialowieza forest, except where public safety has to be ensured, its new environment minister said on Friday - words certain to disappoint campaigners who want logging to end there.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Bialowieza, which straddles the border with Belarus, is one of Europe's last primeval forests and home to its largest herd of European bison as well as unique birds and insects.
Earlier this month, Henryk Kowalczyk replaced Jan Szyszko in a government reshuffle, raising environmentalists' hopes this would bring a policy change on the logging issue.
Szyszko approved a tripling of the quota of wood that can be harvested in one of three administrative areas of the Bialowieza Forest in March 2016 to stop a beetle outbreak.
The move triggered environmentalists' protests, divided Polish society and has become a bone of contention between Poland and the European Commission.
Last year the Commission sued Poland in the European Court of Justice and the court issued an interim decision in which it ordered Warsaw to stop logging immediately.
"The interim measure has been implemented, except for cutting to guarantee safety. The Tribunal allows for that. We will attempt to prove that if there is any logging it is only due to people's safety," Kowalczyk told public radio on Friday.
For environmental campaigners, the words echoed those of Szyszko who said some logging had to take place to ensure the safety of people from falling trees.
Kowalczyk also said that the beetle outbreak, which environmentalists see as a pretext for cutting down trees, needed to be reduced.
A final ruling on Bialowieza Forest by the EU's top court is expected later this year.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Richard Balmforth)