ClientEarth is challenging decisions by Poland’s General Directorate of Environmental Protection (GDEP) to license culls from free herds in the Borecka and Knysznska forests, in the country’s north east.
European bison are at risk of extinction and the law does not allow the deliberate killing of these endangered animals.
At the end of 2018, the general director granted two forest inspectorates permission to carry out the culls before the end of March this year. In both cases, arguments used to justify the decision raised serious scientific and legal doubts, but officials have so far ignored calls from environmentalists to rescind their approval, according to ClientEarth.
It is unknown how many bison have already been culled as the forest inspectorate has refused to provide the lawyers with these details, they said.
ClientEarth lawyer Agata Szafraniuk said: “The general director of environmental protection may allow a derogation from this ban only in exceptional cases, justified beyond any doubt, only in the absence of alternative solutions. In our opinion, the December decisions do not meet the above criteria.
“We want to make sure that these and subsequent decisions to cull bison are taken in accordance with the law and latest scientific knowledge.”
The GDEP's justification of the decisions included stating that animals were in poor condition or they lacked a fear of people – claims that lawyers have questioned.
ClientEarth decided to take the case to court, arguing that the culling permits were issued in a way which prevented the public from taking part in the decision-making process.
According to the law, the GDEP should immediately inform the public about receiving the applications for bison culling permits. The public and interested groups would then have a chance to present arguments against the culls.
The GDEP did not do this and only published final culling permits half a year later. This effectively prevented the public from engaging in the process. Due to this delay, ClientEarth lawyers were therefore denied participation in the proceedings and their applications for reconsideration of the permits were rejected.
Szafraniuk added: “Unfortunately, such culls are a symptom of a systemic problem. Regular killing of several dozen animals each year has sadly been a key element of the way bison have been dealt with for some time now. What’s worse, it’s being undertaken without any transparency or accountability.
“The public must not be denied the right to be involved in such decisions. Decisions concerning the management of the European bison population in Poland need to be made in a transparent and reasonable manner.”
The largest land mammal in Europe, the European bison has come close to extinction, with just 54 individuals recorded at one point early last century. After decades of breeding efforts, there are now around 2,000 bison living in free-ranging herds and closed breeding centres in Poland.
The Polish Director General of Environmental Protection did not respond to a request for comment.
This article is based on a press release from ClientEarth.