WARSAW, Poland — Poland's environment minister has angered environmentalists after saying he favors reducing the number of protected species including elk and bison because some of the animals damage crops — but he added it isn't easy in an age of "excessive sensitivity to animal protection."
Henryk Kowalczyk told residents in the northern town of Mlawa that his ministry had suggested to regional environmental authorities that they might grant more permits to hunt elk, bison and beavers. These are all protected species under European law and the hunting of them is strictly controlled.
"We live in times of excessive sensitivity to animal protection, to put it mildly," Kowalczyk said Sunday, adding that his predecessor, Jan Szyszko, had given permission for the hunting of elk but had to cancel that almost immediately under pressure. His remarks were only widely reported in Polish media Thursday.
"These are shocking words since these species are protected by the Polish and EU laws and can be killed only under very well-defined and limited conditions," said Agata Szafraniuk, a lawyer for the ClientEarth environmental group. "It is unthinkable that the environment minister publicly says that he gave instructions to bypass the law that he is supposed to be the guardian of."
WWF's senior specialist in species conservation in the group's Poland office said it was "extremely concerning" that the minister suggested support for weakening wildlife protection.
"Poland is home to a number of vulnerable species, including the European bison, and its government should be working to protect this incredible heritage," Stefan Jakimiuk said. "Human-wildlife conflict is of course something that needs to be actively managed, but we should try and solve conflict situations without using a shotgun."
Kowalczyk said the government won't remove protected status for the animals "because there will be a conflict with Europe."
His ministry's spokesman, Aleksander Brzozka, said Kowalczyk had only meant to emphasize that "the problem of damage caused by protected species is serious." He also said the minister was just saying that there are some cases in which shooting the animals is allowed, but that he was not claiming that his ministry had the authority to make those decisions.
Kowalczyk made his comments after a local councilor and forester thanked him for easing restrictions on boar hunting and asked about plans for other "burdensome" animals like beavers and elk.
Poland's ruling party increased logging in the Bialowieza Forest, Europe's last remaining pristine forest, to a level that environmentalists considered unsustainable, but was ordered to stop earlier this year by the European Union's top court.