Article

Legal and organizational aspects of arson attacks on monumental trees in Poland
Prawne i organizacyjne aspekty podpaleń drzew pomnikowych w Polsce
ANDRZEJ GRZYWACZ, EWA REFEROWSKA-CHODAK
Sylwan 166 (5):336-350, 2022
DOI: https://doi.org/10.26202/sylwan.2022029
Available online: 2022-08-30
Open Access (CC-BY)
fire • fire protection • law enforcement • monitoring • natural monument • vandalism

Abstract
Trees, as natural monuments, have special natural and social significance, therefore their destruction is felt as a great loss. The aim of this article is to consider legal and organizational aspects related to arson of monumental trees in Poland – presentation of the current status, identification of existing deficiencies and shortcomings, as well as to propose solutions to the identified problems. The information about arson attacks on monumental trees was collected as a result of browsing 480 websites using four keywords, including ‘arson attack on nature monument’ (pol. ‘podpalony pomnik przyrody’), of which 175 (unique) were considered useful. Additionally, to the above, reviews of legal acts were carried out, including the Penal Code, the Code of Petty Offences, the Nature Conservation Act and its implementing acts. In total, information was collected about 30 arson attacks on monumental trees, mostly oaks, located most often in southern Poland, which is only a fraction of all such cases of vandalism. The phenomenon has greatly intensified in the second decade of the 21st century, which makes it all the more urgent to consider the legal and organizational issues involved. The analysis of legal acts showed discrepancies in the qualification of such an act (Nature Conservation Act – a petty offence, Penal Code – an offence), which entails different consequences for perpetrators, as well as ambiguities in defining its rank (what is to be considered significant damage?). Additionally, there are several paragraphs in the Penal Code that potentially fit the situation, creating ambiguity as to the ultimate choice of sentence. Also at a disadvantage is the limited case law in this area and the undetermined way to calculate the full value of a monumental tree, which may determine the penalty for the crime. In response to this problem, the authors proposed a simplified way of valuing monumental trees, differentiated according to the rank of the tree set on fire, as well as harsher penalties for the described crime. In addition to the imperfection of the law, a major problem is the low level of enforcement. It is due to the low detection rate of the perpetrators of the crimes – out of the 34 cases of described arson attacks, only in one the perpetrator was revealed and was held liable for his crime. None of the trees were under surveillance or access restriction at the time of the arson. The article analyses the existing procedures (recently introduced in the State Forests), as well as possible technical solutions that could allow a faster and more effective response in case of a threat to a natural monument. The authors considered the protection of the most valuable trees – through the installation of photo traps and temperature/smoke sensors notifying of recorded threats – as the most urgent need, as well as the posting of information about their monitoring.

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