Holzindustrie Schweighofer on probation: FSC shocks nature conservation world

The months of investigative reporting of illegal logging activities in Romania and the link to Holzindustrie Schweighofer were confirmed in a report a few days ago by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the world’s most influential forest-products certification organization. The 110 page report describes in detail the findings of a nearly year-long investigation of more than 400 documents into allegations of illegality on the part of Austrian timber processing company Holzindustrie Schweighofer.

In a new documentary from 2018, the effectiveness of the FSC eco-label in protection primary forests is still questioned.

Please also read: Can FSC eco-label stop logging primeval forests?

The report by three auditors Leo van der Vlist, Heiko Liedeker & Berty van Hensbergen states right at the beginning that the

FSC ( Forest Steward Council) shall disassociate from Holzindustrie Schweighofer and all companies controlled by Gerald Schweighofer.

The panel concluded that

Inspection reports from the government and other sources indicate that timber purchased by Holzindustrie Schweighofer is affected by some level of illegality in all of the above categories. This includes failures to comply with the law carried out directly by Holzindustrie Schweighofer employees at its mills.

In summary, government inspections carried out in 2014 and 2015 indicate that there were 48 legal failings at HS mills involving over 500,000 m3 of timber and that many suppliers of Holzindustrie Schweighofer including some FSC certificate holders had been involved in illegal forest activities. Of the small sample of suppliers and contractors inspected, 56 were found to have legal compliance issues affecting almost 200,000m3 of timber. It is known that Holzindustrie Schweighofer has more than 1000 timber suppliers, but not all these have been inspected.

Government inspectors conclude that HS has created structures for the laundering of illegal timber.

The Complaints panel has found that there is clear and convincing evidence that Holzindustrie Schweighofer has been involved in the trade in illegal timber both by accepting illegal timber into its mills and by its own actions in the mills. The panel has also found that Holzindustrie Schweighofer has developed a supply system that encourgages overharvesting of legally stipulated production levels in order to meet volume demands. In addition, Holzindustrie Schweighofer has unwisely associated with companies and individuals with strong allegations of illegal and corrupt actions against them and in some cases has pre-financed their forest activities.

The Complaints panel is also aware of more recent allegations of illegality and corruption surrounding timber that Holzindustrie Schweighofer sources from Ukraine for its mills in Romania. These were not investigated by the Complaints panel.

Even though the report uncovered clear evidence, such as sourcing illegally logged timber, by Holzindustrie Schweighofer in Romania that went against FSC certification policy the FSC Board of Directors failed miserably to follow the Complaints panel recommendation that the company be disassociated from the FSC. Instead all the FSC Board of Directors were able to agree upon is to put Holzindustrie Schweighofer on a two-month probation during which time it must fulfill certain conditions. Nature Conservationists are sure, that this overly mild probation period is in fact encouraging every illegaler logger to continue its illegal practice and sell the illegal cut wood under the FSC label.

Alexander Bismarck from the Environmental Investigative Agency commented the decision as shocking and stated:

It is now unfortunately clear that the FSC logo is used to launder illegal wood,” Alexander von Bismarck, Executive Director of EIA, said in a statement. “It is all the more shocking that the FSC comes to this conclusion itself, and yet allows it to continue.”

Max A E Rossberg comments:

First the local authorities failed, then the Romanian government failed, then the EU failed and now the international community failed again to stop the Deforestation in Romania. Every day 48 hectare of Europe´s last Old-Growth forest in disappearing. We should be all ashamed of ourselves.

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Sign the Open Letter to the German Ministry

Join more than 70 forest experts demanding a radical change in the German forest management system.

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


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