Interview with Holzindustrie Schweighofer: A policy change?

For a long time, European Wilderness Society has been following the illegal cutting of virgin forests, but also in National Parks across Romania. Holzindustrie Schweighofer was often mentioned in this context. After a suspension from the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and pressure by the public and NGOs, but also apparently self-awareness, HS Schweighofer began to change and modify its internal and purchasing policies and processes.

Please also read: FSC revokes probation and disassociates from the Schweighofer Group 

The complexity of Romanian forestry operations

We asked questions and received an astonishing and self-critical answer, which gives us hope. Yet, at the same time it shows the complexity of the problem in Romania. Questions were answered by Michael Proschek-Hauptmann, Head of Sustainability and Compliance in the Holzindustrie Schweighofer Group.

Q: Holzindustrie Schweighofer has been strongly criticised since 2015, after public allegations were raised that timber from National Parks, but also from illegal logging, had entered the supply chain.

A: One thing is important to say here: it is our highest principle to always adhere to the applicable laws and regulations. Now to your question: The criticism of NGOs and civil society has certainly triggered a learning process, which resulted into the insight that as a responsible company, we have to do more than just comply with the law. We have also to take into consideration fields of action where the law does not require us to do so. In this way, we have begun to analyse and work through the points of criticism that have been raised against us. Among other things, we introduced a “Zero Timber from National Parks” policy, made the supply chain transparent and traceable and introduced an Open Doors Policy for NGOs. Our security architecture for the supply chain now goes far beyond the requirements of Romanian legislation.

Q: What triggered this process of rethinking? After all, Holzindustrie Schweighofer has often argued in the past that it should not be held responsible for bad protected area management.

A: The intensive, partly painful, and later structured dialogue, e.g. with NGOs such as Agent Green, has certainly contributed to this. In principle, we have just recognised – here the discourse was also conducted by NGOs, such as WWF and European Wilderness Society, as well as others – that we have to do more than simply abide by the law.

Q: What is the concrete situation with the implementation of your projects, in particular regarding the procurement of wood from National Parks and primeval forests?

A: We welcome and understand the call for stricter protection of National Parks in Romania and have committed ourselves to supporting it. Even though – as media reports show – it seems difficult for all actors to give a 100% guarantee excluding National Park timber from supply chains. This is due to the complex situation and obviously a lot of abuse in this respect. However, Holzindustrie Schweighofer is one of the few companies that has taken precautionary measures that enable the company to identify and systematically exclude National Park timber supplies. In addition, the company has contractually obliged its suppliers not to deliver wood from National Parks. Companies that do not comply will also be suspended in the last instance.

Q: However, the NGOs’ points of criticism still remain the alleged mixing of timber sources at so-called timber collection points, where the clear proof of timber origin is often not comprehensible.

A: At Holzindustrie Schweighofer we do everything in our power to exclude illegally harvested timber and timber from National Parks from the supply chain. We have a strict due diligence system, which also includes the wood collection points. If our safety experts determine that National Park timber is also traded via a timber collection point (which is completely legal for timber from certain areas of the National Parks), we do not accept deliveries from the relevant timber collection point for this period.

But we also admit that there are always possibilities to improve things! Therefore, in our recently published sustainability report, we have also pointed out that we want to take further steps in the area of physical traceability of timber sources at the timber collection points. Here, too, discourse with NGOs and civil society provides important help, because if points of criticism are raised, we take these as an opportunity to see where we can become better.

Q: What are the next goals Holzindustrie Schweighofer has set itself for the illegal clearing of primeval forests in Romania and wood supplies from National Parks?

A: We will continue to make every effort to support the Romanian state in its fight against illegal logging. And we want to strengthen the dialogue with the NGOs to the extent that we know that the process of getting better never really ends, especially in such a complex environment as Romania. We would be happy if we could stand up together with NGOs and say: after an initially difficult mutual relationship, we are now pulling in the same direction in principle: Our common goal is to operate a sustainable timber industry in Romania.

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Join more 100+ forest experts demanding a radical change in German forestry management.

Sign the Open Letter to the German Federal Minister of Forestry and Agriculture

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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