This February, the European Commission announced that it is taking legal action to stop the vast illegal logging that has resulted in the degragation of tens of thousands of hectars of protected Romanian old-growth and primeval forests. Moreover, the infringement proceeedings point out Romania’s failiure to comply with the EU Timber Regulation by enabling illegally logged timber to enter the EU market. The Commission issued a letter of formal notice to warn the Romanian authorities allowing them 1 month to send a reply addressing their shortcomings. The Commission will afterwards elaborate on whether to take the case further, to the EU Court of Justice, as it previously happened for the case of the illegal logging practices in the Polish Bialowieza Forest.
Please also read: The FSC and illegal logging in Romania
The way illegal timber get to the market
One of the methods illegal cut timber finds it way into the system is through the legal timber collection points. Normally the forest industry is able to track direct shipped timber from the logging place to the sawmill. This is not possible in the many collection points where the legally cut timber is mixed with the illegally cut timber, obscuring the source and therefore whitewashing illegal logging.
Please also read: Interview with HS Schweighofer
Illegally logged wood delivered late at night
It is interesting to mention how illegally cut firewood is brought to towns and villages often in the evenings or late night. The official reasoning of the suppliers for late night delivery is not to obstruct the traffic on the streets. The illegality also seems to be proven by the fact that there is never any proof of origin and / or invoice or any other official document provided to the buyers.
What’s more, citizens are depending on the supplies of the logging mafia. This is clearly demostrated by two closely intertwined phenomena visible in Romania. In the country with the highest coverage of potential old-growth and primary forests (525 000 hectares) of all EU States next to Scandinavia, illegal logging has been flourishing for years. Meanwhile, purchasing firewood has been a serious issue for the public.
In front the very eyes of Romanian authorities
Forest destruction is progressing rather quickly as there is seemingly still “plenty to steal” from the forests. This is proven also by the PRIMOFARO inventory (Primary and Old Growth Forest Areas of Romania), an analysis by EuroNatur and Agent Green. However, in parallel, firewood legally avaliable on the market is a rare case, which created a shortage, at least towards the population. A state distribution network exists, working in together with official forestry institutions, which would logically be the place to get supplies for the locals. However, when locals visit, representatives of the given distribution site usually inform them that they have run out of wood, or worse, that there wasn’t even any to start with.
Therefore, locals are oftentimes facing with the fact that there is no possibility to purchase wood with verified origin. In front of the eyes of the Romanian government, citizens are thus forced to resort to all sorts of other solutions.
But who are the big fish?
Apart from the small-scale trade with locals, it is believed that even big industrial companies are involved in this circle. To secure high volume of production, they accept take wood to their timber collection points or sawmills that is suspected to be illegally logged. The number of sources these companies work with makes it very hard to track the origin of the timber, often arriving to the collection points unmarked. This constitutes the really big business deal for the logging mafia. It provides a reason to go to such extents to even harm people’s lifes. In the last 5 years, there have been officially 650 violent attacks against Romanian foresters, rangers and other victims of environmental activism, seven of who were actually murdered.
Please also read: Rangers murdered by Romanian logging mafia
Romania, home of vast forest Wilderness, is also one of Europe’s largest exporters of timber. At the same time, some foreign companies built large wood processors in the country. The among these are Kronospan and Egger. They sell their products on an international level, primarily on the German market. Meanwhile, Romania is even one of the sources of wood for the Swedish furniture store, Ikea. They have direct ownership over about fifty thousand hectares of forests. In parallel, they also work with many Romanian companies that make cheap furniture for the Ikea.
Stopping the logging mafia
In the end, most of the timber ends up in the black market. In total, 38 million cubic meters of timber is produced annually in Romania. However, only 18 million can be officially traced, even with the SUMAL app in place. SUMAL is an electronic timber tracking system set up with big hopes by the former Romanian government 5 years ago. While most of the ‘missing’ 20 million cubic meters of timber are simply used as firewood locally, it is estimated that several million cubic meters are logged and traded illegally on an industrial scale.
There is a common opinion circulating also through leading polititians, which is that the logging mafia cannot be stopped. On the other hand, nowadays, more and more protests are taking place around the country. Citizens demonstate for the state leadership and authorities to wash their hands, alienate themselves from the collaborators and finally take action to protect the remaining forested land of the country.
The Environmental groups Agent Green, EuroNatur and ClientEarth have taken serious action last year. They filed complaint to the European Commission against the forest destruction in Romania. Welcoming the steps taken by the Commission, these three groups called the Romanian Government to:
1. Immediately start complying with Nature Directives
2. Strictly preserve all remaining primary and old-growth forests that overlaps with the Natura 2000 network
3. Protect primary and old-growth forests located outside Natura 2000 sites
4. Publish logging plans and forest age data of all forest management plans of Natura 2000 sites