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WWF-Romania Launches New Tool in Fight against Illegal Logging

Vienna, Austria (The Hawk): WWF-Romania created and launched the first tool which, by video monitoring the wood transports that leave the forest, can help authorities significantly reduce illegal logging by prioritising and improving the efficiency of their controls. Romania could then address the infringement issued by the European Commission concerning the lack of efficient controls on operators transporting wood from the forest.

The European Commission's decision to launch an infringement procedure against Romania emphasises real deficiencies in the country's system to combat illegal logging:

The authorities do not carry out sufficient and efficient controls when wood is first introduced on the market;

Controls are not geographically representative, nor do they follow established prioritisation criteria; and

Penalties should be efficient, proportional and dissuasive.

WWF-Romania's monitored three different locations for 21 continous days between November and December 2020. It concluded that illegal logging activities are in full swing and that they can only be effectively prevented by controls which focus on the "first placement of timber on the market" – that is, on its way between the forest and where it is first unloaded. The first data reveals that illegal logging most often takes place at sunset after work hours, and during non-religious, legal holidays when forestry officials are not active. However, to be statistically relevant at a national level, WWF-Romania hopes that the authorities will start a monitoring protocol using the methodology it has developed.

The lack of efficient timber controls at the points of the first placement on the market further enables people willing to break the law. The conservation organisation witnessed wood transports without permits let through undisturbed, multiple transports based on the same permit, and trucks overloaded with more than 10 m3 - all of which are considered criminal offences. Of these, the main illegal forestry activity is trucks overloaded beyond their permits, thus placing untaxed wood on the market. The recently introduced electronic wood tracking system SUMAL 2.0 cannot solve this problem.

"Without an instrument to impartially show where, when and how controls must be oriented, the illegal logging controversy will go on endlessly. We will continue to witness the evolution of this phenomenon, but we won't be able to prevent it. Without addressing its causes (why) in an integrated manner, illegal logging will remain a reality with serious, negative effects on forest management and development of the local communities." – Serban Niculescu, Forest Expert at WWF Romania.

The current reactive protection and control system must be transformed into a proactive and preventive one. That is why several important legal changes are necessary:

Around 80% of Romania's wood is currently sold as standing stock which generates systemic conflicts of interest. Romania sells its wood based only on estimates. The specialist goes into the forest and writes down the expected volume of wood that would result from a certain standing tree. The officially accepted errors exceed 20%. The country needs to change the legislation regarding the sale of its state-owned wood and to capitalise on it locally to encourage local wood manufacturers. This would lead to better products sold at higher prices, to the benefit of local communities;

In most of the cases, even if illegal transports (no matter the illegal method used) are discovered, operators only risk a small fine equivalent of a slap on the wrist. Romania needs to impose efficient, proportional and dissuasive penalties;

Law enforcement and forestry officials must implement regular and efficient controls focused on the wood's first placement on the market; and

There is a black market for timber which has been motivated by the high price of legally harvested firewood. For example, in many cases 1 m3 of firewood costs the equivalent of 25% of the average monthly rural income.

Updated : 1 April 2021 1:03 PM GMT
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