Saturday

6th Mar 2021

Romanians demand political action to stop illegal logging

  • 'Timber mafia'. In the past few years, six forestry workers have been killed and more than 650 incidents have been registered, including physical assaults, death threats and destruction of property (Photo: Basil & Tracy Brooks)

Thousands of Romanians marched on Sunday, in the capital Bucharest and other cities, against illegal logging in the country and the lack of a governmental response - which they blame for the murders of two forest workers dead earlier this year.

Romania contains two-thirds of Europe's last remaining old-growth forests - a valuable ecosystem for the continent's largest populations of wolves, bears, and lynx.

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However, Greenpeace estimates that Romania is losing as much as three hectares of its total forest cover every hour due to degradation, illegal and legal logging.

The protests, organised by the Romanian environmental NGOs Declic, Agent Green and Greenpeace, demanded an independent investigation of the murders of Liviu Pop and Raducu Gorcioai, and the implementation of new measures.

The EU has an action plan to fight illegal logging - that is, felling trees and cutting and preparing the timber. But these activities are still common in some member states.

The NGOs propose to update the current legislation on forestry, to include new initiatives such as satellite monitoring of forests, an electronic register in all wood repositories or surveillance cameras in key spots.

Pop was shot dead with a hunting rifle last month after he started investigating a possible case of illegal logging in the north of Romania. A few weeks earlier, Gorcioaia was found dead in his car, not far from an illegal logging site in Pascani forest.

Both are part of a long string of cases of violence and intimidation against forestry personnel, linked to illegal logging.

Romania's 'timber mafia'

According to Silva Trade Union Federation (Romania's forestry union), six forestry workers have been killed in the past few years, and more than 650 incidents have been registered - including physical assaults, death threats and destruction of property.

"We consider these recent extremely serious cases where foresters have become victims of illegal loggers a tragic result of a long series of actions or rather, inaction with regards to rebuilding the credibility of Romanian forest rangers," said the regional forests coordinator at the World Wildlife Fund, Ionut Sorin Banciu.

Romania's state forestry management, Romsilva, told reporters that these violent incidents have multiplied "against a background of strengthening measures to prevent and combat illegal cuts".

Last week, a total of 42 civil society organisations sent a letter to the president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, demanding the Romanian government to dismantle the Romanian 'timber mafia' network, and to ensure effective legislation relating to forest protection and biomass sustainability.

Illegal vs legal logging

Earlier this year, Germany's EuroNatur, Romania's Agent Green, and the UK's ClientEarth, all filed a complaint against Romania's authorities to the European Commission, alleging that national logging operations violate EU law.

The three organisations claimed Romsilva itself is conducting logging operations within protected areas without considering the environmental impacts of such practices.

Europe needs to preserve "the European equivalent of the Amazon natural forest," said the EuroNatur executive director Gabriel Schwaderer.

Last month, the commissioner for environment, Karmenu Vella, said the commission was concerned with the degree of continued reported illegal logging in Romania, adding it was investigating the application of EU law in the country.

According to the commissioner, the assessment includes the use of Copernicus satellite imagery.

"If the data confirm illegal logging, the commission will take measures to ensure that the EU environmental legislation is respected," he added.

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