Illegal logging causing problems in Eastern Europe

Widespread illegal logging in Eastern Europe is threatening the EU's internal timber market and must be stopped, conservation organisation WWF warned this week.

Studies conducted by the group showed that up to 45% of the total timber harvest in Bulgaria stemmed from illegal operations, and that the annual allowable cut was exceeded by 1.5 million m3.

In Slovakia, the volume of estimated illegal harvesting is around 10%, with the allowable cut being exceeded by nearly a fifth, and although illegal logging was detected in Romania, gaps in government figures made it difficult to estimate the actual extent.

As the European Parliament votes this week on the accession of Romania and Bulgaria into the EU, WWF has called on European institutions to assist the new Member States and accession countries in dealing with this environmental threat, particularly through capacity-building measures and financial support.

“The EU has a responsibility to assist new Member States to create condition which make abuse of natural resources less attractive and less likely,” head of WWF’s European forest programme Duncan Pollard stated.

However, despite the fact that NGOs have long pointed out that this issue urgently needs to be addressed in Europe as well as in tropical areas, no action of measure has yet been taken by the European Commission to combat this problem.

“If the EU is to be consistent in its efforts to tackle illegal logging, then it must deal with the problem not only in tropical areas, but within its own borders as well as in accession countries,” WWF forest policy officer Beatrix Richards explained.

Violations of legislation such as fraudulent permit use, registration of high quality wood as low quality timber to avoid taxes, false records on real harvested volumes, evasion of controls and logging in protected areas, she added, were the major causes of illegal wood harvesting in Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania.

Corruption, as well as a shortage of financial, human and material resources, were also identified as contributing factors.

“Often police or guards have little knowledge of timber controls and forest staff do not have appropriate incentives for good forest management,” Mr Pollard concluded. “Not only is illegal logging harmful for rare and valuable species but it also means huge economic loss for the communities and a distortion of trade in Europe.”

He added that the Bulgarian State Forest Administration had recently announced its commitment to address this issue.

By Jane Kettle

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