The report analyzes that illegal timber harvesting in Bulgaria for the period 2018-2022 still accounts for between 1/4 and 1/3 of the officially recorded timber production. Furthermore, it appears that half of the seemingly legal timber harvesting is done in violation of laws regarding forests, the environment, biodiversity, and protected areas. According to experts, illegal logging generates hidden revenues of over 100 million Bulgarian leva annually.
"In our analysis, we use various sources, including the annual reports from the Executive Forest Agency, relevant data from the National Statistical Institute, and a wide legal framework. Based on this, we can make a justified conclusion that illegal timber harvesting remains high. For an average year, it amounts to 1.7 million cubic meters of officially registered production. We even have data on illegal logging, albeit on a small scale, from the three national parks – 'Rila,' 'Pirin,' and 'Central Balkan'," commented Dobromir Dobrinov, WWF-Bulgaria’s Senior Expert in Environmental Legislation and co-author of the analysis.
The document also highlights the most common schemes for illegal timber harvesting and trading, including:Harvesting unmarked trees in designated logging areas.
- Manipulating the calculation of wood volume for firewood and industrial timber.
- Concealing illegally harvested timber during transport.
- Manipulating the qualification of marked trees.
Illegal logging in Bulgaria generates hidden revenues of over 100 million leva annually.” ©WWF
One of the factors contributing to abuses in forests is the insufficient number of personnel responsible for their protection, according to specialists. Currently, just over 3,000 individuals take care of this responsible task in Bulgaria, and their numbers have gradually decreased in recent years. The share of funds allocated from the state budget for forest management also continues to decline.
"Over the past five years, the state has taken some steps in the right direction, but unfortunately, they have not been able to effectively influence illegal practices. There has been an increase in the number of inspections but a decrease in the number of violations identified. Administrative and criminal measures do not lead to justice. The collection of fines and sanctions only reaches 33% of established violations, which essentially renders criminal procedures meaningless," added Dobrinov.
Another significant factor contributing to illegal timber harvesting is related to social inequality and the level of chronic poverty in the country. The price of firewood has increased, while the number of households living in persistent poverty has decreased minimally over the past five years. This exerts additional pressure to use illegally obtained timber. In fact, consumption of firewood by the population is the largest factor in the timber balance, as noted in the report. According to data from "Alpha Research" for 2021, 957,463 households purchased around 5.166 million cubic meters of firewood.
Lastly, the report identifies weak control mechanisms over timber harvesting and the trade of illegal timber. Despite significant interest in the issue, citizens do not actively engage in combating illegal logging, and the judicial system suffers from chronic problems without targeted steps to overcome them, according to the authors of the analysis.
Urgent Measures Needed
The WWF report predicts that if urgent and decisive actions are not taken to eradicate the conditions for illegal timber harvesting on multiple levels, the trend will deepen. Experts offer some specific recommendations:
- Strict enforcement of national and European environmental laws.
- Analysis and revision of policies and existing legislation in the field of forestry.
- The Executive Forest Agency, in collaboration with stakeholders, should establish key indicators for factors influencing illegal timber harvesting.
- Introduction of measures to enhance transparency in the timber harvesting sector and trade in timber products, as well as to combat the informal sector in forests.
If immediate actions are not taken, this detrimental practice, in addition to causing financial losses to the state budget in millions of leva each year, will continue to diminish the productive and conservation functions of forests, threatening to deprive entire regions of clean air and drinking water.