31 March 2021 - 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 over 21continous 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,
“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.
Download the Video Monitoring Report – English version
One of the main causes of illegal logging in Romania is the current timber harvest control system based on estimating the volume of the standing trees without checking on the resulting wood when it is first introduced on the market. Less than 1% of the wood transports are checked when leaving the forest. In most of the cases, controls are limited to checking permits and do not verify the volumes or the types of trees declared in papers. The few controls which check on the wood transports leaving the forest are random or even discretionary. In this context, important quantities of wood are being illegally placed on the market.
Considering the dynamics of the illegal logging phenomenon, the methodology developed by WWF must be continuously tested and updated. In order to become statistically relevant at a national level, we hope the authorities will start a monitoring protocol that will actively involve academics, technical experts and civil society.
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