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Illegal logging plagues Romania

20 million cubic meters of wood are illegally cut every year in Romania according to data provided by National Forest Inventory and confirmed by the Minister of Environment. 

Romania hosts an estimated of 500.000 hectares of virgin forests nestled in its mountainous areas, the largest such ecosystem in the European Union outside of Scandinavia.

Many fear that illegal logging threatening the ancient woodlands will destroy the fragile flora and fauna present there as well as endanger people dependent on the forests for their very survival.

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Wood theft is a multi-million-euro crime. Last year, companies dealing in cutting and processing wood registered a total income of 6 billion euros. More than half represents illegal wood, untraced and untaxed according to numbers coming from the Romanian Ministry of Environment.

Illegal logging costs money but also the lives of those investigating and trying to stop timber thieves. Six forest rangers have been killed and 650 have been attacked and threatened over the past years by illegal loggers caught in the act, prompting thousands to march calling for government action.

In the years following the fall of communism, the Romanian government has been encouraging large-scale logging on its vast woodlands. This concoction of economic interest and ties to state authorities have been fueling Romania’s illegal logging.  The issue has been regarded by politicians, journalists, public figures and environmental activists as a serious problem for over two decades. Corruption enabled illegal cuts to even take place in reservations across the country and led to everyone being involved, including the very forest rangers that should prevent this from happening. In addition to forest rangers, civil servants high and low have several times been caught in selling and processing of illegal wood

Activists point out that illegal logging is very profitable. A single illegal logger can easily make 4-5 shipments per day, that’s about 250 cubic meters worth 12.500 euros. But this also depends on how the illegal wood is being registered with the possibility of smuggling very expensive oak wood as cheap firewood.

MEPs have also carried out investigations into the matter. Last year the delegation of the Committee on Petitions (PETI) of the European Parliament was led by Yana Toom from Estonia and consisted of Cristian Terhes, Lorant Vincze, Alexander Bernhuber, Maite Pagazaurtundua and Andrey Slabakov.

Cristian Terhes one of the MEPs involved said that “an enormous amount of illegal logging is happening in Romania and absolutely no one is punished. The legitimate question is how it is possible that this amount of wood is cut illegally and no one is held accountable”. The MEP called on the law-enforcing institutions to investigate these crimes.

Illegal logging also turned violent. Three years ago several journalists and one environmental activist were severely beaten while documenting illegal logging in a forest in Suceava county. A group of 20 individuals attacked them with sticks and axes, injuring the three and destroying all their equipment.

The attack on the journalist comes after the European Commission called on member states to improve the safety of journalists.

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