Tag Archives: agent green

Romania: How „woodchippers“ threaten natural forests and help with laundering of illegal logging

 

EU forests increasingly threatened by “bioenergy” – Fern report

Agent Green” investigator Andrei Ciurcanu could hardly believe what he found  in the middle of Romania’s Rodna National Park: A fully automatic wood chipper machine, cutting trees and instantly chopping them into little wood chips to be sold to „bioenergy“ industry. I’ts not logs any more leaving the national park, but many many unmarked (and therefore uncontrollable) pieces of wood. This makes it even more easy to launder illegal logging. Wood chips mainly end up being burned in the bioenergy sector – entering the atmosphere as carbon emissions and intensifying the climate crisis.

According to the new report „EU Forests in Danger“ by the NGO Fern bioenergy industry is becoming the number one threat to Europe´s natural forest remains. The EU wood processing industry is heavily pushing for the increased use of wood (also directly from forests, not just from wood waste) for energy purposes. They claim this is good for „climate protection“.

However, numerous scientists and environmentalists counter this by arguing that burning trees leads to increased carbon emissions and thus adds to the climate crisis. Regrowth of forests happens too slow to compensate the emissions in time. Therefore they call for improved protection of intact forests and expansion of woodlands – rather than logging and replacing natural forests with plantations.

Woodchipper in Romania’s Rodna National Park

Back to Rodna National Park. Agent Green Investigator Andrei Ciurcanu says, the use of this wood chipping device proves it being likely that illegal practices still happen on large scale, even in the forests of a national park. The wood thieves just use the official system of traceability (SUMAL) and its weaknesses: Romania still doesn’t have an online registry of logging depots, thus it is very easy to use the depots as a laundering places for getting illegal Wood out. In this case not only the depots are used to launder the illegal wood, but also to transform illegally cut trees into unrecognizable wood chips. Then the wood could be sold to wood processing or trading companies with official papers, giving the appearance of legality.

Woodchipper in an Romanian national park: illegally cut trees transformed into wood chips, right in the middle of the protected forest…

În Parcul Național Munții Rodnei lemnul tăiat ilegal este tocat și apoi vândut firmelor de procesare from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

Official investigations found illegal practices

The official investigations led by Romanian authorities (Forest Guard inspectors) in the area where the chipper was present revealed that a Romanian logging company was authorised by a Private Forest District to enter the National Park and received legal permits for „accidental logging“ (trees affected by windstorms and landslides).

Thus, the timber quality is medium or low. However, the investigators discovered that the company employees logged not only damaged trees but cleared the whole area. They found 91 stumps without a the sign for legal logging approval (hammer). The overall loss was equivalent to more than 10.000 euros. The illegally harvested wood was afterwards mixed with other logs and sold or transformed into woodchips. They attached papers, as if the timber was sold from a depot.

But the Investigators not only discovered illegally cut stumps. They also found out that in the Lala region (where the chipper was filmed) not one legal depot was authorized by the Romanian institutions. So all the papers used for transporting and selling of the wood chips were obviously forged.

In brief: the woodchipper was obviously also used to transform illegally cut trees into wood chips. The growing market for „biomass“ could make fishy practices like this more attractive and lead to additional forest destruction.

Basically the logging and transport company apparently wanted to avoid registration of the woodchips with the Romanian SUMAL System. This requires a mandatory online registration of all transports of logged wood from the forest to a processing factory or a depot located outside the forest with a unique SUMAL online code. They used only accompanying documents pretending that the wood was transported from a depot to a factory, which does not require an online code according to SUMAL and the romanian legislation.

This trick was intentional to hide the origin of the wood. In case of a police control it would have been impossible to see whether the wood was legally cut or not. During routine control the police only sees that the transport appears to be legal because it is accompanied by official papers.

The illegal logging is investigated now by the prosecutor and there is an ongoing penal investigation. Romanian TV reported about this case.

Which companies appear to be involved?

The official investigation led by forest inspectors revealed that the woodchips were made by a chipper owned by a company named Austroforest and the transport by Frasinul Ltd, both owned by a businessman called Traian Larionesi, important partner for Holzindustrie Schweighofer. His name is connected to different corruption cases investigated by the Anti Corruption Department in Romania. The forest inspectors also found out that the woodchips were sold by Frasinul to the big Austrian timber processing company Egger. The company runs Romania’s largest biomass power plant (83 Megawatt) in Radauti , where Egger also operates a huge sawmill. 

We complain about forest destruction worldwide.
But what about protection of forests on our own doorstep?

The EU in general is supporting programs to protect forests globally, through development aid, innovative trade work such as the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, and commitments to end EU consumption of goods that cause agricultural deforestation. Officials from all over the EU have been supporting calls on countries hosting large forest areas such as Brazil, Indonesia, DRC or Russia to halt excessive logging.

New report by Fern: EU Forests in Danger

But at the same time, less than one per cent or the EU’s forests are still in a primeval or very natural status. And many of these stands are not sufficiently protected. Even in the EU’s Natura 2000 sites old growth and virgin forests are being logged – legally and illegally. A substantial share of the harvested timber from EU’s last natural forest stands ends up in bioenergy industry. The NGO Fern published the report „EU Forests in Danger“ about the progressing loss of Europe´s last natural forests. Country reports from 11 EU member states (including Romania, Slovakia or Sweden) draw an alarming picture. Final conclusion: „we must also protect the natural and old-growth forests on our own doorstep“.

 

Save our Paradise Forests now! from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

See the full episode about the case of Rodna national park from the “Out of Control” series:

OUT OF CONTROL || Case #5 || Rodna Mountains National Park from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

Inventory: Romania is running out of mature and high value forests due to overlogging

Romanian EU-Presidency 2019: Peaceful protest by environmental activists in front of the EU climate experts meeting in Timisoara stopped by police

Romania’s second forest inventory (NFI) reveals an alarming loss of mature and high value forests due to massive logging pressure. According to the nationwide inventory, the average annual wood harvest between 2013 and 2018 was about 38.6 million cubic meters. But only 18 million cubic meters have been approved with forest management pans. The remaining 20.6 million cubic meters of timber exploited per year „disappeared“ outside the legal framework.
A closer look at the statistics published by the Ministry of Water and Forests shows that the massive forest exploitation in Romania increasingly results in young forests, which is of low value for both, economy and nature capital.

In order to draw international attention to escalating forest crisis in Romania Agent Green activists welcomed EU-climate experts attending an EGA (Environmental Goods Agreement) conference in Timisoara on January 30 with an image of forest destruction. Police removed them immediately…

Romania’s forests turned into a „kindergarten“?

Almost 60% of the forest cover is younger than the legal minimum age limit for logging of 80 years and thus not able to be exploited. 85% is younger than 100 years. Only 1% of the forests have an average age of more than 160 years, and not more than another 2% have reached an average age between 140 and 160 years. Only 8% are older than 120 years, which includes more high nature values (with aged trees and a higher volume of dead wood).

Virgin and „quasi-virgin“-forests could be represented by the 1% figure (older than 160 years). The 2% figure (141/160 years forest) most likely includes most of the other old growth forests in Romania, including precious stands in National Parks and Natura 2000 sites. These two categories together sum up to approximately 207.00 hectares of forests. Most of these forests are not strictly protected today and are subject of „progressive cutting“, which means a stepwise removal of all trees in a forest parcel.

This means: Due to the massive (over-) logging Romania’s forests have been largely turned into juvenile stands. Romania is running out of mature and high nature value forests, which cover less than 3% of the forest surface all together.

Average age distribution of Romanian forests: 85% are younger than 100 years.

These figures clearly indicate an alarming situation: this outstandingly important European natural heritage in Romania is vanishing – before the eyes of the EU and the public.

Industry lobbyists push for increase of legal wood harvest


Nevertheless, forest industry interest groups argue that the NFI data also indicates an annual growth of 58,6 million cubic meters (8,46 cubic meters per hectare) and thus the forest is healthy and the legal annual wood harvest should be even increased. There have been also attempts by lobbyists to decrease the legal minimum age of cutting from 80 to 70 years in order to boost revenue.

Agent Green rings the alarm bell – at EGA-Meeting in Timisoara

In the morning of Wednesday, January 30, Agent Green activists alerted the international experts attending a conference of the EGA (Environmental Goods Agreement) in Timisoara on the escalating forest crisis in Romania. Two activists expected the delegates at the entrance with an oversized T-shirt-banner with an image of a giant clearcut and saying „Welcome to Romania“. The EGA-event takes place on January 30th and 31st under the Romanian EU-Presidency within the framework of the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement and is hosted by the Timis County Council.

Police and the Gendarmerie immediately intervened and led the protesters away from the eyes of EU experts. “It’s not nice what you do, what will the foreigners say about our country? You make our country look ridiculous, “said Carmelia Dragomir Bălănică, vice-president of the National Agency for Natural Protected Areas, to the activists.

“We draw the attention of EGA experts who coordinate EU member states on the negative effects of the massive forest exploitation which affects both biodiversity and climate. The virgin and old growth forests play an essential role in combating climate change as they absorb greenhouse gases and stores them permanently in the form of carbon. Only 8% of Romania’s forests are still over 120 years old and in a natural state. At EU level, even less. Virgin and old growth forests must be strictly protected by a moratorium, “said Gabriel Paun, president of Agent Green.

(all images: © Minerva VINCZE / Agent Green)

Investigation Video: Romania’s State Forestry Enterprise Caught Illegally Logging in National Park

Romania – Europe’s largest tracts of old growth forests in Romania are being deliberately and illegally destroyed by state forest agency Romsilva. A new video investigation reveals hard proof of large scale forest devastation in Calimani National Park in the eastern Carpathians. Unofficially, in 2017 alone, about 70.000m3 of wood were logged in the protected area, an equivalent of 200 ha of old growth forests.

“The situation in Calimani National Park is completely out of control. The level of mismanagement and nature destruction, driven by Romsilva, is unacceptable,“ Agent Green and EuroNatur Foundation conclude. They urgently call on the Romanian Ministry for Environment to immediately dismiss Romsilva from managing protected areas, to stop any industrial logging in national parks and to take decisive action to save the EU’s largest wild forest ecosystems.

Agent Green investigator and journalist Andrei Ciurcanu visited the Calimani National Park during several investigations between 2017 and 2018. He detected scandalous devastation in the middle of the protected area: large clearcuts, brutally built forest roads, funicular lines, polluted and destroyed alpine river beds and muddy valley bottoms cleared for vast wood depots – just adjacent touristic trails. The responsibility for this disaster lies with Romsilva, who controls the national park management and administers wood exploitation in the national park.

OUT OF CONTROL #ep4 Calimani National Park from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

Besides the massive loss of trees, the investigation video also shows how the logs are being dragged through river beds, thereby destroying these once pure freshwater ecosystems. The logging spreads over several square kilometers and whole mountain ranges are now clear cut.

National park rangers are familiar with these illegal practices. But they obviously fear losing their job if they would administer fines. A forester, who talks only on the protection of his identity, gives an example of the functioning of the malicious system: 20 years ago, after a large wind-fell, „shady things“ happened. „Romsilva people promised wood to a Turkish company. They stalled removal of bark beetle infested trees for almost 2 years. This allowed the bark beetle to spread. At the end they could log twice as much as planned.“ This gigantic logging area is still an enormous ecological wound and forest recovery is slow because of the size of the clearing.

Peter Abran was a member of the park’s Scientific Council and a specialist of Mures Environmental Agency. He knew about the destruction and claims that he and other members were dismissed from the council after opposing logging inside the park. During a phone interview with Agent Green, Abran confirms that logging in parts of the park is illegal because no environmental permit has been issued since 2010: “Romsilva illegally exploited the forest in the national park. No ministerial order allows the logging.“

The National Environmental Guard specialists confirmed Abran’s allegations. After a survey scheduled this year, the Guard officials stated that logging plans did not have an environmental permit and Romsilva has to obey the regulations regarding the conservation and protection of nature inside the national park.

“Environmental Minister Gratiela Gavrilescu must act now! Romsilva is acting like the gravedigger of our precious natural forests. These forests are our pride and important for water, air, recreation and are crucial to the survival of many endangered species. Romsilva’s logging has become a national security threat. Thus Romsilva has to be dismissed from the management of protected areas immediately. Romania will hold the EU-presidency in 2019. The forest destruction shadow must be removed beforehand to avoid shaming our nation,” says Gabriel Paun, President of Agent Green.

“The logging tragedy in Romania has been watched and ignored by many key decision makers for way too long. This is Europe’s prime nature crisis. Climate change will increasingly affect our forests with droughts and wildfires, as we experienced already last summer. Therefore we need to preserve all remaining intact natural forests! A few weeks before the critical Katowice Climate Change Conference will take place we call on the EU and the world to look at Romania and become active!“

Agent Green and EuroNatur urge the Romanian Environmental Minister to immediately stop commercial logging in national parks, dismiss Romsilva from managing national parks and other protected areas, implement modern and nature conservation oriented management systems, provide adequate funds to properly manage protected areas (including Natura 2000 sites) and to compensate private land owners in protected areas for nature conservation objectives.

Today, a new petition was launched, addressing the Romanian Prime Minister, who will hold the Presidency of the EU-Council in the first half of 2019. The petition calls for immediate action to halt the destruction of Europe’s last large virgin forests in Romania. It will be delivered to the Romanian Government and forwarded to the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Here you can access the petition page.

The episodes #1, 2, and 3 of the “Out of Control” series can be viewed here.

Investigator Andrei Ciurcanu in wounded Calimani national park.
Devastation of protected nature in Romania’s Calimani national park.