Stealing Romania’s last forests – for energy?

By Lisa Benedetti, BirdLife Europe

Undercover investigators from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) have caught Holzindustrie Schweighofer red handed. The Austrian timber and wood processing company have been violating Romanian law; accepting offers to buy illegally cut timber, offering bonuses to those harvesting above legal quotas, and transporting unmarked (illegally cut) logs to its depots. Stealing the last forest is the EIA’s compelling account about the dark side of this multi-billion euro illegal trade which is devastating some of Europe’s last virgin forests. What is even more shocking in what the EIA has discovered is that much of this illegally logged wood ends up being burnt in European markets as environmentally friendly renewable energy.

Romania is a place with some of Europe’s last untouched forests, where bison, wolves, bears and lynx still roam. But these forests are in jeopardy; the Romanian National Forest Inventory estimates that nearly half of all the timber that was harvested in the country between 2008 and 2014 was illegally cut, almost half of this within national parks and other protected areas.

The EIA have collected some very incriminating audio and video evidence that one of Austria’s biggest timber and wood processing companies, Holzindustrie Schweighofer, is the main culprit for this crime. About 60% of the company’s exports to Europe consist of wood pellets and briquettes which are burned in Europe as renewable bioenergy, in the name of fighting climate change. With no EU policies in place to guarantee the sustainability of type of bioenergy that is supported, in the worst case the consumption of this illegally logged wood for energy is encouraged by public policies.

Europe is Holzindustrie Schweighofer’s largest trading partner with its products found in nearly every member state. Top customers include biomass companies like Austrian Genol and Drauholz, which are big wood pellet providers in Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. But there are many others as well that are buying wood pellets sourced from these forests to meet Europe’s bioenergy demands.

Since it began logging in Romania in 2002, Holzindustrie Schweighofer has trumpeted environmental credentials. But EIA’s evidence is irrefutable and shows that the company’s claims the products they sell are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Programme for the Enforcement of Forest Certification are false, that the wood they source is not legal, not sustainably harvested, nor have they been complying with regulations.

But one must pause, because what this EIA investigation reveals about illegal logging in Romania tells a bigger story. About EU polices which have increased demand for biomass (wood to burn), policies that are associated with increased logging and degradation of forests and which are ultimately a key driver of the illegal logging that has been taking place in Romanian forests and elsewhere.

 

Photo credit: Romanian forest (c) Chodaboy, Flickr Creative Commons

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