Illegal Logging in Romania Leads to Deforestation and Deaths

16 April 2020 | By Hunter Allgor
Photo by: Catalin Petolea/Alamy

Romanian forests are old; the country is home to two-thirds of Europe’s old-growth and primeval forests. These ecosystems, which cover more than 27% of Romania’s surface, have come under attack in recent years from illegal logging by institutions in the private and public sector.

The deforestation of these landscapes has pressing implications for the environment. Not only are Romania’s forests important in the fight against climate change, but they are also inhabited by almost half of Europe’s wild population of brown bears, wolves, and lynx. The continued destruction of these ancient habitats could see the decline, and eventual extinction, of these species. In addition, illegal logging is threatening the Romanian economy. The country is estimated to have lost around €52.1 million in 2013-2014 due to this cutting.

Photo by: Nigel Hoult

Timber theft is not simply the deed of individual evildoers looking to turn a profit. Many organizations have a hand in the illegal logging business, to which authorities have turned a blind eye for many years. 
An anonymous forest ranger told The Guardian in a January 2020 article that “absolutely everyone [was] at it,” and that he even got into trouble among his colleagues and superiors for reporting suspicious activity.

Photo by: Andrea Krůpová

Illegal cutting has escalated to the point where rangers are risking their lives and some are even losing them. Since 2014, six rangers have been killed and nearly 190 cases of violence have been reported. Notably, in the remote region of the Maramures, one ranger, Liviu Pop, was shot when he confronted men who he believed were stealing timber. However, the men were not arrested, claiming that Pop had shot himself. This is the version of the story that is adamantly accepted by the locals, many of whom are involved in illegal logging themselves.
The Romanian government is making an effort to eliminate illegal deforestation. In 2014, it instituted a mandatory digital tracking system for trucks transporting wood, monitoring everything from how and where the wood is collected, to when it is picked up and delivered. However, it was discovered that truck drivers would use fake GPS loading points to bypass this surveillance, and it was found that nearly half of all reported wood harvests were fakes.

Photo by: Martin Kozák

To remedy this flawed system, the government enlisted the help of TerraSigna, a GIS service provider, and a team of volunteering IT specialists to create “Inspectorul Padurii,” the Forest Inspector. To put it in simple terms, the Forest Inspector is a geographic information system that can gather successive satellite images over a number of days to analyze where deforestation is occurring. This, paired with the government’s tracking system, allows for authorities to see who has permits to cut what and where, what the truck’s license plate number is, and when the logging took place.

Photo by: Mihai Lucîț

It is hoped that with the successful implementation of this program, loggers will be held more accountable.
With the support of projects like this from communities around the world, the chaotic and illegal logging in Romania can be stopped.

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