The data Romanian authorities sent to a delegation of the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee that visited several Romanian counties last week to view the impact of illegal deforestation on the ground were contradictory, members of the delegation have said.
The mission to Romania was requested by the liberal Renew group in the European Parliament last year after petitions from civil society in Suceava pointed to “acts of violence by loggers against environmental activists”, said Renew MEP Vlad Gheorghe.
While a report is expected to be published following the mission, the head of the delegation, Estonian MEP Yana Toom (Renew), pointed to varying figures and a lack of data.
“We are trying to find information. It is not easy. There is a sort of a lack of statistics, lack of data … we heard very different numbers from different stakeholders, we still have to do our homework, we cannot choose who to believe”, said Toom.
It was agreed that the delegation would send “additional questions in writing” to the Romanian authorities and other stakeholders before the report is published.
”We cannot manage something which we cannot measure, or not properly measure – just an impression. Maybe I will change my mind after I receive the information from the authorities”, Yana Toom added.
Green Romanian MEP Nicu Ștefănuță also pointed to the contradictory data on logging.
“In Suceava, we were told that just 0.15% of the timber is harvested illegally. However, this is impossible. NGOs say up to 80% of it is illegally harvested. The Institute for Forestry Research says it is 50%,” said Ștefănuță.
“Moreover, the abuses, the violence against environmental activists would not be justified if the figures for illegal timber theft were so low”, he added.
”According to the official data of the Ministry of the Environment, Romania has an excess of forests. They told us they don’t cut enough in Romania”, Gheorghe said.
Still, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Romania in 2020, urging authorities to amend the country’s laws to ensure forest management and authorised logging was no longer carried out “without evaluating beforehand the impacts on protected habitats as required” under the bloc’s directives.
”Maybe we have to make some international investigation and help you deal with these things”, said Toom.
For his part, Gheorghe reiterated the need for an EU prosecutor to specialise in environmental matters. ”The lack of specialisation, both of the prosecutors and of the policemen, is a problem and a European green prosecutor’s office within the current EPPO, but with specialised structures on the environment, would be a solution”, he said.
In a resolution on illegal logging in the EU adopted on 23 June 2022, MEPs emphasised that establishing a “green prosecutor” could help combat environmental crimes.
Meanwhile, WWF Romania criticised the first draft proposal for a new forest code.
“We remain with the same ineffective system to combat illegal exploitation, where we will continue to see foresters attacked by wood thieves, local communities deprived of access to the resources they depend on and a suffocating bureaucracy that announces the bankruptcy of the entire forestry sector”, Radu Vlad, manager of forestry programs at WWF Romania, said.
Romania is home to vast areas of primary forests measuring around half a million hectares, a habitat for large mammals like bears, wolves, and the Eurasian lynx.
Two years after the Commission’s warning in 2020, environmental groups criticised for failing to tackle illegal logging, pointing to an increase in illegal logging.
The report, released by the NGOs Agent Green, ClientEarth and EuroNatur, identifies that the areas most affected by these illegal activities are the highly valuable forests of the Fagaras Mountains. Logging permits in these areas have increased dramatically between 2020 to 2021, which has led to a significant deterioration of valuable forest ecosystems.
(Cătălina Mihai | EURACTIV.ro)
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