Deforestation – Untold Truths

May 11, 2015

On Saturday, people took to the streets in several cities to protest against illegal logging, deforestation, the Austrian Holzindustrie Schweighofer organisation, President Johannis and many more. I also participated in the manifestation that took place in Cluj. I love nature, mountains, forests, I love walking mindlessly on paths when I have the opportunity, I have done this since I was a child, I do volunteer work and I participated in many afforestation actions, I am one of the board members of the most important youth education and volunteering NGOs, and, in addition to this, I hate all the waste that I have seen accumulate in our mountains in the last 25 years. I am not a fanatical ecologist and I understand the fact that wood must be exploited. But sustainably, with a vision for the future. As the Austrians do, for example.

With all due respect to the participants and initiators of the protests, some key things are left unsaid. I will try to discuss them one at a time. My article will be quite long, but it will be worthy of your time in the end. I would like to start with::

  • a quote that I will quote several times in my article: „By purchasing independently certified wood products, it is guaranteed that the wood used in those products comes from sustainably managed forests, based on social, economic and ecological criteria.”
  • and a statement: illegal logging is not the main problem in Romania.

1. People protest against illegal logging
Agreed, but what is worse than illegal logging is contracts that allow MASSIVE legal logging – those are the ones that should be examined. Here comes the Schwighofer organisation, that is the beneficiary of such a contract, signed in partnership with the Romanian State. Then there is a ton of approvals for cuts given to specialised companies. If you follow this simple logic, you could say that the Romanian State AGREES with all this logging, since 2003, if memory serves. You can see the figures for the amount that the State AGREES to cut below..

2. Dry figures
According to the official figures of the Austrian organisation, its processing capacity is 2.5 million cubic meters, with a growth plan of 3.4 and with the possibility of making up 100% of this capacity, up to 4 million cubic meters per year, only with resinous wood. Put into figures, this means about 11,000 acres if we consider the 2.5 million cubic meters, and 16,000 acres, equivalent to 3.5 million cubic meters. I repeat, only resinous wood, only talking about the Austrian organisation. These figures are telling us that only for this particular organisation 1.8 acres of softwoods are being cut every hour. These are the official figures and, in my opinion, all of these processes have a legal basis: authorisations, invoices, contracts, entry vouchers, etc. Therefore, we are talking about the legal processing of 1.8 acres per hour. Attention, there is a difference between cutting and processing that must be taken into account. Schweighofer does not cut, but processes. The cuts are made by Romanian companies. This is where the issue arises. As practice makes perfect, I say once again: LOGGING IS CARRIED OUT BY ROMANIAN PEOPLE AND BY ROMANIAN COMPANIES. Moreover, for the last 25 years all legal logging has been done by Romanians. The Austrian organisation has only positioned itself at the top of the food chain, like an eagle chasing and hunting all the weak or diseased organisms from above.

At this moment, it is estimated that in Romania a total of 3 acres is cut every hour. Out of this, Schweighofer legally takes 1.8 acres in order to further process the wood, and remember: only softwoods. The remaining 1.2 acres per hour are deciduous and other softwoods, that are cut either legally or illegally. Everybody knows of the illegal logging anyway.

3. Some wicked legal aspects
The following input data is important:
A. Schweighofer has 5 processing plants in Romania. Therefore, the investment makes sense if we think about the profits from 2003 onwards, good money comes out of here. If I remember correctly, in 2011 the organisation declared record profits and record growth estimates. So, it pays to process wood in Romania. Of course, under the contractual conditions signed alongside the Romanian State.

B. Schweighofer processes wood legally, according to a contract made in partnership with the Romanian State. They receive the wood at the factory gate, alongside some documents. Personally, I doubt that what this organisation does is not covered by the proper documents, from the receipt of the goods to their exit at the factory gate. But they are not interested in what happens before the goods arrive at the factory gate. Their only legal responsibility is from the gate onwards, what is done with the paperwork before their arrival at the factory gates is only the problem of the woodcutters.

C. Schweighofer states that it is PEFC (PROGRAMME FOR THE ENDORSEMENT OF FOREST CERTIFICATION) and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. Let’s talk about them one at a time:
“PEFC is an international body for auditing, certifying and promoting sustainable forest management. PEFC’s main concern is that the industrial exploitation of forests be done in accordance with environmental, social and ethical protection rules. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is an international non-profit, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management through independent third-party certification. Their philosophy is based on the criteria defined at the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE) in Helsinki (1993), Lisbon (1998) and Vienna (2003). PEFC’s mission is to support forest management around the world, together with the FSC council. The PEFC Chain of Custody certificate confirms that the products labelled with its identification logo are made of raw material which only includes wood from verified sources, PEFC certified, this being a credible guarantee for clients and end consumers. PEFC certification is the international seal of environmental protection, and in order to be in a certified partnership with this programme you must demonstrate a high level of responsibility and commitment to the sustainable development of forested areas. Printing the PEFC logo on a product is a verification test for those customers for whom the quality of the production process is of great importance.”

“The FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is an independent, non-governmental and non-profit organisation founded in 1993 to promote responsible forest management in forests around the world. The organisation operates internationally and provides services through the FSC International Centre located in Bonn, Germany, as well as through an international network of National Initiatives. The main tasks of the FSC are:

1. development of norms;
2. accreditation of FSC national certification bodies and initiatives;
3. labelling of wood products.

By purchasing independently certified wood products, it is guaranteed that the wood used in those products comes from sustainably managed forests, based on social, economic and ecological criteria.”
In principle, simply put, these certifications show that the production process is alright and that it is done with wood from certified sources. It is important to note the following quotes:

– “PEFC certification is the international seal of environmental protection, and in order to be in a certified partnership with this programme you must demonstrate a high level of responsibility and commitment to the sustainable development of forested areas.”
– “By purchasing independently certified wood products, it is guaranteed that the wood used in those products comes from sustainably managed forests, based on social, economic and ecological criteria.”
In a video that was recently posted on YouTube, Mr. Schweighofer assures us of the following: “We are at the forefront of preventing illegal logging, supporting the fight against deforestation and being certified in accordance with internationally recognised quality standards, such as PEFC and FSC. We only process wood if we have documents of legal origin. To ensure this, we have created effective control and monitoring procedures and systems. At the time of delivery at the gates of our factories we check all the documents of origin. Delivery is accepted on the premises of our units only after its legal provenance has been doubtlessly proven.”
Consequently, there are two main questions:
– How “sustainable” or “responsible” is the attitude of this organisation towards forested areas, given the real actions and results and not the legal written ones?
– Likewise, we can ask the same question about the Romanian State. And I remind you that 5 factories are processing softwoods at a rate of 1.8 acres an hour, with signed and initialled legal documents.

D. These certifications have been issued by a specialised body. It’s hard to prove or even suspect them of inaccuracies. The problem is different: Schweighofer is PEFC and FSC certified, probably for their procurement and production processes. I find it very hard to believe that a specialised certification body did not notice, during the certification processes, that there are massive legal and illegal logging concerns in Romania and that the scandals haven’t stopped. In fact, this is a comfortable attitude to adopt: from the factory gate onwards everything is okay, we are not interested in what happens until that point or we pretend not to know, although I quote once again: “By purchasing independently certified wood products, it is guaranteed that the wood used in those products comes from sustainably managed forests, based on social, economic and ecological criteria.” I would like to have seen sustainably managed forest in Romania. One, maybe two. One or two in the last 25 years.

E. Forest radar.
Even if the published figures seem to mean something, the results are not that visible yet. These results would entail criminal cases, convicted perpetrators, recovered damages. Again, it is the problem of the Romanian State.

F. Complicity.
I hope that everyone is aware that these massive amounts of legally and illegally cut wood can only be exploited by a large group of people, from the bishop to the shepherd, in this case locals, foresters, school principals, specialised companies, heads of the forest districts, Romsilva, politicians, local and central authorities and so on. An activity on such a large scale like this one simply cannot be carried out in secret. It’s like the secret of Polichinelle, well known by everyone. Why? Because everyone has something to gain, each according to the contribution brought to the food chain.

4. Conclusions
If we are to look for the culprits, we should at first look after the ones in our own backyard, because our enemies are not the Austrians; the State allows all the cutting – and we do the dirty job. Schweighofer takes advantage of the fact that we are cheap, as a Green MP in the Austrian Parliament rightly said: “you are a cheap country with a cheap government”. And these culprits are divided on several levels: the state through its representatives because they are the ones who have signed such contracts, those who legally and illegally cut under these contracts, the management and control authorities who do nothing about this, the law enforcement authorities as well, and, finally, us all because we close our eyes and do not take action. The same green parliamentarian from Austria said: “in our country, in Austria, such a thing would simply not be possible”.

After all, it doesn’t really matter that there is an organisation that has a quasi-monopoly on the market. The “source of evil” matters, namely that someone legally allowed them to process so much wood cut directly from the forests of Romania. If we are to arrive at any conclusion after all of this is that we let them do it. Period.

In a film that is currently circulating on the internet regarding these issues, there is something else that I think somehow escaped the author’s careful examination, just like the examination of the certifications. It is said that the organisation addressed a letter to the Prime Minister threatening to damage the bilateral relations between Romania and Austria. Hence the following:

1. A private citizen addresses a letter to a Prime Minister of a country on behalf of themselves and their private company, threatening him. Does this mean that the private citizen also has diplomatic duties and functions? Or, we can ask ourselves a different question: how can a private citizen, whoever they are, afford to threaten a Prime Minister and therefore an entire country?

2. A reaction to that letter on behalf of the Prime Minister did not exist. I am sure that in a normal country, two seconds after receiving such a letter, a Prime Minister would have called a press conference, showing the letter and explaining what happened.

I want to emphasise this once again: Schweighofer is not the problem (they are just a consequence of our actions or lack of action), we are the main culprits, right after the people who lead us. Therefore, all of the chanting and the slogans at the protest, such as “out of our country, Holtzu” and “stop illegal logging” do practically nothing, like the PEFC and FSC certifications obtained by the Austrian organisation. Protesters’ demands must be directed towards the authorities, law enforcement, authority agencies who must do their job, and the judiciary system.
Someone who knows the woods much better than I do once told me: „If the legislation were applied, even as it is now, there would be no problems”.

I conclude with a quote from the Pro TV website: “Romania’s forests cover an area of 6,741,000 acres. Less than half of this area belongs to the state, the rest has private owners. 250 forest inspectors are responsible for forest control, transport verification, sawmill control and much more. That is, an inspector on more than 22,000 acres of forest. Not a single person can walk all over such a vast area”.