Romania: stop the assault on Europe's last pristine wilderness

Two brown bears in a forest clearing Brown bears in the wild: soon to be history? (© anzeletti / iStock)

Bears and wolves still prowl the ancient forests of the Carpathian Mountains. Yet their days are numbered: organized criminals are illegally clear-cutting entire hillsides to supply European timber companies. Tell the Romanian environmental ministry to put a stop to the destruction.

Call to action

To: The Romanian Ministry for Environment, Waters and Forests

Romania’s ancient forests are being ruthlessly cleared while Schweighofer turns a blind eye to the sources of its timber. Stamp out illegal logging now.

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Illegal logging is rampant in Romania. Since the fall of Communism in 1989, no less than 400,000 hectares of forest have been cleared there without permission, mainly for export as parquet, laminate and fuel pellets. “One of the last remaining virgin forests in Europe is cut being down to heat homes in Austria and Germany,” says Alexander von Bismarck, head of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

An Austrian company, Holzindustrie Schweighofer, is playing a key role in the destruction of Romania’s forests. Schweighofer has been at the heart of a scandal in recent weeks involving forged delivery notes, bribes and dubious concessions.

An EIA video documents Schweighofer’s practices. In it, von Bismarck negotiated with company representatives posing as a foreign investor seeking to sell timber. The environmentalists concluded that Schweighofer deliberately and consciously buys – and indeed, pays bonuses for – illegally harvested timber. CEO Gerald Schweighofer called the video “misleading”.

By contrast, a leaked letter Schweighofer sent to the Romanian prime minister leaves no room for misinterpretation. In it, he threatens to sue the Romanian government in international courts if it does not amend its forestry laws to the company’s advantage.

Schweighofer is now building a new €150 million sawmill in Reci. Work has gone ahead without an environmental impact assessment and Romanian environmentalist Hans Hedrich therefore considers it to be illegal. He believes that the “Schweighofer system” would collapse if the sawmill can be kept from going into operation: “It would be the first step toward rescuing the forests.”

Tell the Romanian Ministry for Environment, Waters and Forests to deny the Reci sawmill an operating permit and to do everything in its power to combat the illegal timber trade.

Back­ground

Environmentalists and journalists in Romania refer to a “timber mafia” in which forest owners, timber companies, politicians, government officials and police officers work hand in hand.

According to local experts, timber companies fell more trees than allowed and obscure the timber’s origins by systematically forging delivery notes. “The suppliers often take care of the dirty work,” explains Hans Hedrich of the Romanian NGO Neuer Weg.

Holzindustrie Schweighofer has been active in Romania since 2002. By its own account, it has invested €778 million. The company posted sales of €510 million in 2013; its sales target for 2015 is €700 million. Its workforce is set to grow from 2,600 to 3,150. By contrast, former Romanian environment minister Doina Pana estimates that the country has lost 50,000 jobs in small and medium-sized companies in the lumber industry due to Schweighofer's crushing dominance.

Romanians complain that Schweighofer is systematically given preferential treatment at auctions. Hans Hedrich describes the company as having “feudal privileges”.

Letter

To: The Romanian Ministry for Environment, Waters and Forests

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Carpathian Mountains are home to some of the last primeval forests of Europe. They are the habitat of bears, wolves and lynx – animals that have long since disappeared in other countries.

However, unscrupulous timber companies are endangering this irreplaceable natural treasure. Since 1989, no less than 400,000 hectares of Romanian forest have been cleared without permission.

A scandal revolving around the Austrian company Holzindustrie Schweighofer is currently rocking your country. Videos by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) indicate that Schweighofer buys, processes and exports timber from illegal sources. Other environmental organizations and journalists raise similar accusations.

In the opinion of environmentalists, the new Schweighofer sawmill currently under construction violates applicable laws and several suits are pending. It cannot be ruled out that the new sawmill will also process illegally harvested timber.

Please ensure that Holzindustrie Schweighofer does not receive an operating permit for its new sawmill and do everything in your power to combat illegal logging in Romania.

Kind regards,

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