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News 11 May 15

Romanians Protest Over Illegal Logging

Thousands of people took to the streets acress the country, accusing the government of failing to tackle the problem of illegal logging which has damaged some of the country's important forests.

Marian Chiriac
Bucharest

Thousands of Romanians protested in cities across the country on Saturday, calling on the government and parliament to find ways to better protect the country's forests against illegal loggers.

Over 3,000 people gathered in Bucharest, while thousands also demonstrated in the Transylvanian cities of Cluj and Brasov, and in Timisoara, Iasi and Galati.

Holding banners with slogans like “The mob is clearing [forests], the government is protecting [the illegal loggers]”, they claimed that Romania is losing three hectares of forest each hour.

After the protests, president Klaus Iohannis on Saturday announced that the illegal deforestation issue would be discussed at a meeting of the country’s Supreme Defence Council, CSAT.

Romania is currently trying to adopt changes to its legislation on forests to better protect the country's woodlands. The new draft law makes illegally chopping down trees a crime, with a five-fold increase to penalties. It also aims to regulate the use of wood by the big companies that dominate the forestry sector in Romania.

The law was approved in February by parliament's second chamber, the Camera Deputatilor, but was returned for re-examination by President Iohannis because it limits economic activity.

Romania is more affected by illegal logging than any country in Europe. Some 80 million cubic metres of wood worth five billion euro have been illegally chopped down over the past 20 years, according to official data.

A report released last month by the US branch of the Environmental Investigation Agency, EIA, said that even the biggest wood product companies are involved in illegal logging.

The EIA presented hidden camera footage that it says showed officials from Austria’s Holzindustrie Schweighofer, which dominates the forestry sector in Romania, agreeing to a possible purchase of illegally logged timber and even promising bonuses to the seller.

The Austrian company has denied the charges and said that it respects Romania's laws and will launch an internal investigation into the claims.

However, Schweighofer has criticised Romania's proposed new legislation, saying it interfered in the affairs of private companies and would "restrict the free movement of goods, which is contrary to the standards set by the EU".

Romania still has around 6.4 million hectares of forest and 120,000 people employed in the forestry sector.

The country is home to about 65 per cent of the virgin forests still remaining in Europe, outside Russia. Most are in the mountainous Carpathian region, but only 20 per cent of them are included in national parks and therefore protected by law.

Romania’s forests are also the last reserve for some of the rarest mammals in Europe, such as the brown bear and the lynx.

Before 1990, all of the country’s forests were state-owned, but by the end of 2010, the state owned only 66.3 per cent. Public ownership has since gone down further to 52.2 per cent.

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