Illegal Logging in Romania Turns Violent: Second Forest Ranger in a Month Murdered

Posted on October, 22 2019

Six Romanian rangers have now lost their lives in recent years, two of them in the last month.
Forest ranger Liviu Pop was shot dead in Maramures, Romania last week responding to a tip-off about illegal logging. This follows the recent axe murder of ranger Raducu Gorcioaia near an illegal logging site in Pascani. Six Romanian rangers have now lost their lives in recent years, two of them in the last month.
WWF Central and Eastern Europe (WWF-CEE) wishes to express its condolences to the family, friends and co-workers of these brave and committed Romanian forest rangers who died trying to protect the Romanian forests. “We consider these recent extremely serious cases where foresters have become victims of illegal loggers a tragic result of a long series of actions or rather, inaction with regards to rebuilding the credibility of Romanian forest rangers. These events are unfortunately one of the results of lack of credibility and collapse of the social status of the forester in Romania. Forest rangers are ill-equipped by the State and often must provide their own transport, gear and firearm. They are expected to cover huge territories on a low salary in desperately poor communities, creating a complex phenomenon ripe for corruption. And when corruption does occasionally occur, the government’s refusal to condemn such behaviour only reduces the social status and trust in the service even more.” says Ionut Sorin Banciu, Regional Forests Coordinator at WWF-CEE
Romania is home to more than half of Europe's last remaining old-growth and primeval forests — valuable ecosystems that are habitats to endangered brown bears, wolves and lynx as well as many other flora and fauna. These areas also provide valuable ecosystem services to the local populations, and are a nature-based solution to help mitigate climate change and drought. In 2017, UNESCO recognised the value of several forests in the region and included them as UNESCO World Heritage Sites as a high recognition of their outstanding universal value. Even so, Romania's forests are being chopped down at an alarming rate, and illegal logging is still a major problem. While exact figures cannot yet be stated with certainty, illegal logging remains a significant issue in the country. In neighbouring Bulgaria, WWF estimates that a staggering 2.5 million m3 of timber, or roughly a third of total annual production, is lost annually to illegal logging alone.
Currently, foresters must pay for the stolen wood themselves if they do not catch the thieves. If thieves are caught with undocumented timber, they can only be sanctioned with fines. And even while the world is more aware than ever about the issues of climate change and deforestation, this just puts more pressure on an already overburdened and unappreciated staff. One of the solutions could be for foresters, together with other competent authorities,  to focus on what is entering the supply chain rather than trying to protect every hectare with limited staff and resources. In order to protect the forest and the integrity of the forest staff, it is necessary to transform the current control system based on marking and guarding trees in the forest, into one focused on the control of the transportation of wood leaving the forest.
Moreover, a radical change is needed, including a legislative package to support the control of timber being placed on the market, and regulations for guarding forests, timber and wood selling, transportation, and a statute to improve the organisation and functioning of Forest Guards and other forestry personnel.
WWF-CEE has had a significant impact on forest management, constantly improving our standards and voluntary verification mechanisms, strengthening policy and enforcement, increasing wood supply chain transparency and accountability of high conservation value forest (HCVF) ecosystems. WWF has successfully identified and protected around 218,000 ha of virgin and old growth forests (OGFs) in the region, and more than 200,000 high conservation value forests. Furthermore, it has implemented Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) forest certification standards and solutions to mitigate risks of illegal logging.  As a result, 1,600 companies have been given chain-of-custody certifications and more than 8.6 million ha of forests are now FSC certified (more than ⅓ of total forest area in the region). WWF has also influenced relevant legislation. Over 50 major legislative amendments in Romania and Bulgaria have been brought into line with responsible forest management principles, EU legal provisions, and FSC forest management standards.
However, although there have been significant strides made, we recognise that it is not nearly enough. There is still a great amount of illegal logging going on – and there are now growing fears for those charged with protecting these last great stands of European forests and their inhabitants.