Unprecedented illegal felling of Bulgarian forests, about which Bivol was the first to write in several investigations, has been officially confirmed by experts. Startling facts about the scale and size of this national crime were disclosed at an emergency press conference of the nature conservation organization WWF. “Black market” profits from the felling and sale of Bulgarian forests are estimated at over 100 million levs annually. The money sinks into the pockets of timber mafia, while the State, instead of stopping this criminal disaster, is unofficially legitimizing it and concealing it.

According to an expert analysis of the statistical data for the period 2006-2013, the annual volume of illegal felling reaches 2.4 million cubic meters, which is one quarter of the total timber yield (6.9 million cubic meters by 2012).

Although mass poaching violations in the forests are said to be currently decreasing, illegal practices occur, but are presented as formally legal or are documentary concealed. Illegal felling is performed within regulated cutting through a number of schemes that allow the concealing the actual volume of felled and shipped timber. Thus, through illegal felling, the forestry gray sector generates hidden revenue of over 100 million levs per year.

“I welcome the tremendous work that our colleagues from WWF have done; we can always argue about the numbers, but the analysis is very correct,” said Georgi Kostov, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food.

The problems in State forests stem largely from the mixing of oversight functions and business interests at one same state institution – the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Additional factors include corruption practices, political pressure, reduced requirements for the qualification of forest rangers, fuzzy responsibility of participants in wood cutting, adverse economic conditions and others.

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Abuses in the forests further occur because of loopholes in the legal framework that allow inaccurate inventory of forests, manipulations in determining the yield and mostly – because of the ineffective oversight over the entire chain of planning, marking, wood cutting and shipment of the harvested timber.

Presumption of Impunity

One of the most disturbing indicators of the State’s failure to sanction the timber mafia is the critically low issuing of legal sanctions for breaches in the forests – just under 15%! Such indicator speaks clearly that the Bulgarian State has totally deserted the preservation of Bulgarian forests from poaching and destruction.

Legalization of Poaching

The legal framework of wood cutting and the shipment of timber allow, within the accuracy of measurement, to documentary “conceal” stocks and / or timber in the amount of 10-30% of the actual stock. Thus, with a yield of about 7 million cubic meters per year, this framework allows a potential yield of 2 million cubic meters above the officially declared volumes.

The most most-widely applied schemes for illegal harvesting and sale of timber are as follows:

1. Cutting unmarked trees in forest farms earmarked for cutting

Illegal felling is concealed and even “legitimized” when, after felling, trees are marked by the forest ranger in charge of the site or are marked with a false stamp by the offenders.

2. Manipulations in calculating the volume of trees earmarked for cutting

The calculation of the volume of cut trees is made through a method which allows a deviation of 8.7%. This means that a lower value than the actual volume is listed in the documentation for planned cutting. If the difference between documented and actual volume is successfully concealed in the timber shipment, this is actually illegal felling.

3. Use of false data on wood stocks in forestry plans

A large percentage (80-90%) of forest farms are inventoried by sight or by mathematical and statistical methods, while full measurement of all trees in the farm is done in extremely rare cases. If in the process of marking the trees it is found that the volume of timber earmarked for cutting, when the intensity of cutting is adhered too (i.e. of certain % of the stock of the forest), is significantly higher than the planned volume, this difference is most often concealed.

4 Manipulations in calculating the volume of firewood and industrial wood

In the cutting of firewood and industrial wood, the regulation requires to measure, pay and account for the same commodity by type and quantity by the use of three different measurement units for the different stages of harvesting – from the clearing to the end user. In the cutting – from the clearing up to the temporary storage this is done in spatial cubic meters; at reception – from temporary storage to loading and shipment – in dense cubic meters, while at the final recipient it is in kilograms set by the scale of the customer. Significant errors are made in these measurements and adjustments due to high subjectivity, use of incorrect conversion coefficient for different weights and failure to account for the different weight of wood at its origin.

As result, a difference of about 30-40% is accumulated, which is not accounted for in payment for the yield and in determining the amount of the tariff fee. In practice, volumes that are obtained outside the authorized levels, by using the above schemes, can be concealed within this difference.

Thus, in the annual production and sale of an official 4-5 million dense cubic meters of firewood and industrial wood, legislation allows to ship over 1.5 million cubic meters of wood without paying the owner of the forest.

5. Concealing illegally harvested timber during shipment

Practical experience shows that illegally harvested timber is most often transported without being listed in protocols for acceptance and certification of clearings and without being correctly taken into account during shipment. You can read how this happens in the report of WWF.

6. Manipulations in grading marked trees

The reduced grading of wood does not reduce its volume, but allows abuses that lead to cash value of harvested timber lower than the actual one to the detriment of the owner. The analysis of the data on yields in 2013 found that the quality and the price of a much larger number of trunks than theoretically possible were lowered.

During the press conference, representatives of the Executive Forestry Agency (EFA) explained that their experts have identified the same recommendations as a priority and are currently working on improving both the legal framework and the administration in the sector.

We have a proposal for amendments to the Forestry Act that we hope to table in the next Parliament, which will provide measures for offenders such as community service. Furthermore, the electronic ticket, which we will introduce next year, will stop potential abuse in the shipment of wood. So, by the end of 2015, violations will decrease dramatically,” said Dimitar Batalov, Director of” Conservation of Forests and Game” in EFA.

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