LVIV -- With the forest cover of the Carpathian mountains looking increasingly patchy, Ukraine started a total ban on exports of raw timber on Jan. 1.
For Ukraine, this ban represents a real economic gamble.
With the ban, Ukraine loses 600 million euros in EU aid as the EU seeks to protect its wood-starved furniture and building material industries. The EU charges the moratorium violates the one year old free trade deal with Ukraine.
Opponents of the ban note that even the United Kingdom exports six percent of its forest cut as raw logs. This is usually because forests are far from processing factories and demand is great on the continent.
Like many countries that have banned the export of raw logs in recent years, Ukraine hopes to revive furniture factories and sawmills for building materials. These industries thrived in Western Ukraine until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“The industry won just after timber exports were partially banned in 2015,” said Liudmyla Hurina, a representative of the Ukrainian Organization of Wood Processing Industry. The new law expands the ban to include pine logs.
“Since then, wood processing’s figures have grown by 15%, furniture companies — by 12%, and the export of processed lumber by 12%,” she said. In the six months after the moratorium started, in November, 2015, this contributed $22 million to Ukraine’s treasury, she said. This growth translated into hundreds of jobs created in rural Western Ukraine.
The second challenge will be to control smuggling of train loads of logs across the EU border. While smuggling logs would seem far tougher than smuggling cigarettes, bribes placed in the right hands can grease the westward flow of unprocessed wood.
Hundreds of freight cars loaded with timber rolled last year into EU, where cutting forests is strictly regulated.
“Many are involved in this corruption scheme: local Ukrainian residents and authorities, police and customs,” said Eduard Naumenko, an economic consultant. “It’s the ‘forest mafia.” And, first, it should be overpowered. This moratorium will not save the forests.”
Defenders of local wood processing jobs also say this ‘forest mafia’ must be repressed.
“Officials will open companies abroad and will sell the trees -- this would increase the shortage of unprocessed wood and cause price hikes,” said Dmytro Artemchuk, President of the Ukrainian Association of Wood Processing Companies.
After exports of telephone pole lengths of untreated logs were banned, logging companies cut logs into smaller lengths, calling it processed timber. Despite the Ukraine’s partial moratorium, more logs were sold abroad in 2016 than in 2015.
“While the export of timber shrank by 600,000 tons, the logs export grew by 200,000 tons,” said Victor Galasyuk, a member of Ukraine’s parliament and the moratorium lobbyist.
In other cases, logging companies claim they cut selectively, for the health of the forest.
“There is also another way for illegal export,” said Olga Voitovych, an ecologist. “Under the guise of sanitary purposes, healthy trees are cut as old and sick.”
In the Soviet era, logging was accompanied by forest management plans and requirements for replanting trees.
All that was thrown out the window in the 1990s in the rush for billions in logging export dollars.
Over the last decade, the Carpathians’ forest cover has shrunk by hundreds of thousands of hectares.
“With the current dynamic of illegal logging, the Carpathian forest could turn into ‘desert’ in the next 10 years, with more floods and droughts, as trees protect the river banks from erosion,” said Voitovych, the ecologist. In the Carpathians, where are 70 mountains over 1,200 meters in altitude, it takes 40 years for trees to grow to maturity.
If clear cutting continues to spread through the mountains, a new moth-eaten landscape will turn off tourist, depressing a major industry.
To combat illegal cutting, forest police in other countries are turning to technology: real time satellite mapping, drone surveillance flights, and the tagging of loads of legally cut trees.
“Foresters use electronic registration for trees, a special marker with a barcode is attached to each load of logs,” Anatoliy Deyneka, head of Lviv’s Regional Forestry and Hunting Agency, said of one attempt to control the timber trade in Western Ukraine.
Strapped for resources, Ukraine’s forest authorities face the challenge of patrolling a mountainous area of 20,000 square kilometers -- half the size of Switzerland.
Meanwhile, the cutting continues in the Carpathians.
Residents in Ivano-Frankivsk oblast told the UBJ, that trucks with logs were seen Jan. 3, rumbling through a mountain village, presumably heading toward the nearest west-bound railroad tracks.
For comments and news tips, please email UBJ Western Ukraine Correspondent Oleksandra Kharchenko at email@example.com
Slider Photo: Loggers have clear cut easily accessible trees on these Carpathian slopes in Ivano Frankivsk Oblast. In 2013, when this photo was taken from a helicopter, there was no sign of replanting. (Credit: http://pravda.if.ua)
Inside photo: Raw logs are loaded on a freight train for export west. (Credit: Svetlana Korcheva).Inside Photo: Time-lapse photography shows how clearcutting progressively denuded these Carpathian mountainsides, from 2013 to 2015. (Credit: InfoResist).