Romania’s forests are the oldest and wildest in Europe, but they are increasingly subject to destruction from illegal logging.
Now, a rash of violence against forest rangers has spurred mass protests in the capital, and promises of a government crackdown.
Violence in the forest
If you complain about illegal timber cutting in Romania, there is a fair chance you will face retaliation.
In the last five years, Romanian forest rangers have suffered 184 violent acts, including six murders.
Two of those killings, in 2019, prompted the government to permit rangers to carry firearms for protection.
Greenpeace Romania was behind protests in Bucharest last year, drawing thousands into the capital city’s streets.
Romania’s forests are rich in biodiversity, and home to one-third of Europe’s wolves, bears and lynxes.
Yet the boom in illegal logging of the country’s virgin forests of spruce and birch is closely related to Romania’s permissive forestry policies.
In a complaint to the European Union, a coalition of advocacy groups says that Romania is permitting the “deliberate destruction of natural woodlands making up two-thirds of unspoilt forests within the European Union.”
Yet some advocates say the forest rangers themselves are also to blame, accepting bribes or kickbacks from illegal loggers, and “buying new houses and cars they couldn’t possibly afford on their salaries.”
One ranger, in an interview with The Guardian, said that “absolutely everyone” in the government’s pay is on the take.
Critics say that dire poverty in rural areas, and a long tradition of logging with little government oversight, is also driving the problem.
But as 20 million cubic meters of wood disappear from Romania’s forests every year, a new season may finally be dawning.
The recent uptick in violence against forest rangers may be linked to increased pressure on illegal loggers and traffickers.
One breakthrough effort is a mobile app that allows anybody to verify, via a license-plate read, that vehicles have permits to carry logs.