Interview: Public Enterprise "Vojvodinašume"
How widespread illegal logging is, what challenges do forest guards face in combating forest theft in Vojvodina, which would benefit from the adoption of the Action Plan for combating illegal activities in forestry in Serbia, as well as about penal policy and the role of the NGO sector, speaks Marko Marinković, Executive Director of the Public Enterprise "Vojvodinašume".
To what extent do illegal activities occur in the area managed by PE "Vojvodinašume" and what do they refer to?
"Illegal activities in the area managed by PE "Vojvodinašume" are of sporadic character and thanks to the activities of the forest guard service, they are mostly suppressed, and the perpetrators are most often found and prosecuted. Illegal activities mainly refer to the illegal logging of individual trees, whereby illegally cut down tree end up on the market as firewood, in smaller quantities as technical wood.”
Is PE "Vojvodinašume" facing the fact that the treatment of the availability of wood and the need for the same is equal to the need for air or water, and that the respect for wood as someone's property is still not clearly defined?
"This problem may be less pronounced in the area of Vojvodina than in some other areas. However, the population with less education in rural areas still has the understanding that the forest is the common property of the population living in its vicinity and that they may freely use it for their own needs, and not that it is a public good of general interest, in the competency of the state."
What challenges does PE "Vojvodinašume" face when it comes to illegal activities?
"Due to the fact that forest complexes in the area of Autonomous Province of Vojvodina are usually near populated places, as well as because the distribution of forests in Vojvodina is such that it is characterized by great fragmentation, which makes it difficult to preserve forests, forests in Vojvodina are exposed to forest theft. In addition, the thieves do not hesitate to physically attack the forest guards, especially at night, so the controls are organized and accompanied by the police. Although the volume of forest thefts in the forests managed by PE "Vojvodinašume" is not large, the challenge is to oppose this type of illegal activities in such specific conditions."
How is the control exerted in PE "Vojvodinashume", on the field and administratively?
"When establishing illegal logging, the forest guard makes observations and takes measures without delay in order to find and identify the perpetrator of illegal logging, and on the same day when he found out about illegal logging, he informs the immediate manager of the forest administration in person or by phone about illegal logging. Furthermore, he is obliged to timely make and submit a report about forest guilt to the immediate manager, who enters it in the forest administration book and forwards it to the legal service of the company's branch for further legal procedure, and he is also obliged to submit it to the competent forestry inspector."
Do the powers of forestry - hunting inspectors contribute to the reduction of illegal activities?
"Forestry and hunting inspectors have the authority to supervise and control the trade in timber. Also, forestry-hunting inspectors are authorized to control all stages of traffic and ask for documents that prove that the tree was legally cut down and that it was legally released for transport. Depending on the gravity of the crime, they file misdemeanor or criminal charges, and the illegally cut tree is mandatory to be confiscated, thus influencing the reduction of illegal activities.”
How is the current penal policy defined and is there a way to improve it, from the point of view of PE "Vojvodinašume"?
"The penal policy is currently defined in such a manner that it does not prevent sufficiently the perpetrators from repeating the offense, and on the other hand, the illegal sale of wood can bring a solid profit to the perpetrators. It is necessary to tighten the penal policy, i.e. to find a way for the courts to punish the perpetrators of illegal logging more severely, which presupposes a change in the legislative framework."
Would the implementation of the Action Plan for combating illegal activities in forestry contribute to the improvement of the current situation?
"By adopting the Action Plan for the suppression of illegal activities in forestry, the profession would opt for the systematic construction of mechanisms for combating illegal activities in forestry. The Action Plan would define concrete measures and activities that could be taken in order to improve the situation, and therefore the adoption of such a document is extremely important."
Are there any examples that you know of, of good practice in the region or the EU when it comes to combating illegal activities in forestry?
"I am aware of the fact that Montenegro has adopted the "Action Plan for the Prevention of Illegal Activities in Forestry" for the period 2019-2021. The said Action Plan stipulates preventive measures in order to prevent occurrences that are characterized as illegal activities, then monitoring and detection, with the aim of active monitoring and detection of illegal activities and finally repressive measures, with the aim of ensuring that perpetrators of illegal activities are prosecuted and punished in an adequate manner. This is a good example from the region, that the problem has been recognized at the highest state level and that certain measures have been taken in order to confront illegal activities in forestry."
Can the NGOs and in what way contribute to this topic through the mentioned project* and similar initiatives in the future?
"NGOs will contribute to solving the current problem by participating in the collection of accurate data on the scope of illegal activities, by engaging in a discussion related to building and improving the institutional and legislative framework, and they can also launch public campaigns that will promote the importance of forests and highlight the harmful effects of illegal logging.”
*A series of interviews with the main actors in the forestry sector in Serbia is being conducted within the project "Regional action for combating forest crime and corruption".
The views in this text do not necessarily reflect those of the donor.