Fighting against illegal activities in the forests of Serbia

Interview: Directorate of Forests and its Department of Forestry and Hunting Inspection, within the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management of the Republic of Serbia

“The problem of illegal logging is related to the economic condition of the owners, supply and demand of wood assortments on the market, active involvement of all competent authorities (police, inspection, prosecutor's office, courts), number of inspectors and forest guards, penal policy, resolving property relations.”

Ljiljana Sovilj from the Directorate of Forests and Zvijezdan Nišavić, head of the Forestry and Hunting Inspection Department, talk about these and other factors and challenges, the progress made after the amendments to the Law on Forests in 2015, but also about the need to double the number of inspectors.

The most common forms of illegal activities refer to illegal logging and trade in wood, which is not in accordance with the law and regulations, states Ljiljana Sovilj from the Forest Directorate.

"Most often, there is a trade in wood that is not stamped in the prescribed manner or for which an accompanying document on the origin of wood in circulation (accompanying or delivery note) has not been issued. It is not always about stolen wood, but also about legally felled wood in the owners' forests (with remittance), but for which the owners had failed to turn to the expert advisory service for marketing, and therefore did not pay the fee for the felled wood. The fee is paid for wood felled in private and state forests, at the rate of 3% of the market value of wood on the forest truck road.”

Zvijezdan Nišavić, head of the Department of Forestry and Hunting Inspection, adds that there are risky areas and areas where illegal logging is most present.

"The largest volume of illegal logging is present along the administrative line with the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, and also in rural areas where elderly households predominate, in forests returned to new owners through restitution, in forests whose owners do not live in the place where the forest is located."

Illegal logging is present in both state and private forests, and the population's awareness of forests as a public good is not sufficiently developed.

"There is a problem of illegal logging in state ownership, in the sense that the perpetrators more easily decide to cut down wood from the state forest as "nobody's" or "everyone's" in relation to the readiness to misappropriate some other state-owned goods. However, there is also the problem of cutting more  than allowed in private forests, where the perpetrators legally demand remittances for a certain amount of wood, but cut down much more than that or devastate the forest, usually bought from the elderly. These are organized groups that occasionally operate in certain areas,” says Sovilj.

When it comes to the main challenges in combating illegal activities in forestry that the competent Ministry is facing, Mr. Nišavić points out the insufficient number of inspectors.

"The number of forest inspectors is insufficient in relation to the area of forests and the scope of illegal activities. Compared to the period of about 15 years ago, the number is halved, and the problem of insufficient number of inspectors is especially emphasized in the most endangered parts of the country, south - southeast. A functional analysis of the republic inspections was performed with a capacity analysis, on the basis of which the Government adopted a Conclusion which envisaged the adoption of the Action Plan for the employment of inspectors. Based on the same, it is planned to employ an additional number of 30 forestry and hunting inspectors, i.e. that the maximum number of inspectors in 2021 should be 63.”

Nišavić explains how the forestry-hunting inspection exerts the control.

"Forestry inspectors supervise in the office, as well as directly in the field, control of intersections and other places where works are performed in the forest, as well as in traffic. It is checked whether the works are planned by the planning document, whether the scope of works is in accordance with the planned, whether the remittance was made, whether the remittance is in accordance with the plans, whether all regulations in the field of forest management are respected during the works, establish forest order, works are performed with as little damage to the forest as possible, especially offspring and the like. The method of receiving and dispatching wood from temporary warehouses is also controlled, and supervision is carried out on lathe workshops, where the origin of the wood that is processed and stored is controlled."

Although the insufficient number of inspectors is a challenge, the expanded powers of forestry inspectors and the guard service, anticipated by the amendments to the Law on Forests in 2015, contribute to the suppression of illegal activities.

"At that time, forestry inspectors were given back the authority to control timber in traffic (which was not prescribed by the Law on Forest in 2010), and the obligation to issue a waybill (from private forests) or a delivery note (from state forests) for timber in traffic was also restored. The powers of the forest guard service have also been expanded. As a result of these measures, the volume of seized illegal wood in traffic has significantly increased, and in proportion to that, the share of legally felled wood has increased, which can be seen from the amount of collected fee for felled wood, which has also increased since then," explains Nišavić.

Amount of compensation for felled wood paid into the budget:













* Adopted amendments to the Law on Forests

Quantity of seized wood in circulation:













An important factor in the fight against illegal activities is the penal policy, which includes fines and confiscation of wood. The Law on Forests anticipates fines from RSD 10,000 to RSD 100,000 for a natural person, up to the largest ones for economic crimes, which range from RSD 300,000 to RSD 3,000,000.

"In addition to fines, as an obligatory measure, the confiscation of products obtained by committing violations is also prescribed, which are made available to public enterprises for forest management for sale by public auction. The funds generated by the sale are paid into the budget of the Republic of Serbia, less the costs of manipulation that public enterprises have. This measure was introduced by the amendments to the Law on Forests in 2015 and gives good results, because confiscation of items is a much greater punishment for perpetrators than a fine. Inspectors temporarily confiscate illegal timber in traffic and file charges against the perpetrator, while permanent confiscation is done by the court, and courts are now obliged to confiscate temporarily seized wood by inspectors (previously it was optional),” says Ljiljana Sovilj.

Representatives of the Forest Directorate believe that the current penal policy is good because the fines are not small, and the seizure of wood has become mandatory after the legal changes.

"The problem is with the imposition of fines, because in most cases the minimum fines are imposed or even fines below the minimum," Sovilj and Nišavić agree.

They conclude that the realistic assumption is that the existence and implementation of the Action Plan for the Suppression of Illegal Activities in Forestry would contribute to the improvement of the current situation.

They also point out the way in which non-governmental organizations can contribute to this topic through the Project* and similar initiatives in the future.

"Non-government organizations can significantly help through the media with actions that first point out the problem, inform the public more about the problem, and then appeal to the awareness of citizens, as well as help prevent illegal actions (e.g. appeal to the population not to buy firewood that is not stamped, because it means that it was not legally cut). Also, non-governmental organizations are more flexible in establishing a network for cooperation between individuals and institutions in the country and the region, which enhances the efficiency of all in combating illegal activities."


*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.

September 2020

Dragana Đukić
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