Forestry reform: corruption is being centralized, logging is being increased many times over shutterstock

Forestry reform: corruption is being centralized, logging is being increased many times over

Oleksandr Pobel

As part of the reform, the government seeks to increase profits from the sale of wood

For more than a year, the Cabinet of Ministers has been implementing forestry reform in Ukraine. It began in September 2022 with the approval of Resolution No. 1003 by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. As part of the reform, all forestry enterprises were liquidated. Instead, the state-owned enterprise Forests of Ukraine was created. The company absorbed all forestry enterprises and took over their right to use forests. Read more about the reform in EcoPolitic' material.

There are three goals of the forestry reform:

  • significant increase in wood products;
  • mechanization of raw material procurement;
  • increasing forest areas by planting new forests.

The priority of the Cabinet in the field of forest management is to increase profits. There is a war going on in Ukraine and the budget is catastrophically short of funds. According to information of the European Business Association, during the meeting of the working group on forest reform, the deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Rostyslav Shurma noted:

"Ukraine harvests about 13 million cubic meters of wood per year. Following the example of Scandinavia, we should reach 25 million cubic meters of wood per year, but every hectare of forest that is cut down should be immediately planted with new ones."

In addition, the destruction of the energy infrastructure has resulted in energy shortages.The government plans to compensate for some of the energy losses by using firewood from the forest as fuel. So more logging means more profits and more firewood.

In order to increase the scale of logging, the reform is mechanizing logging, i.e., switching from manual labor to the use of machinery. From the beginning of 2022 to May 20 this year, the State Enterprise “Forests of Ukraine” purchased four logging machines. UAH 31 million was spent on the purchase.

The results the government needed were not long in coming. Yuriy Bolokhovets, CEO of the State Enterprise “Forests of Ukraine”, said that in the first nine months of the company's operation, profits in the forestry industry increased 10 times. In 2023, the company's profit amounted to more than UAH 3 billion.

"Centralized" corruption?

Heads of forestry departments and institutions are regularly caught by law enforcement for corruption.

In Volyn, the director of the Kivertsi National Nature Park “Tsumanska Pushcha” is suspected of illegal felling of trees worth UAH 16.5 million.

In Odesa region, the head of one of the branches of the State Enterprise “Forests of Ukraine” organized the felling of 1,500 trees. The illegal actions caused losses to the state in the amount of UAH 145 million.

The director of the Southern Forestry Office of the state enterprise “Forests of Ukraine” is accused of stealing UAH 15 million. He faces 12 years in prison.

The head of the Vinnytsia branch of the Central Forestry Office of the State Enterprise “Forests of Ukraine” was detained by law enforcement officers while receiving a bribe of four thousand dollars. The official systematically took bribes to “resolve issues” with regulatory and law enforcement agencies in case of violations.

The deputy director of the regional forestry office of the state enterprise “Forests of Ukraine” was searched and found to be in possession of cash worth UAH 150 million and 3.5 kg of gold. The official is accused of illegal enrichment.

The list of reports of corruption in the forestry sector can go on for a long time. But it is already clear that neither Rostyslav Shurma, the top manager of the Presidential Office, nor Ruslan Strilets, the head of the Ministry of Environment, nor Yuriy Bolokhovets, the head of the State Enterprise “Forests of Ukraine,” have been able to eradicate corruption in the forestry sector.

Millions of hryvnias for forest roads

In order for forest cutting to take place quickly and money to flow quickly, it is necessary to ensure good logistics – the movement of wood to production facilities and markets. Bolokhovets said that the annual plan for the construction of forest roads in 2023 significantly exceeded the indicators of previous years. He explained the investment of the company's profits in roads with the following reasons:

  • access to remote areas of the forest will increase the number of fellings and the deduction of money to the country's budget;
  • a network of roads in the forests will reduce the cost of harvesting wood;
  • the ability to get to the scene of forest fires faster and start extinguishing the fire as soon as possible;
  • development of a network of recreational and tourist centers.

EcoPolitic turned to the SE "Forests of Ukraine" with the question: how much money was spent on repairs and creation of forest roads in 2023 and 2024. According to the information received, UAH 65 million was spent on repairs and creation of new roads last year and until May of the current year. With these funds, 41 kilometers of new roads were repaired and built, and 256 km of roads are under construction.

Sanitary cuttings

According to the estimates of nature protection organizations, the majority of felling in Ukraine takes place through sanitary felling. Such felling is intended to remove from the forest trees that are weakened or damaged by pests, fire or wind.

The state-owned enterprise "Forests of Ukraine" reported that in 2023, the main use fellings, which are intended for harvesting commercial wood, occupied an area of ​​22,000 hectares. Sanitary felling was carried out on an area of ​​148 thousand hectares. In the first quarter of 2024, felling for main use took place on an area of ​​4.5 thousand hectares, sanitary felling on an area of ​​19 thousand hectares.

In the current year, branches of the State Enterprise "Forests of Ukraine" plan to carry out logging for main use on an area of ​​20 thousand hectares, and sanitary logging on an area of ​​128 thousand hectares.

To cancel EIA for the sake of profits?

Foresters often cut healthy forest under the guise of sanitary felling in order to increase the number of fellings and gain profits for themselves. They prepare the conclusions and documents they need, and a healthy forest on paper turns into a diseased or damaged one. In this way, they artificially create the need to use sanitary felling to "rehabilitate" the forest.

Unhindered, such illegal logging can be carried out on an area of ​​up to one hectare. If felling is planned for a larger area, then by law, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) must first be carried out. This procedure requires significant costs and lasts several months.

Last year, the Verkhovna Rada registered draft law No. 9516 "On effective management of forests". It cancels the environmental impact assessment for sanitary felling in the following areas:

  • whose territory is less than 10 hectares;
  • which suffered from mass droughts, fires, windstorms, damage by pests.

In the explanatory note to the draft law, it is stated that the forestry industry will suffer losses due to the long-term and complex procedure of the EIA. If, as a result of a windstorm, the wind broke the trees, then they must be removed from the forest as soon as possible, sold and profited. But due to EIA, the wood lies in the forest for a long time under the rain and hot sun and deteriorates.

"In six months, it will be firewood. Local budgets may lose money. Business wood is 25 times more expensive than firewood. The losses are obvious,” explained Oleksandr Matusevych, one of the authors of the draft law on the abolition of EIA, in a comment to the Golka civil initiative.

The organization's analyst, Heorhiy Mohylnyi, explained what kind of criminal scheme could arise if the environmental impact assessment is canceled. First, a healthy forest is made to look damaged on paper. After the “sanitary” felling, the wood is officially assessed as firewood and the state budget receives money for the sale of firewood. In reality, it will be sold as business wood at 25 times the price.

The unofficial reason for the reform of the forest industry

The Cabinet of Ministers has centralized corruption, but large-scale illegal logging continues. Civic activists and MPs have repeatedly reported illegal deforestation and the intentions of unscrupulous entrepreneurs to build resorts in protected forests. Often, regulatory authorities and scientists, contrary to the law, recognize the destruction of forest areas as expedient.

As EcoPolitic previously reported, 12 illegal logging sites were discovered in the Chornobyl zone. According to MP Olha Vasylevska-Smagliuk, who personally recorded the illegal logging, the wood was cut into 17 railway cars. The MP concluded that one year of illegal logging leads to losses of about one billion UAH.

According to Vasilevska-Smagliuk, the Minister of the Ministry of Environment Ruslan Strilets may be involved in illegal logging in the Chornobyl zone. His former colleague, Andriy Tymchuk, works at the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management (SAUEZM). Vasylevska-Smagliuk is convinced that illegal logging in the Chornobyl region was not without the participation of the SAUEZM. Therefore, Minister Strelets, thanks to Tymchuk, could receive dividends from such logging.

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