DRASTIC FINES TO PUT WOODLAND MOBSTERS UNDER CONTROL
Obviously, sanctions and fines in force today do not scare the woodland mobsters. Illegal felling makes so high profits that sanctions stipulated by the Criminal Code do not frighten the poachers. According to the currently operating regulations, poachers are to be sanctioned by two-year imprisonment or corrective labour, as well as by a BGN40 fine, when the forestry enterprise is significantly damaged. One measure the National Forest Management (a body within the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry) undertook in order to restrict the woodland mafia was to impose severe punishments on those who violate the rules. Amendments to the Criminal Code include fines up to BGN50,000 and five-year imprisonment in cases of severe damages of the forest enterprise, as well as fines up to BGN20,000 and three-year imprisonment for less severe damages. The proposal was made public by Iliya Simeonov, National Forest Management Director, on a two-day Balkans Conference on the Management of State-Owned Woodlands and Hunting Resources that started on July 14. There were representatives of the ministries and the forest enterprise organisations of Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Albania, and Greece, on the conference. They learned about the condition of the woodland sector and the hunting grounds on the Balkans and had a chance to exchange experience in this field.The more strong measures will hardly solve the problem, however. The absence of forest guards and the insufficient equipment are even more serious obstacles in the fight against poachers. According to information from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, about 1 million cubic metres of timber (worth some BGN28MN-BGN30MN) is being cut down illegally every year. In recent years, the forest enterprise has been suffering fire damages as well. Some 1.3 million dka have been destroyed in the period 1999-2001. Should this tendency continue, the country is threatened by a disastrous economic and ecological effect, Meglena Plugchieva, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, warned.However, the agricultural ministry has invented a solution at least to the problem with the lack of human resources. By the end of the current month, the ministry is planning a proposal for amendments to the Law on Administrative Violations and Penalties. The changes will stipulate that violators unable to pay their fine should provide community service.Still, problems in the sector will not be solved so easily. Some things will change due to the strategy for development of the wood branch by 2012, which was prepared in cooperation with the World Bank, the governments of Germany and Switzerland, and the UN Development Programme. The document has already been prepared and will be presented to the Council of Ministers for approval by end-July. The parliament will review it in the autumn. Donators have provided USD170,000 for the strategy preparation. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has paid USD6,000 of the money.The strategy provides for some restrictions to be imposed on the wood companies. Private owners will be allowed to cut down, but not to trade in timber. This trade will be a priority of the National Forest Company which is to be established in the future in accordance with the strategy. According to Meglena Plugchieva, companies now earn between BGN30 and BGN80 per timber cubic meter. When the National Forest Company starts trading in timber, the profit will remain in the hands of the state. And this is exactly what the agricultural ministry insists on.