Forests in North Macedonia under attack, forest ranger service understaffed and underequipped


North Macedonia must invest in the prevention of wildfires and illegal logging, equip the firefighting brigades with new vehicles and more personnel, modernize the Forest Rangers and the forestry units and introduce new technologies for the protection of the forests. These were the main conclusions from the public debate titled “Dealing with the threats to the forests: Institutional capacities,” organized by the Center for European Strategies – Eurothink.

The prevention of illegal logging and the protection of the forests from wildfires are equally important as the penal policies. The misuse of the forests’ potential with illegal logging for firewood is a decades-old problem in North Macedonia. The consequences of these activities and the wildfires are enormous and if efficient solutions to combat these activities and dangers are not provided timely, the consequences will be even more devastating.

In 2020, 19,282 cubic meters of wood were illegally cut, state the data by the State Statistical Office (SSO). In 2019, a record number was evidenced, when the perpetrators managed to cut 45,795 cubic meters of wood illegally.

One of the most important activities in the fight against illegal logging is raising the consciousness about the existence and the scope of the problem considers the Director of PE National Forests Julijana Nikolovska. She stressed that prevention is the best cure and best protection for our forests. She admits that the services for the protection of forests have weaknesses and that it is necessary to invest in equipment and new technologies.

The exploitation of the forests for illegal collection of firewood, according to Sasha Jovanovikj, the manager of the sector for forestry and hunting at the Ministry of Agriculture, is a type of organized crime, which by the number of the perpetrators, is among the most massive ones in the country. He considers that institutions should work on people’s minds that even the purchase of illegally cut wood is also a felony.

One of the solutions that he envisages is a system for electronic monitoring of the wood mass, which is underway and is encompassing all users. It will provide an opportunity to check electronically and to monitor each quantity of wood mass that will be put on sale. The people will be able to check in the system whether a vehicle transporting wood is legal or not and will have an opportunity if they discover a crime to report it. On the other hand, the state has to introduce measures for stimulating the use of other sources of energy among the population. This will lower the pressure on forests and there will be environmental benefits.

We are working also on changing the Law on Forests that should allow us other controlling mechanisms, for example, video surveillance at the storages, installing GPS monitoring of the transport vehicles, etc, Jovanovikj said.

Apart from illegal logging, wildfires are one of the greatest dangers to our forests. The damages amount to а loss of millions of euros and this year’s damages are in record numbers. After the hot summer with extreme temperatures and strong winds and wildfires in many locations throughout the country, especially the catastrophic ones in Maleshevo region, the damages were evaluated at €37.5 million. Last year the damages were evaluated to €1.3 million and in 2019, to €13 million.

The Director of the Center for Crisis Management, Stojanche Angelov, said that early warning is what functions best, but what we lack is a quick reaction on the field. The reason for that is the poor equipment and readiness, but also the poor coordination between the institutions.

The resources that we have at our disposal are modest. We have only two military firefighting helicopters and the airplanes of the Directorate of Protection and Rescue are still not functional. But even the helicopters aren’t of much use if we haven’t got enough people in the local firefighting units that will be well organized in order to take part in the extinguishing fires. Therefore I think we should invest more in prevention and this will help us save many finances and resources and we shall be able to preserve the beauty of many areas,” Angelov said.

Remediating and renewing the destroyed forests and ecosystems that were damaged in the fires last summer will take from 2 to 5 decades. The damage caused by the ravaging fire flames at several locations throughout the country is immeasurable, and it put the lights to the numerous weak spots in Macedonia’s protection system.

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