Prishtinë, 31 January 2017
Kosovo forests are among the natural assets targeted to be destroyed with the aim of getting a profit. Their continuous destruction happens in the presence of institutions that are responsible for their protection. Being subject to economic crime, manifested mainly through illegal cutting and often intentional firesetting, forests have been destroyed to the extent irreversible for a long period of time.
Many families, due to their difficult economic situation, cut forests illegally and sells firewood to make a living. However, bigger damage was mainly caused by companies which won tenders for cleaning and utilization of forests. These companies did not comply with their contracts and forests were often cut exceeding the set limit. This phenomenon was especially the case in Dukagjini region.
Kosovo Forestry Agency is also aware of the fact that the tenders had a destructive impact on forests, and for that reason undertook measures to terminate the contracts and send the cases in courts during the time when forests were managed by municipalities (2010-2013).
Another reason that had a grave impact on the destruction of forests was also the mixing of competences among state institutions (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Spatial Planning, regional directorates and municipalities), which managed forests. The distribution of management among three institutions mixed up the legal competences and reduced the responsibilities in terms of forest management. Considering this situation, Kosovo Forestry Agency tried to draft a law, which would again stipulate the competences regarding forests. These amendments were accepted by all actors and will be processed in the Assembly.
Many cases were sent to prosecutions and courts for stealing forests. These cases have been accumulated and never dealt with on time, and as a result many of them were prescribed. Stealing of forests is the most prescribed criminal act in years. Between 2001 and 2014 a total of 1783 cases of stealing of forests were prescribed in the whole of Kosovo.
In Kosovo, forests are mostly cut for firewood. A considerable part of wood that are cut in Dukagjini region are sold in two markets in Peja. Preportr team visited these markets and found that some of these woods were cut down using a hammer. The Inspectorate of Kosovo Forestry Agency also confirms that these markets often had wood that was cut illegally, which they confiscated and sent the cases in respective justice institutions.
Some wood, however, are also used for processing. This type of wood is mostly cut in Dukagjini region and this is the reason why this municipality has many wood processing manufacturers. The Inspectorate of Kosovo Forestry Agency inspected these processing units from time to time and found wood that was cut illegally, closing down some of the units.
The environment experts say that the cutting of forests causes many environmental damages, since forests are the main balancers of the concentration of two main gasses, i.e. oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Forests in Kosovo make up a total of 481.000 hectares of the entire territory. The annual growth of forests is around 1,6 million cubic meters per annum, which means there are lots of possibilities for cutting, under the condition that this process be controlled. On the other hand, the demand of citizens is around 1 million cubic meter per annum. Preportr focused its research on the damage made to forests in the municipalities of Dukagjini region, because this is the most affected area in terms of the quantity of damage and the quality of wood. The list of confiscated wood in years and the cases sent to courts make this region the most affected one in the whole of Kosovo, not neglecting here other municipalities, such as Ferizaj and Podujeva, where the situation is quite serious as well.
Peja as the biggest municipality in this region has the highest forest area, with a total of 25.709.72 hectares, followed by Istog with 19.000 hectares. The municipality of Deçan has a total of 14.420 hectares, with 10.903 hectares of public and 3517 hectares of private forests. The municipality of Junik has a total of 4668.90 hectares of forests, with 3333.90 hectares of public and 1315 hectares of private forests.
A big part of these forest areas of these municipalities are now under strict state protection, since they are part of Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park. This park stretches to Istog, Peja, Deçan, Junik and Gjakova, and covers an area of 63028 hectares.
In various part of this region, one can see huge damaged parts as a result of cutting forests without any criteria. The worst thing is that the best parts of trees were cut off, while the rest was left on the ground, making it look rather miserably.
The local residents say that this destruction, and the firesetting in the past, was carried out in an organized way. They say that huge trucks were brought without being stopped by anyone, and left behind a mass of misery.
Several years ago, much forest was burned down in Carrabreg mountains, in the Municipality of Deçan. The residents recall the difficulties in extinguishing the fire due to lack of adequate equipment. One can still see the traces of that fire. In addition to this burned area, there is another part damaged by illegal cutting.
In carrying out this research, Preportr cooperated with local residents who captured photos and videos of trucks loaded with wood also during the night, and this is probably done illegally.
Forests were destroyed with the help of the state
Kosovo forests were damaged to a large extent with the help of institutions. Tenders were given to companies for the purpose of cleaning of forests, while companies made use of the chance to cut more trees than they were permitted in line with the contract. The municipalities of Dukagjini region and the Kosovo Forestry Agency gave tenders for the cleaning of forests.
Preportr filed a request for access to public documents asking the municipalities of Peja, Deçan and Istog to allow access to tenders given for the cleaning of forests during 2010-2013. Peja and Istog declared that these municipalities did not give tenders for the cleaning of forests, while the municipality of Deçan provided two documents, showing six companies that won such tenders. However, the reply of this municipality was not altogether transparent, since Preportr managed to find nine additional companies which won similar tenders at this municipality.
Preportr found names of several companies that operated in the municipality of Deçan and Peja during 2011-2012 whose contract was terminated. These nine companies were charged at the Serious Crimes Department of the Prosecution in Peja by the Economic Crime Unit. These cases are currently being reviewed in the court.
Out of 15 companies that won tenders in the municipality of Deçan, found by Preportr, seven were charged for breach of contract.
One of the companies that breached the contract is SH.P.K. “MALI” in the ownership of Sali Kuçi. At the time of winning this tender, he was the advisor of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) in the municipality of Deçan, which is the ruling party in this municipality. Kuçi is now running "Higjiena" public enterprise.
The director of Legal Directorate of Kosovo Forestry Agency, says that during the first years when the competences were transferred to the municipalities, a huge damage was caused through tenders. He says that during those years, 12 economic operators which were commissioned by the municipalities in Dukagjini, had their contracts terminated.
“It is publicly known that 12 economic operators which carried out their activities in the said municipalities had their contracts terminated and all legal measures were undertaken according to law. Some of them are currently facing charges in courts" says Kadrijaj.
He mentions huge amounts of damage caused to forests by these operators. "According to assessments, the damage caused to forests based on contracts with economic operators reaches 3,500 cubic meters," he says, adding that the tree was of high quality - coniferous trees. The average value of this damage is considered to be at least 160 thousand euros.
The Directorate for the Administration of “Bjeshkët e Nemuna” National Park, says that the biggest damage to Kosovo forests, respectively this park, was caused by economic operators which were commissioned to clean the forests.
When we came, we found these forests in bad conditions, since only in Peja, without Deçan, we found around 30 thousand cubic meters of wood, which were cut and ready for transportFatmir Morina, The director of the Directorate for the Administration of Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park
"When we came, we found these forests in bad conditions, since only in Peja, without Deçan, we found around 30 thousand cubic meters of wood, which were cut and ready for transport," says the director of this Directorate, Fatmir Morina. If we make a simple calculation regarding the cost of firewood that is sold in the market, we find that this damage reaches an amount of 1,350,000 euros.
The fact that tenders are the main reason for the damage caused to these forests is also mentioned by one non-governmental organization in Deçan.
Adem Lushaj, director of the Association of Independent Intellectuals in Deçan, says that they continuously raised their voice against these kinds of tenders, since they contributed to the damage caused to forests in Dukagjini region.
"The tenders given either by the ministry, agency or by the municipality, are the biggest destroyers of forests in the municipality of Deçan, and in the whole of Dukagjini region. This destructed is carried out with papers, in an organized way, or as we call it, through organized crime, either on municipal or central level," he says.
Many managing institutions with none accountable
The damaging of forests in Kosovo has been the topic of discussion in the Assembly of Kosovo several times. However, few concrete steps have been undertaken in order to deal more seriously with this matter. Although there is a Law on Forests adopted in 2003, with several amendments made throughout years, in 2012 two additional laws were adopted: Law on National Park Bjeshkët e Nemuna, and Law on National Park Bjeshkët e Sharrit. The idea behind the drafting of these laws was to to protect both forests as well as flora and fauna in them.
After much opposition from local residents and relevant institutions, including municipalities were these parks are located, the National Parks are now managed by a sole body which is the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning. This did not change a lot the situation in the field since forests continue to be damaged illegally, but at least it put an end to the practice of mutual blaming among institutions, since forests that are now national parks covering most public forests, used to be managed by three levels of institutions (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development, regional directorates, and municipalities).
Kosovo Forestry Agency says that this could be one of the reasons why forests were damaged to this extent. They even say that when the competences were transferred to municipalities, from 2010 to 2013 forests were damaged to a large extent. This happened because municipalities lacked necessary infrastructure to prevent the illegal cutting, and human resources, including forestry experts.
"After 2010 Kosovo Forestry Agency noticed this conglomerate of laws and made efforts to draft a new law, which would once again concentrate the competence on forests and introduce one authority to protect and undertake all legal measures, from forest guards to the highest body. These changes were accepted by all actors and I believe that very soon this draft-law will be processed further," says Kadri Kadrijaj.