Campaigners say some of the wood is going to companies supplying Ikea, though it and logging firm deny wrongdoing

Laws to protect biodiversity in Ukrainian forests are failing to prevent environmentally unsustainable logging that is harming wildlife, and the resulting timber is being sold to EU consumers as ethical and sustainable, a green campaign group has alleged.

Trees are being felled during silent periods, when forests are supposed to be left intact so that birds and other wildlife can nest and reproduce, according to an investigation by the environmental charity Earthsight.

Loggers appear to be taking advantage of loopholes that allow for “sanitary felling” during the silent periods, according to a report by Earthsight. Sanitary felling is sometimes necessary to stop the spread of disease and pests such as the European bark beetle. But it is hard to judge how much felling is really needed, and whether the harvesting is taking place under strict controls.

Earthsight has uncovered evidence of felling during the silent periods in the spring and early summer from 2018 to this year. Previous research by the organisation found similar harvesting during the silent periods in preceding years.

Some of the wood allegedly felled during silent periods is going to companies that supply the Swedish furniture maker Ikea, according to Earthsight. Ikea denied wrongdoing and told the Guardian it would cut off any supplier found to have breached its stringent rules on sustainability.

The company said: “Ikea does not accept illegally logged wood in our products. When we encounter any information that indicates wood which does not meet our requirements has entered or is at risk of entering our supply chain, we take immediate action.”

The company said last year its forestry specialists carried out several audits across Ukraine and Romania and no illegally logged wood was discovered. The latest audit carried out on the supply chain in question was in April 2020, and did not indicate any illegal wood, the company said.

The company has also begun an independent audit of VGSM, the supplier named in the Earthsight report as allegedly felling timber in contravention of the regulations.

“We take the issues raised by Earthsight’s recent report very seriously and immediately began investigations with all mentioned partners,” said a spokesperson for Ikea.

VGSM told the Guardian that the area of forest cited in the Earthsight report, Velykyi Bychkiv, was being operated within Ukrainian regulations. In a detailed reply to the Guardian, the company referred to “the absurdity of the law” and to a conflict between the law which establishes a silent period in which trees may not be felled, to protect biodiversity, and the requirements for sanitary felling. “How is it possible to simultaneously carry out sanitary measures in the shortest possible time but at the same time postponing it for two and a half months [because of the silent period]?”

The company rejected claims that it had contravened the rules or the standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which certifies wood as coming from sustainable sources: “VGSM LLC highly values the FSC standards and cooperation with its foreign partners. Therefore, we never violate their requirements.”

Ukrainian laws intended to protect forests are open to abuse, according to the FSC, which certifies timber from Ukraine and other countries as coming from environmentally sustainable sources. Earthsight has accused the FSC of certifying timber as sustainable when it is not.

“This legislation is not clear, therefore the interpretation is not clear,” Kim Carstensen, director general of the FSC, told the Guardian. “It is likely that some of the logging [that has taken place] is illegal. It is likely that the uncertainties in the legislation are being used by some companies to do logging that they should not.”

But he said that the uncertainties meant it was impossible to say for sure whether companies were acting within the law. Asking for a blanket ban on sanitary felling, which some companies may be using as a cover for extensive logging, would be counterproductive, said Carstensen, because protections against diseases and pests were still needed. “We are asking for clarification of the law,” he said.

Serhiy Komarchuk, head of the department of ecological control at the State Environmental Inspectorate of Ukraine, told the Guardian that a fine had been imposed for infringements of the felling regulations in the Velykyi Bychkiv forest in 2018. “During visit to Velykyi Bychkiv SFE [State Forestry Enterprise] in 2018, State Environmental Inspectorate of Ukraine found that the SFE had been unabashedly issuing felling tickets for sanitary felling during this ‘silence period’, allowing swaths of forest to be illegally cut. The inspectors identified 109 different sites where illegal sanitary felling had been scheduled during the silence period,” said Komarchuk.

Taken from the original article in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/23/timber-unsustainable-logging-allegedly-sold-eu-ethical