Private ownership, corruption and illegal logging in the forest sector – an interview with Prof. Laura Bouriaud

During the Scandinavian Society of Forest Economics conference that was held in Denmark this year, I had a big pleasure to meet Dr Laura Bouriaud from University Stefan cel Mare of Suceava (Romania). We have discussed differences in property rights held by private forest owners across Europe, and the way the illegal logging is linked to corruption in the Romanian forest sector. Read more…

First, thank you prof. Bouriaud for accepting the interview invitation. On behalf of Forest Monitor readers’, thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience.

During your presentation at the conference, you presented two graphs (see below) based on your conference paper “How to articulate global and sector-based governance changes-the case of post-socialist forest policy addressing private forestry”,  presented at IUFRO annual meeting in 2012, where you described the relation between restrictions on forest management rights and its relation to the corruption and wealth level in few countries.

Could you tell us more about your results, and what is the key message for present politicians who decide about forest policies in their home countries?

    – The conference paper was based on a preliminary assessment of the “liberalisation index” in private forestry, that was then correlated with different other socio-economic indicators. We were surprised at that time to see a potential correlation between the freedom of decision in private forestry (LIPF) and the share of public ownership in forests (more public forests, stronger restrictions on private forestry) and between the freedom of decision in private forestry and corruption index (fewer restrictions in private forestry, less corrupted the country). These results motivated us to improve the methodology and enlarge the team of the authors as to offer a robust assessment of property rights index on a larger geographical cover.

Thus, appeared the recently published scientific article “How private are Europe’s private forests? A comparative property rights analysis” ; together with international scientists, you developed the index of property rights distribution in forestry across Europe. What this index measures, and what are the differences in the degree of freedom that private forest owners experience in different European countries?

    – Within our team of authors, and in particular with my colleague Liviu Nichiforel, we intended to explore how the legal frame existing in each country determines the content of the property rights on private lands. In each country, the forest landowner has to observe certain rules in forest harvesting or forest management, but the problem was how to compare them across jurisdictions/countries? Based on existing literature on economic analysis of property rights, we built an index based on a bundle of five categories of rights (access, withdrawal, management, exclusion and alienation). We then provided an unitary scheme for comparing the legal rules applying in private forestry for these five categories of rights.

 It is therefore, the first article which has managed to document in a comprehensive and quantifiable manner Pan-European variations in forest related legal frameworks. We show a clear variation in the scope that private forest owners have to make decisions. The main differentiating factor among the 31 jurisdictions is the freedom to make decisions related to operational forestry management (for example, the owner has or not the right to choose the tree to be harvested or to influence this choice) and the formulation of forest management goals (for example, is the owner able to set up the goal of the forest management plan, or at least to have an influence on the choice of this goal).

Do you think that such identified variation in property rights among forest owners across Europe may influence the formulation of a common EU forest policy?

    – Not at all, in my opinion. This variation expresses the fact that forest policy is nationally determined. There is a strong cultural and historical background to these differences, that we are egger to further investigate.

I read with a great passion your article about conservation, timber extraction and corruption in Romania. Honestly speaking, I felt like I would have read about forestry, and State Forests in Poland. What was the reaction in Romania after your publication? Have you got any comments or critics from Romsilva or politicians?

    – The article was intended mainly for scientists. The problems were well known in Romania, and they were highly debated during the year 2015 when the Forest Code was modified. In that sense, the aspects presented in the article were publicly known and partially acknowledged by forest sector at that time. Since then, the politicians tend to say that the problems were solved, and anyhow, there are many other stressing issues on the policy agenda today.

Contrary to Poland, Romania went through forest restitution to former owners. In your article, there are listed few examples about overuses during this privatization process (illegal cut, corruption etc.). Do you think that there were available measures and mechanisms that were able to stop such negative consequences in the past?

    – There were several initiatives, including from Romsilva, to stop the disaster associated to the transfer of forests to former private owners without any legal frame for protecting them against illegal logging. For example, during few years, Romsilva even performed guarding on privately forestland, although with no legal basis. But the politicians did not worked at that time in the same direction: for many reasons, only in 1998 appeared the first act to laid down the legal basis of implementing rule of law in private forests.

It seems that one of the most important drivers behind forest corruption in Romania is that the State regulates private and community-owned forestland and is responsible for supervision of forest production (authorization and the monitoring the legality of all forest-related activities). This sentence explains well what it is over-regulation: “The main forest laws and regulations from the central legal corpus of silviculture in Romania with more than 150 different Acts, plus eight volumes of technical norms, and almost 200 different official forms or documents that need to be filled out by forest managers or operators (Bouriaud 2014)”.

Do you have any idea or suggestion how to solve the problem of over-regulation?

    – The bureaucracy is proved to enhance corruption, demotivate people, and to lead to loose of time, money and opportunities. I met forest engineers exceeded by the quantity of paper work, living them no freedom of choices for the forest they manage. This situation is likely to continue in long run, we are far from being ready for a “reform” of forest legislation that will simplify the paperwork. This issue has been discussed many times in the latest 4 years, but no action was taken for instance in this direction.

And last question. In your article, you mentioned patronage as a problem in Romanian forest sector, especially in the context of the appointment of new people (mostly in Romanian State Forests) without consideration for their professional competences. Because we have exactly the same problem in Poland, where there is more important who you know rather than what you know, and that recruitment for most open positions does not exist, I would like to ask you how to fight with patronage, and how, in your opinion, the ideal process of the appointment of forest managers should look like in Romsilva?

   – One step against patronage was taken by Romsilva for the recruitment of young forest engineer for their first one year stage. The recruitment procedure is not exempted from critiques, but at least it offers a chance to the young to prove what they know in a competition. On the other hand, Romsilva has adopted several programmatic documents (e.g. Adminstration Plan 2016-2020), recognizing the existing deficiencies in recruitment procedures (most often internal) and the risks associated with politicians inference in Romsilva recruitment for open positions. There is still long way to go, however, before having transparent recruitment procedures and cutting with rumors about the amount to pay for “being admitted in the system”.

Prof. univ. dr. ing. Laura Bouriaud

Educated in Forestry and in Juridical Science, Master degree in Political Sciences at University Nancy II and PhD in forestry at ENGREF Nancy, France, Laura Bouriaud is teaching and doing research activities in natural resource management since 1995 at the University of Suceava (USV), Romania. Having the experience of several scholarships at University of Alberta, Canada and European Forest Institute, Finland, Laura Bouriaud devoted his career to the study of forest governance issues, such property rights on forests, illegal logging, or forest management adaptation to climate change. In 2015 prof. Laura Bouriaud obtained the habilitation thesis for advising PhD students work.

Laura Bouriaud has a rich experience in international research networking (with participation as project manager for USV in several Fp7 projects and COST Actions), in international consultancy activities on illegal logging-related issues, and in policy advising. She published six books and six chapters in books as first author and more than 60 scientific articles.

Bouriaud, L., Marzano, M., 2014. Conservation, extraction and corruption: will sustainable forest management be possible in Romania. Natural Resource Extraction and Indigenous Livelihoods: Development Challenges in an Era of Globalization. In: Gilberthorpe, E., Hilson, G. (Eds.), Natural resource extraction and indigenous livelihoods: development challenges in an era of globalization. Ashgate, London, pp. 221-239.

Main photo credit: Rafal Chudy

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