Wood poaching becomes epidemic

Illegal logging has taken on epidemic proportions since the beginning of December, according to reports on Wednesday from forestry services across the country and the Environment Ministry?s Special Secretariat for Forests.

The record-high cost of heating oil coupled with shrinking household budgets and a drop in temperatures have compelled thousands across Greece to switch off their radiators and turn to wood-burning stoves instead, creating a profitable market for wood sellers and importers, as well as illegal loggers who pass off their merchandise as being licensed.

Reports suggest that thousands of hectares of forest have suffered serious depletion in Pilio, Xanthi, Kavala and Halkidiki, with illegal logging also taking a chunk, albeit a smaller one, out of the woodlands of Foloi in the prefecture of Ileia and Aghios Christoforos near Agrinio, while forest rangers in Strofilia in Achaia claim to have been attacked by a group of illegal loggers when they tried to stop them.

The problem is also acute at the Kotychi-Strofylia Reserve in the western Peloponnese — whose lagoon and forest are protected under the Ramsar Convention — where there have also been reports of widespread poaching.

Forestry authorities, however, admit to being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the phenomenon, saying that they simply don?t have enough staff to adequately patrol Greece?s forests, especially at weekends, when illegal logging is most prevalent.

In November, forestry services had said that illegal logging accounted for around 30 percent of lost forestland.

Meanwhile, environmental group WWF Hellas reported on Wednesday that it has completed its rejuvenation program for 11 forest areas scorched by devastating fires in the summer of 2007, which claimed the lives of 67 people.

The program, with a budget of 2.47 million euros, was completed with funding from nongovernmental organizations and the assistance of over 100 bodies, such as universities, volunteer groups and private associations.

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