From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Albania’s Forests Shrunk Despite Ban on Deforestation

Despite a 2016 moratorium on deforestation, Albania has still managed to lose some 378 hectares of forest.

In 2016, Albania had 1,052,237 hectares of woodland but by 2018, that had shrunk to 1,051,859. The reason for this decrease has been attributed to exploitation and some fires. The problem is that whilst the number of forests decrease, so to do the funds attributed for maintaining them.

According to INSTAT, EUR 2.8 million was invested in forestry in 2014, yet in 2016 and 2017, this figure was zero. In 2018, only EUR 220,000 was allocated for replenishing forests.

The moratorium on forests was enacted in law in 2016 and restricted their depletion for a period of 10 years. It was deemed necessary due to severe damage to Albania’s forests due to over 25 years of illegal logging, often carried out in collaboration with officials entrusted with looking after them. A 2009 investigation by BIRN showed how corruption prevented a proper crackdown on illegal loggers in the country.

 Following the ban, the government handed forests and pastures over to municipalities, putting the responsibility of maintaining them in the hands of local authorities.

All logging was covered under the ban, including the export of timber. Additionally, any manufacturers that use wood to produce products are forced to import it. Anyone found breaking the law would be subject to a fine of approximately EUR 36,000.

The law however, was vague in terms of Article 3 where it states that “the use of timber to meet the firewood needs of residents” is permitted. It does not provide any guidelines in terms of allocation per person or any kind of cap on what amount can be considered as fair usage for “firewood”, leaving it open for abuse.

Despite the ban being in force, since 2016 the Rama government handed over some 600 hectares from the forest registry to commercial companies that are engaged in mining and hydropower activities. These companies include Victoria Invest who made an unsolicited bid on the Tirana ring road, and Salillari, the concession holder of the Ruga e Kombit highway and the Tirana Bus Terminal. Both have been allowed to undertake mining activities in areas that should be protected under the moratorium.

At the time the moratorium was announced, the then head of the Citizens’ Office for Environmental Protection Sazan Guri said that since 1943 the forested surface of Albania had reduced from 83% to just 10%.

He added that to undo the damage done, “an energetic process of forestation” has to start but that it would not be without its challenges.

“In too many cases, government officials and representatives of local municipalities are not honest about the numbers of new trees planted.”

In April of this year, Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj raised suspicion over the claim that he and “a dozen” volunteers planted some 25,000 trees in an afternoon.

Exit consulted three seperate, international tree-planting specialists and arborists who confirmed that it would be difficult to plant even 250 trees properly in that amount of time, let alone 25,000.