Gacko: Forest and money taken away by illegal logging

For years, in the mountain Bjelašnica, in the area of ​​the Forest Farm “Botin” Nevesinje, illegal logging took place without an adequate reaction from the authorities. The result is a bare felling in three suits, from which, experts say resignedly, in the next hundred years, there will be almost no trees to be cut down.

By: Milanka Kovačević, direkt –

The village of Lukovice in the municipality of Gacko is located on the slopes of Bjelašnica. Residents of this, but also several neighboring villages, have firewood at their fingertips. Although the forest is state-owned, foresters usually decide not to react to illegal logging.

“If they had picked wood only for themselves, they could have been heated for a hundred years without anyone touching it. But the situation spiraled out of control when one group began cutting and selling wood in a virtually organized manner. It illegal logging lasted for years, and there was no adequate reaction from the authorities”, the interviewee who did not feel safe to stand behind their words by name and surname.

A little – big damage

This is not surprising because the mentioned group of thieves became so strong that on several occasions the newly appointed forester reported threats to the police.

We tried to inquire about the situation in this area at the Forest Administration in Gacko, at the branch office of the Forest Farm “Botin” in Nevesinje. Namely, they are responsible for managing Bjelašnica. They instructed us to look for the answers in the headquarters – PE Forests of RS, which are authorized to provide information. In a short letter from this company, they said that it was a low-value forest and that the supervision in this area was intensified during the heating procurement season.

“Illegal logging has been recorded, i.e., illegal logging of low-value wood assortments (firewood). In the summer months, that is, the season of supplying firewood, illegal logging is intensified. For that reason, the supervision by the guard service at that locality has been strengthened, as well as on the local roads that could be used for the transport of illegally cut wood”, stated in the answer that was delivered to us from the PE Forests of RS.

Bearing in mind the debt of over 40 million BAM in which the Forests are currently in, the damage in Bjelašnica was done in the coppice forest on, as they say, “inferior wood assortments”. But, if we take that this year alone, from April to October, over 400 cubic meters of firewood were cut at the mentioned location, which is over 20 thousand BAM on the market, the damage caused to the company is for the last five years, which is estimated to be intensive forest theft, exceeds one hundred thousand.

The mess they left behind threatens both flora and fauna

Still, it’s a trifle compared to the actual damage done in this area.

According to our sources, the forest thieves cut down only the high-quality wood. They left behind a complete forest mess, cubic meters of the second-class wood and branches, in short, hundreds of cubic meters of wood that are now rotting and thus represents a potential danger for the development of forest diseases.

Immeasurable damage was also inflicted on the animal world, because wild animals were prevented from moving through its habitat.

However, the movement of forest thieves was unhindered. Insiders claim that most of that tree passed through Gacko and, further, along the highway towards Bileća. At the same time, the police rarely stopped to check the origin of the assortments and the accompanying documentation.

We received an answer from the Trebinje Police Department that during this year, they recorded three thefts of firewood and seized a little more than 30 cubic meters.

“Also, one case of transport of firewood in the amount of less than 5 m3 was recorded, which was reported by the workers of the Botin Forest Farm by initiating a misdemeanor report,” reads the response from the Trebinje Police Department.

They add that in the past 10 months, 6 persons have been registered as perpetrators of this crime, for which a fine or imprisonment of three to, in the worst case, 10 years is threatened.

Only foresters will be guilty for everything

Non-resentment is perhaps the main reason why the authorities did not guard the forest, which is a job for which they are in charge and paid for.

“Several residents of Lukovica, mostly relatives, have been stealing the forest for years without any sanctions. Prone to conflict, it is difficult to talk to them using arguments. That is why everyone withdrew and avoided confrontation with them. Although it is state-owned, they view the forest as their property, and here no one wants to be offended, it is easiest to ignore and not mention anything “, one interviewee explained.

He/She believes that the forester is powerless here because there is no adequate reaction from the authorities.

In order to solve the problem, they changed the forester – Gacko Forest Administration

The PE Forests of RS points out that there are records of the undertaken activities and measures by the commissions which “inspected the situation on the ground, and which contain data on locations where illegal logging was recorded, estimates of the amount of damage, types of wood assortments”.

In the answer for “Direkt”, they did not state the estimated total damage. We also contacted the Inspector for Hunting and Forestry of RS, Zoran Okiljević, who confirmed that he had visited the field, made a report and submitted it to the competent services. He did not want to speak to the public about his findings, emphasizing that he did not have the authority to do so.

Public company Šume said that they had filed an application for “a person for whom an identity has been established, as well as for unidentified persons for whom the forester could not establish his identity.” Also, a procedure was initiated against the forest guard to determine the responsibility, i.e., whether there were any omissions in the work”, stated in the answer. They add that another forester has been deployed in the area until the end of the procedure.

We do not yet have confirmation from the Prosecutor’s Office in Trebinje that a case has been formed and an indictment has been filed, although we sent questions at the end of December. However, unofficially, we found out there will be filed cases for 1,600 trees that were illegally cut down.

In short, for the hundreds of cubic meters that have been illegally cut down in the past five or more years, for the invaluable damage done in this area, as things currently stand, only foresters will be disciplined. Despite the fact that everyone knew about the intensive theft – the locals, employees of the “Botin” Forest Farm, police.

Considering that the debt of Public company Šume RS is measured in tens of millions, the damage of a hundred or more thousand really seems insignificant. But it says a lot about who we have entrusted the national treasure to for safekeeping. The forest in Bjelašnica is an example which, unfortunately, is not the only one.