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Forest Stewardship Council cuts ties with Austrian timber giant


  • A year-long investigation by the FSC found Holzindustrie Schweighofer was illegally sourcing wood from Romania – including from national parks. In response, the FSC put the company on probation, a move seen as a slap on the hand by critics.
  • On February 17, the FSC announced its intention to fully disassociate from Schweighofer. Re-association is possible in the future.
  • Romania is home to Europe’s last old-growth lowland forest, which is losing its tree cover to deforestation activities.

The Forest Stewardship Council has formally disassociated from Austrian timber giant Holzindustrie Schweighofer. The announcement came last week, February 17, following a year-long investigation that uncovered the company persistently sourced illegal timber from Romania.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the word’s most influential forest products certification organization. The announcement follows a two-month probation implemented by the FSC in December, 2016 – a move panned by the NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

The EIA, which described the previous probation as “shocking” given the FSC investigation’s conclusions, is now applauding the decision to disassociate.

“Europe’s last great forest is under threat due to illegal logging, and Schweighofer has been the main culprit,” said EIA Executive Director Alexander von Bismarck. “With this decision, FSC is taking concrete action to avoid certifying trade in stolen wood.”

Romania hosts Europe’s last old-growth lowland forest, a 1,000-square kilometer (386-square mile) tract home to bears, wolves, and lynx – long lost from many other parts of the continent. The forest is also the site of multiple protected areas, including national parks.

However, despite protections, deforestation is an ongoing problem for the forest. Satellite data from the University of Maryland show it lost around 840 hectares of tree cover from 2001 through 2014. While amounting to less than 1 percent of its total area, this deforestation still resulted in the forest losing its status as an “intact forest landscape” – a designation given to areas of native land cover large and undisturbed enough to retain their original levels of biodiversity.

While tree cover loss has been decreasing in the old-growth forest, 2014 saw a spike over previous years.

The FSC investigation that led to its December probation of, and now, disassociation from Holzindustrie Schweighofer found that the company illegally sourced wood from Retezat National Park, which is contained almost entirely within the old-growth forest tract. In a 2015 statement, Schweighofer asserted they did not accept wood coming from national parks.

The disassociation may not be permanent, with an FSC statement on the move stating that re-association is possible if Holzindustrie Schweighofer shows enough progress in its efforts to “develop a roadmap to end the disassociation.”

“FSC will begin to build a permanent presence in Romania to effectively engage with its members and stakeholders to secure the right mechanisms, such as the establishment of a dedicated solutions forum, to identify long term solutions to the challenges of responsible forest management in the country,” Kim Carstensen, FSC Director General, said in the statement. “To this effect it will engage in a constructive dialogue with the Schweighofer Group and all relevant stakeholders in the country.”

In its own statement, Holzindustrie Schweighofer acknowledged the disassociation and stated its intent to become re-associated by the FSC as quickly as possible.

“FSC’s disassociation from us is a good basis to calmly prepare for a new start with FSC,” said Frank Aigner, Managing Director of the Schweighofer Group. He added the company “will continue to follow the strict regulations laid down by the FSC, regardless of whether the group remains disassociated.”

In the meantime, the EIA urges more progress preserving what’s left of Romania’s forests.

“Romania has taken amazing steps over the last two years to help expose what’s happening in the forest, giving hope for a sustainable future,” said von Bismarck. “Now it’s absolutely critical for Romania to build on that progress.”

Banner image by Francis C. Franklin (CC 3.0)

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