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Cyprus

Uphill struggle against the tree thieves

Only those with a licence from the foresty department are allowed to cut down trees

By Andria Kades

To combat the illegal felling of trees, the forestry department is warning people not to buy firewood from unlicensed sellers.

The growing demand for firewood has resulted in more people cutting down trees from private lands and state forests, particularly in rural areas.

“Over the past two or three years, with the financial crisis, we have seen a huge surge in demand as people install fireplaces and wood stoves,” Petros Petrou, a forest conservator at the forestry department, told the Sunday Mail.

Local suppliers attribute this to the price of petrol and lower costs of maintaining a fireplace.

To curb the problem of illegal tree felling, a law was passed two years ago that requires people to obtain a licence – that must be renewed every year – in order to sell firewood.

The seller must issue a legal receipt for sale, a measure designed to combat the black market and tax evasion.

The department issued 280 licences to commercial traders this year at an annual fee of €100. To obtain the licence, applicants must prove they have an area to store the wood.

Some traders complain the licence process is cumbersome, increases their operating costs and may even be counter-productive.

“Now we charge VAT, we have more expenses and we have to buy a receipt block from the forestry department,” says Andreas Michail of Michail Kyriakou, which operates out of Nicosia. These costs carry over to the selling price and, perversely, actually boost sales by illegal operators because they can afford to offer lower prices, he told the Sunday Mail.

This sentiment is not shared by all suppliers, however. One longtime operator, who declined to be named, said the new procedures have not made life difficult for most suppliers, nor affected demand.

When it comes to chopping the firewood, if an individual seeks to cut non fruit trees for personal use from their own field, they need to obtain a licence from the department.

 

feature andria

It covers the basic types of trees such as pines, eucalyptus and plane trees.

If,  however,  the firewood is to be cut from state forests, individuals must buy the amount of wood from the department. They get a receipt which serves both as proof that they are allowed to cut a designated number of trees – usually one or two – and as a transport licence, which is valid only for the day outlined on the receipt.

Should the wood be transported on another day, the individual must apply for a transport licence.

Proof they are allowed to work comes only in the form of the receipt; there is no licence for individuals chopping for personal use from state forests.

Firewood choppers, however, found a loophole in the system, enabling them to cut more than they have purchased. Acknowledging the problem, Petrou said there are several department members on site inspecting people with patrols in state forests.

The system works in the same way with commercial traders – except that they need both a licence and a receipt.

Those found breaking the law are sent to court, are liable to a fine, and can even be sent to prison.

Last year, 5,000 cubic metres of firewood were cut from state forests.

Michail says there are always those that will chop wood illegally.  “They load up, take the wood and go. Who will see them in the mountains at night?”

Another licensed supplier said the number of those cutting trees without permission has decreased but the scourge cannot be stopped. He maintained that several illegal sellers are members of the underworld who essentially steal from the property of others. He asked for anonymity out of concern for himself and his business.

“I know cases when people went to their olive fields and found nothing,” he told the Sunday Mail.  For instance, he explained, if the going price for a sack of firewood is €130, someone that chops it illegally can sell it for €80.

“His friends or family don’t care if it’s illegal. The difference, however, with them is that they can’t expand their operations. They can’t place flyers or advertise but they have a circle they operate with.”

The department usually tries to serve more than one purpose when it grants permission to cut forests. It might, for instance, assign a spot where nearby streets need to be expanded. Or sometimes part of a forest might need thinning out to help other trees flourish.

Although the largest share of the market is local firewood, there are also imports mainly from Egypt, Bulgaria and Romania.

Kiosks or other shops that sell the firewood need have their licence to sell available and all of the ones the forestry department has inspected have been adhering to the law.

Whether the firewood they sell is local or imported varies from who they buy it from, Petrou said.

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