10 steps to reduce illegal logging in Ukraine

FSC Ukraine
Ukrainian forest workers on bus headed to work
FSC Ukraine
July 29, 2022
Category : General news

Ukraine’s forest management sector has been facing immense problems long before the war broke out in February 2022.  Issues like corruption, as well as weak state institutions and governance are nationwide challenges that increase the risks of illegally harvested timber in the country. FSC is aware of these risks and has taken several actions to address and mitigate them.  

Our team in Ukraine has worked tirelessly during the war, sometimes while hiding in bomb shelters, to meet the escalating and changing needs of this sector. To operate under these conditions, FSC Ukraine is fostering dialogue with various stakeholders and using cutting-edge technology to improve sustainable forest management across the entire country, in addition to improving the integrity of its own systems. 

Here are the 10 most important actions rolled out over the last year to minimize the risks of illegal timber from Ukraine entering FSC supply chains. The goal of these actions efforts is to reassure countries that it is safe to use FSC-certified material from Ukraine, just like these women entrepreneurs have urged.  

Ukrainian forest workers stand together in forest for team meeting
FSC Ukraine

FSC standards, controls, and technology 

1. Stronger FSC forest management standard 

The standard is based on robust and internationally recognized generic indicators. FSC has now introduced an additional indicator in Ukraine to tackle corruption and strengthen occupational safety and health requirements. It added stricter requirements in mountain areas to prevent potential damage from natural hazards and protect the environment in areas where clearcutting and sanitary logging take place. FSC Ukraine helped implement the standard by training certificate holders on these new requirements and auditing all FSC-certified forest areas against the new standard as of September 2021. 

2. Virtual reality and geographic information systems (GIS) 

GIS is being applied to monitor and detect suspicious activities in forest areas. For example, the FSC GIS Portal helped to identify illegal logging during the so-called ‘silent period’ - the period when forest animals breed and disturbance should be kept to a minimum. Remote sensing technology was also used to identify forests damaged by illegal amber mining. Virtual reality, in the form of high-resolution 360° images, allowed auditors to see the devastated environment for themselves, and as a result four state forestry companies were rejected from the FSC system.  

3. Other cutting-edge technology solutions serving system integrity 

Last year, FSC Ukraine supported the testing of FSC’s blockchain technology to make supply chains more transparent and trace materials at every step. This pilot received strong government support. It is also considered an eco-friendly and energy efficient solution since it is cloud-based. Based on pilot feedback, FSC is designing an enhanced blockchain with important features to enable scaling in 2023. 

harvested pine needles from Ukrainian forest
FSC Ukraine

FSC’s work in collaboration with Assurance Services International (ASI) and certification bodies  

4. Monitoring supply chains 

FSC Ukraine undertook a robust investigation to identify mismatches in traded volumes of FSC-certified charcoal. The investigation resulted in the blockage of 18 certificates due to the identification of false claims and non-conforming products, and led to stricter control over FSC’s charcoal supply chains. 

5. Untrustworthy clients removed 

The charcoal investigation prompted additional requirements for certification bodies when evaluating applications from new certificate holders to prevent clients who intend to abuse the system from entering it. These requirements are still being tested, but the practice is increasing the skills and knowledge of auditors in using publicly available data and has been extended from charcoal to all product types in Ukraine.  

6. Risk-based auditing 

Certification bodies that carry out annual controls of FSC-certified forests and companies focus on critical points of forest management, according to the identified risks listed in the  country profile. However, since 2022 certification bodies can now  drill down to the company level - for the first time – to minimize the risk of any organization that carries out logging activities simply for profit with no regard to sustainable forest management. FSC Ukraine is enhancing the capacity of auditors to search for data in public registers and services. 

7. Auditing during the war 

Despite the active war in parts of the country, auditors are still able to safely carry out their job when following a new set of measures that allow them to manage health and safety risks. Nevertheless, 21 certificates in territories with armed conflict had to be suspended. Upcoming audits are announced on the FSC Ukraine website

FSC’s work at national policy level 

8. Dialogue with relevant authorities 

FSC Ukraine initiated a series of round tables called "Forest Dialogues" – with one focused on illegal logging - to flag issues to other actors and competent authorities with the objective of finding joint solutions. FSC Ukraine presented an analysis of the types of illegal logging and gaps in legal regulation, as well as loopholes in the trade of illegal wood. The authorities are taking the round table recommendations into account. 

9. Monitoring national law 

National legislations are mainly about prohibiting listed illegal activities. At the same time, the regulations around forest management generally lack precautionary approaches that would promote sustainable management. Open and frequent dialogue about this gap with stakeholders, including government, led to a tangible change in the regulation on the ‘silent period’. For example, the new legal formulation prohibits all logging during the ‘silent period’, rather than only sanitary logging, which is clearer and thus easier to enforce. FSC Ukraine is monitoring the new legislation to ensure it poses no risks to sustainable forest management. 

FSC Ukraine meeting in conference room
FSC Ukraine

International cooperation 

10. Participation in international projects on fighting illegal timber 

The project “EU Forest Crime Initiative” brings together INTERPOL’s law enforcement expertise with WWF’s practical experience in tracking the illegal wood trade and stimulating networks that are able to detect forestry crime and respond to it. FSC Ukraine participated in the project to share experiences and enhance the capacity of the network with FSC tools. 

To learn more: 

FSC podcast episode 41: First round of blockchain implementation – what did we learn and where do we go? Interview with Michael Marus and Julie Smith, FSC 

Links to 360-degrees panoramas of sites devastated by illegal amber mining are available in this article.

The stricter auditing approach described in point 6 also addresses the problem of illegal sanitary logging and false claims identified in the EU-commissioned report by Preferred by Nature (p.52)