Finland receives Golden Chainsaw award

Feature story - 27 September, 2006
In the decades between the 1950s and 1970s birch trees in Finland were considered 'flora non grata' by foresters as they weren't commercially useful. They were routinely cut down and poisoned to reduce their numbers. In some areas, the Finns even resorted to spraying the birch forests with the deadly defoliant Agent Orange, of Vietnam War infamy.

Clearcut forest in Russia. Much of the timber from clearcuts like these are destined for Finland.

Now however, the birch tree is commercially useful as pulp for the paper industry. Not surprisingly after destroying so much birch forest for decades, the Finns don't have enough birch forest left for the requirements of their timber industry. So now they import birch logs from Russia, many of which are illegally logged.

Our recent investigation revealed the extent of this trade in illegal logs across the Russian-Finnish border. The response of the Finnish Government to the illegal logging uncovered by the investigation has been to shrug its shoulders:  no government action required.

"This is an unacceptable response from a Government that considers itself a 'superpower of forests'. Having abdicated its responsibilities to control illegal timber coming across its borders to industry, it doesn't even get involved when presented with evidence of industry failure", said Sini Harkki, Greenpeace Nordic campaigner. "We've decided to award Finland with the infamous Golden Chainsaw award, which we reserve for the worst forest crime offenders."

A recent World Bank report cited the cost of lost revenues to the market and governments due to illegal activity at US$10-15 billion annually. In the face of the massive trade in illegal timber, the European Commission is currently considering legislative options to tackle the problem of illegally logged timber being imported into Europe.

A ban on illegal timber being imported and sold in Europe has strong support from Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the business community. Greenpeace, together with over 160 NGO's and over 80 businesses, including IKEA, Homebase, Castorama France, B&Q, Finnforest (UK) are all calling for EU legislation to make it illegal to import illegally sourced timber and wood products.

The European Commission's response to the problem has been weak, claiming that voluntary measures are enough. Beyond that the European Commission has been taking the slow road to action, with a promised report on options on further legislation to stem the flow of illegal timber due over two years ago. It is now time for action from the Commission.

"What we are calling for is European-Union-wide legislation to ensure that illegally logged timber does not end up on the European market whether it is from Russia, the Amazon, Indonesia or laundered from Asia and the Pacific through China", said Sue Connor, Greenpeace forest campaigner. "Finland must start acting as a responsible state body and support the call for EU legislation to ban illegal timber."


Truck loaded with illegallylogged birch from Russian Karelia, arriving at the UPM-Kymmene pulp-,paper- and sawmill in Kaukas, Lappeenranta, Finland. A Greenpeace report reveals how illegally logged timber from Russia is being freely imported into Finland. (© Greenpeace / Snellman)

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