The Shebenik-Jabllanicë National Park straddles the Albanian-Macedonian border. Environmentalists say the way authorities in the two countries tackle illegal logging is like day and night.
“In their [Macedonian] culture, they look at it as protecting their inheritance,” said Armando Braho, an environmental lawyer at the International University of Struga in western Macedonia. “There are strong laws and patrols 24 hours a day. Staff are well trained, and there’s a special ranger task force to implement the laws.” By contrast, Albania “has laws but they’re not implemented”, he said. “Logging happens [in Macedonia] but they replant. [Albanians] have a culture of destroying what we have.”
Bajram Kullolli, a longtime ranger in Shebenik-Jabllanicë, said the Macedonian side of the park was far better managed. “The Macedonians have more legal culture and better communication,” he said. “We’ve done several exchanges and cooperation with them, and they seem much more professional in terms of materials and organisation. We were a little embarrassed, actually, that we have so much to learn from them. We need the state to support and empower us as rangers.”
Ahmet Mehmeti, head of the Elbasan Ecological Club in eastern Albania, said Macedonia had preserved a legacy of caring for woodland that dates back to the days when it was part of Yugoslavia. Today, it shows through high-tech approaches to stewardship. “The Macedonians have the capacities and the technology to protect the forest,” he said. “They’ve developed technology for GPS monitoring and camera observation. But the work is also in execution, and we don’t have quality staffing capabilities.”
Xhek Nezha, director of the Administration for Protected Areas of Elbasan in Albania, said: “There are areas to improve, but we do have forestry engineers and other trained professionals.”
Macedonia’s environment ministry has a Department of Nature dedicated to protecting the country’s natural resources. The department’s duties include carrying out plans to ensure the long-term health of protected areas. Judging by convictions for illegal logging, Macedonia also takes enforcement of the law more seriously. In the first six months of 2015, media reported (in Italian) that Macedonian courts handed down 1,227 convictions for illegal logging, including 1.7 million euros in fines. In contrast, Albanian courts handed out a single fine of 650 euros between 2015 and 2017, a BIRN investigation in 2017 revealed.
BIRN was unable to get a comment from Macedonia’s environment ministry or local authorities in the vicinity of the park.