New Search Engine for Tracking Forest Logging Permits by Bivol
A new search engine for tracking logging permits is available on the website for investigative journalism bivol.bg. The search engine created by the journalist Atanas Tchobanov was launched on 29 November. The on-line facility tracks forest logging permits issued by the Executive Forestry Agency of Bulgaria during the period January 2011 to April 2015.
The search engine works with 23 specified filters and with key words and it gives information about the amount of wood and the surface area for which a particular business has a logging permit. ‘Results produced by the engine are a starting point for an investigation on the ownership of companies and the possible existence of conflict of interests and relations with the politicians’, explains the author.
In future the tool will be updated with new data available on the website of EFA. There is also a plan the data produced by the search facility to be linked with the GIS system established by the Bulgarian office of WWF with similar purposes and also with an on-line reporting system of infringements perpetrated by different logging companies that would show in real time where, for which clearing and which company is a probable transgressor.
According to AtanasTchobanov the idea for the search engine came during the investigation of businesses that worked for major European wood reseller. The documents received from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in accordance with the Access to Public Information Act were in a difficult to process electronically format. And even though on the Ministry’s public website there is information about logging permits, it is not usable in the format it is available’ adds Tchobanov.
The search engine is still not officially launched, however, it has already received positive reviews. ‘It is a great convenience for civil society – now anyone can easily analyze forest logging (who, when, how much and why), wrote on his Facebook account Alexander Dountchev from WWF. The Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food Georgi Kostov has written in social media: ‘Everything that leads to better opportunity to receive information is useful. In less than a year we have provided access to all [data] about forests, whenever possible, and we continue with the electronic system'.
The search engine is created within the project GEF-15-01/02 „Establishing a Transboundary Watchdog Mechanism for Environmental Problems for Green Political Parties and NGOs on the Balkans“ financed by Green European Foundation and accomplished by ‘BlueLink’ in cooperation with Zelenite and bivol.bg. The idea was presented during a public discussion entitled ‘Termites without Borders’ about the deforestation in Bulgaria and its transnational aspects which took place in October 2015 in Sofia, Bulgaria.