Soaring oil prices and freezing economic times are propelling growing numbers of Greeks to chop down trees for winter warmth, warned a group of forest engineers on Tuesday.
Nikos Bokaris, a spokesman for the Panhellenic Union of Forest Engineers, said the debt-wracked nation's forest ecosystems were not yet under threat, but urged the government to act quickly to prevent broader damage.
"You have to remember what happened in Albania," Bokaris said, describing how that country's population felled trees en masse after the collapse of communism. "Even the trees lining the roads were chopped down."
Greek foresters filed 1,500 criminal complaints last year, twice as many as in 2010. About 70 percent of Greece's forests are public, with most of the rest belonging to various religious institutions.
Bokaris attributed the rise to a sharp drop in national funding for forest management, coupled with a near-doubling of oil prices in 2011.
He said forest funds had been slashed from 20 million euros ($26 million) in recent years to 10 million euros from now on.
The cuts are part of Greece's austerity measures agreed with international creditors in a bid to win vital debt bailouts.
The Greek arm of environmental group WWF has also expressed concerns. Its forests expert Konstantinos Liarikos said both individual and organised group activity were impacting the forests.
"Wood poaching," as some in Greece call it, is not a new phenomenon in a country where even modern homes in Athens still have fireplaces. Domestically provided firewood is often not enough, with the shortfall made up by Balkan lumber.