Success: Cernișoara primary forest in Romania’s Domogled National Park finally strictly protected

After three years of protests and legal proceedings by Agent Green, the national park’s strictly protected natural forests were expanded. However, several very valuable forests are still without a protective shield …

Several important primary forests in the Cernisoara basin in the de facto unprotected buffer zone Domogled – Cerna Valley National Park and UNESCO world heritage site have now become strictly protected, three years after the Agent Green protests and after a series of investigations and trials at the supreme courts of Romania.

These forests of outstanding natural value, including most of the Radoteasa and Cărbunele valleys (except the plots degraded by aggressive logging until the date of the protest) are now listed with the new edition of the „National Catalog of Virgin Forests“.  This means that they are under a strict non intervention regime, equal to the neighboring UNESCO World Heritage site components parts and the core zone and the national park.

This success, unique in Romania comes both as a result of Agent Green’s protest in May 2018, and several lawsuits won by the organization in November 2019 against Romsilva and the Ministry of Environment at the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Cassation and Justice.

In the spectacular case of Agent Green against the Ministry of Environment and Romsilva, Baia de Aramă Forest District, the organization had suspended the cuts on an area of almost 20,000 hectares that overlap with Domogled National Park – Valea Cernei and Natura 2000 site North of Gorj West. The defendants appealed, which they lost and subsequently made an extraordinary appeal which they also lost by the final decision of the ICCJ.

In the meantime, Romsilva continued to extract secular trees from these areas until Agent Green repeatedly called on the Forest Guard to intervene. Shortly afterwards, the cuttings from Padeș, the neighboring state forest district on an area of 14,612.36 hectares, were also suspended by a decision of the Bucharest Court of Appeal (in the case of Agent Green against Romsilva and the Ministry of Environment).

Unfortunately there are still important but unprotected old growth forest patches in Ivanu, Olanu, Balmosu valleys and Cerna Sat area, adjacent to the areas which came under the shield of the „Catalogue“ recently. Also in Baile Herculane and Mehadia forest district the situation is still unsatisfying, especially in Mehedinti Mts, where only very small little „islands“ of old growth forest were included in the „Catalog“ so far. Same accounts with the UNESCO World Heritage Component Part Coronini-Bedina, which is is a very wild and beautiful area with old-growth beech forests grown on limestone.

In a „Mission Report“ (following a field trip in 2019) published in March 2021 UNESCO and IUCN called for strict protection of all old growth / primary forests in the national park: “The mission concludes that the current management of the component parts’ buffer zones does not meet the requirements of the Operational Guidelines (OG) in a satisfactory way and may have negative effects on the integrity of the transboundary property. The current forest management should seek to better support the natural processes and be based on strengthening and expanding ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems over time.“

In this report, UNESCO and IUCN urged Romania to “strictly protect all ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems that have not been included in the property, in order to foster the long-term preservation of those exceptional ecosystems; priority should be given to those located in proximity of the components visited by the mission, to enhance connectivity.“

The whole national park is also designated as a EU Natura 2000 site, where protected habitats and species must not be „significantly deteriorated“. Removal of rare pristine ecosystems like primary and old growth forests by logging undoubtedly needs to be classified as a „significant deterioration“ of the important natural heritage of the EU.

In 2021, the park’s new management plan will be done. Agent Green and its partner organisation EuroNatur Foundation call on the Romanian government to ensure that the strictly protected core zone of this unique national park area will be extended to ensure safe conservation of all intact natural ecosystems (including all high biodiversity value forest stands) and to meet international IUCN standards (of at least 75% strict protection zone).

Since the new EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, which was endorsed by all EU member states in 2020, aims to strictly protect all “primary and old-growth forests”, Romania is anyway obliged to map and protect these forests safely and comprehensively.

The enlargement of the strictly protected zone also needs to ensure that all three UNESCO World Heritage component parts sites, which are located within the boundaries of the national park, are connected to suffiently guarantee the ecological integrity. This needs to include initially degraded old growth forests as well and put them under non intervention management, as reommended by UNESCO / IUCN.

Protests against logging plans of Romsilva in Cernisoara area in 2018.
The wild Radoteasa valley in the forest district of Cernisoara was not included in the strict protection system of the national park until recently, and logging plans threatened these forests, identical to the forests of “outstanding universal value” on the adjacent UNESCO site.

 

Romania: The government’s own monitoring website reveals “live” the ongoing destruction of protected forests

“Habitat tree funeral” – EuroNatur / Agent Green: EU must speed up infringement procedure to avoid further destruction of Natura 2000 sites.

Members of the European Parliament  urge EU Commission to ensure overhaul of logging permissions in Romanian Natura 2000 sites.

Experts from EuroNatur Foundation and Agent Green have conducted thorough checks of the Romanian government’s own Forest Inspector website (“Inspectorul Pădurii”) and have unveiled some extremely disturbing findings. The ‘control’ images of trucks hauling trees from Romania’s forests (which have to be uploaded by the truck drivers themselves) reveal the scandalous extent of the continued destruction of outstandingly precious forests in Natura 2000 areas. The images show hundreds of giant and centuries old methuselah trees, cut down in protected areas and loaded on trucks every single day. This digital ‘habitat tree funeral’ provides realtime “live” reporting of one of the biggest nature destruction scandals in the EU.

As not all truck transports on the website are illustrated with photographs and illegal logging transports have no entry on the Forest Inspector website at all, the tragedy in the vanishing natural forests of Romania is most likely even bigger.

These images give objective and independent proof of the scandal of ongoing logging in high biodiversity value forests in Romanian Natura 2000 sites, national parks and other protected areas.

The sheer volume of cut down habitat trees on the website is overwhelming.

“The fact that these images (see below; comment) are being uploaded and published on an official governmental web server in 24/7 rolling coverage, without the relevant politicians and authorities taking any immediate action to protect these forests, is really mind-boggling. The government and authorities are obviously aware of these images illustrating the progressive destruction of many of Europe’s most valuable forest habitats. This is a tragedy and its utterly unacceptable. The European Commission must speed up with the infringement procedure in order to contain the destruction of many of EU’s last intact old growth and primary forests now“, Annette Spangenberg, Head of Conservation at EuroNatur Foundation says.

Images gallery 1: Domogled-Valea Cernei Natura 2000 site/ national park

Images of logging trucks loaded with (old growth habitat) trees from natural forest stands in Domogled -Valea Cernei national park / Natura 2000 site (images downloaded all on March 25, 2021). The images have been taken and uploaded by logging operators.

These images are just a tiny percentage of the screen shots from the Forest Inspector website taken within the last couple of weeks.

The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against the Romanian state in February 2020 due to violations of EU law including the illegal logging in Natura 2000 protected forests. Since the EU Commission published a clear and critical “reasoned statement” in July 2020, the process has not yielded any outcome that has stopped this destruction from continuing.

In the meantime, indications have emerged that Romania is apparently trying to stall the procedure with the promise of a some adjustments of national laws to EU legislation. These legislative changes would not have any impact on already approved 10-years logging plans. So the deliberate destruction of EU protected forests – before the eyes of the public – would continue.

“If the EU Commission accepts that Romania is only obliged to improve EU compliance of some laws but not be urged to overhaul all existing logging permissions concerning natural forests in Natura 2000 sites, that would be a serious setback for the entire EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, the Green Deal and the implementation of Natura 2000 throughout the EU”, Annette Spangenberg adds.

Members of EU Parliament urge European Commission to ensure logging of natural forests in Natura 2000 is halted

This opinion was also expressed recently in a letter by several Members of the European Parliament to the European Commission: “If the infringement proceedings were closed without ensuring that the current logging impact on primary and old-growth forest in Romania is significantly reduced it would also seriously hamper the Green Deal and the EU’s embedded Biodiversity Strategy 2030. It would also be completely contradictory if on the one hand the European Commission is willing to invest into planting 3 billion trees in the EU while on the other hand the massive felling of old-growth forests is accepted.”

The MEPs Martin Häusling, Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg, Thomas Waitz, Sarah Wiener and Michal Wiezik conclude: “We call for the necessary suspension and complete overhaul of all forest management plans and logging licenses affecting Natura 2000 sites and primary/old-growth forests and finding a solution to compensate owners accordingly. Romania’s primary and old growth forests need to be preserved according to the objectives of the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and the EU Green Deal.“

Images gallery 2: Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site

Images of logging trucks loaded with (old growth habitat) trees from natural forest stands in Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site (images downloaded all on March 25, 2021). The images have been taken and uploaded by logging operators. 

Images gallery 3: Frumoasa Natura 2000 site

Images of logging trucks loaded with (old growth habitat) trees from natural forest stands in Frumoasa Natura 2000 site (images downloaded all on March 25, 2021). The images have been taken and uploaded by logging operators. 

Romania fails to properly manage World Heritage buffer zones – UNESCO/IUCN

Report about Reactive Monitoring Mission in 2019 published only recently: Romania does “not meet” international guidelines
EuroNatur and Agent Green call on Romania to immediately remove state forestry enterprise Romsilva from all protected area management duties and adopt site management according to international UNESCO/IUCN guidelines and EU legislation.

A few days ahead of the International Day of Forests on (March 21) a “Report on the joint World Heritage Centre / IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Reactive Monitoring Mission to Albanian and Romanian component parts of the transnational World Heritage Property ‘Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other Regions of Europe’“ was made available to the public.
The mission, visiting Domogled-Valea Cernei and Cheile Nerei-Besnita National Parks/UNESCO properties, took place in November 2019.

However, the report was only just made publicly accessible. It is not clear what the reasons for this massive delay are. Could it be that the critical conclusions of the UNESCO/IUCN experts with regard to the intensive logging operations in the buffer zones of Romanian UNESCO component parts caused controversy?

The document states: “The mission concludes that the current management of the component parts’ buffer zones does not meet the requirements of the Operational Guidelines (OG) in a satisfactory way and may have negative effects on the integrity of the transboundary property. The current forest management should seek to better support the natural processes and be based on strengthening and expanding ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems over time.“

UNESCO and IUCN also urge Romania to “strictly protect all ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems that have not been included in the property, in order to foster the long-term preservation of those exceptional ecosystems; priority should be given to those located in proximity of the components visited by the mission, to enhance connectivity.“

This mission was triggered by numerous media reports and formal complaints from EuroNatur Foundation, Agent Green and many other conservationists concerning destructive logging of old growth and primary forests in UNESCO buffer zones, even in close vicinity to the UNESCO core protected areas. Commercial wood exploitation authorized by the Romanian state in the buffer areas affects biodiversity rich and mature forests with an equal “universal value” to the beech forests included in the UNESCO site (core area).

The joint UNESCO/IUCN Mission in 2019 was preceded by an informal IUCN Europe field visit in November 2018, where intensive logging operations in highly valuable old growth beech forests in Domogled-Valea Cernei and Semenic National Parks/UNESCO site component parts, including in buffer zones, were confirmed.

On top of the EU infringement proceedings against the Romanian state (launched by the European Commission in February 2020 due to deterioration of EU protected areas by logging), the clear findings of UNESCO and the IUCN are just another indicator that protection of high biodiversity value forests in Romania is in a catastrophically bad state.

The intensive logging operations in the Romanian World Heritage buffer areas ultimately endanger the existence of the entire transnational World Heritage site for the protection of the European primeval and ancient beech forests, which consists of 67 component parts in 12 countries …

EuroNatur Foundation and environmental organisation Agent Green interpret the findings of the report as “crystal clear evidence” that Romanian state forestry enterprise, Romsilva – the agency in charge of both logging in Romania and management of almost all Romanian national and nature parks – is “not capable” of managing protected areas for conservation of highly valuable ecosystems appropriately. The long record of controversies and the poor state of many protected areas under custody of Romsilva shows that the company is “obviously driven by commercial interests and fundamentally lacks ambition and expertise regarding nature conservation”.

Therefore, Romsilva needs to be immediately removed from all duties for protected area management. Management of Romania’s protected areas should be taken over by official national bodies (such as National Agency for Protected Areas) and equipped with adequate funding to ensure conservation objectives are met. Logging in buffer zones on state property needs to be halted until new management plans  in line with UNESCO/IUCN guidelines are developed. Management plans of all UNESCO World Natural Heritage properties, as well as national parks need to be revised following the recommendations by the UNESCO/IUCN report.

“The World is celebrating the International Day of the Forests on March 21. Romania’s outstanding natural forest heritage is one of the most valuable ecological treasures of Europe. Romania must act accordingly and stop logging primary and old growth forests. And the EU needs support Romania with adequate means for compensation of private land owners,” EuroNatur and Agent Green conclude.

In detail, the final report by World Heritage Centre and IUCN concludes with the following recommendations:

    • Define a forest management regime specific to the buffer zones that would be in keeping with the aim to ensure consistency and coordination across all buffer zones within the property, and that would promote the natural and unimpeded, progressive aging of the beech forest ecosystems present in the buffer zones. This regime should ensure an ecological transition between the component parts and the surrounding forest ecosystems of high ecological value, including those located in the buffer zones and, in case of Romania, the virgin and quasi-virgin forests listed in the ‘National Catalogue of Virgin Forests’.
    • This regime should prioritize natural processes and be based on ‘pro-forestation’ efforts and clear guidelines on appropriate intervention activities and limits, in the sense of Decision 43 COM 7B.13 of the World Heritage Committee (remark: “ensure appropriate buffer zone management in order to support undisturbed natural processes”)
    • It could include the establishment of a functional network of ‘aging’ and ‘senescence’ patches of forest, in the buffer zones, aiming to contribute to strengthening and extending the ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems, and supporting the natural processes leading to their conservation and naturalness over time:
      • “pro-forestation” efforts should be interpreted as all forest management activities seeking to promote natural tree reproduction and development;
      • “aging patches”should be interpreted as forest areas managed in such a way as leaving the trees growing beyond their usual rotation age, up to twice this duration (200-240 years in case of Romania);
      • “senescence patches” should be interpreted as forest areas deliberately abandoned to a spontaneous evolution of natural processes, until the complete collapse of the trees and resumption of the silvigenetic cycle (forest cycle);

UNESCO/IUCN also call on the Romanian State Party, to “combat and prosecute any illegal logging activities in the two national parks“, “abandon plans to upgrade the national road 66A, due to the potential impact of this project on the property’s integrity” and “inform the World heritage Centre of any proposal to extend or upgrade hydropower facilities within the property’s components and their buffer zones, before any decision is taken“.

Logging of ancient beech (300-400 years) in the buffer zone of Domogled – Valea Cernei UNESCO component part (Iauna Craiova)
Informal IUCN field mission (2018) into forest wilderness of Domogled National Park / UNESCO World Heritage (buffer zone).
Cemetery of old growth beech trees in the middle of Domogled National Park / UNESCO World Heritage buffer zone.
No proper protection: Pristine wilderness of Cernisoara forest wilderness in the middle of Domogled National Park / UNESCO World Heritage buffer zone.