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EU Commission urged to protect Europe’s largest natural forests in Romania from illegal logging

Environmental organisations EuroNatur, Agent Green and ClientEarth have advanced their fight against illegal logging of old-growth and primary forests in Romania by filing a complaint against the country’s authorities to the European Commission.

Their joint goal is to stop the ongoing deliberate destruction of natural woodlands making up two-thirds of Europe’s unspoilt forests (outside Scandinavia).
The organisations claim that Romania’s state forestry, Romsilva, is conducting logging operations within protected Natura 2000 areas without proper analysis of the impact on these unique sites. In some cases the relevant environmental impact assessments, which should be performed beforehand when logging is being planned, take place years after logging gets underway.

ClientEarth wildlife lawyer Ewelina Tylec-Bakalarz said: “Systematic logging in Natura2000 sites without effective assessment of its impact on those areas is a clear violation of EU law. This is a widespread problem across Romania, which is why we are now bringing this case to the European Commission.”

Romsilva manages 22 of 29 of the Romania’s national and natural parks. All these areas are part of the EU Natura 2000 network and fall under the provisions of both the Habitats and the Birds directives. However, legal experts say the state forestry often fails to comply with the EU legal requirements for the protection of such areas.
Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director of EuroNatur said: “If the breach of EU legislation in Romania is allowed to continue without any consequences, the whole Natura 2000 system is weakened. The ongoing nature conservation drama in Romania is one of the most pressing environmental crises in Europe, yet it is still largely unrecognised.”

Tylec-Bakalarz added: “The case of Poland’s Bialowieza Forest proves how effective European law can be in protection of our continent’s natural treasures. We hope that in the case of Romania’s forests the European Commission will also take action before damage of these unique ecosystems becomes irreversible.”

Notes for editors (more background info – see below):
– Around 300,000 hectares of Romanian natural forests are included in Natura 2000 sites. Many protected animals such as large carnivores, black stork, owls, woodpeckers, bats and beetles depend on them for survival.
– The campaign “SaveParadiseForests“ aims at protecting the most valuable old-growth forests of the Carpathians, particularly Romania. It is jointly coordinated and carried out by the NGOs EuroNatur (Germany) and Agent Green (Romania).

Large scale clear cut in Romania’s Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site. The destruction of this forest in Ucea Mare valley started in the year 2013 – more than five years after Romania installed its Natura 2000 sites in 2007/2008.

Probably central Europe’s most valueable primary forest: Pathless Boia Mica valley in Romania’s Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site. This pristine valley is not protected frm logging anyhow at the moment.

 

Background Briefing – Romania forests.

Complaint to the European Commission prepared by Agent Green, ClientEarth and EuroNatur, Sept. 10, 2019

Background:
Romania hosts the largest natural and virgin forests in the EU outside Scandinavia which are home to numerous species protected by EU Habitats and Birds directives. A high proportion of these species (such as saproxylic beetles, bats, owls, woodpeckers or forest cocks) depend on presence of old trees and standing and lying dead wood, which can only be found in unmanaged areas or very close to them. A large proportion of these high biodiversity value forests are located within Natura 2000 sites. Logging in Romania’s Natura 2000 sites areas has had a severe and widespread impact on natural forests with a protected conservation status.
Logging permissions in Romania are based upon forest management plans (FMPs), which have to be approved by the Ministry for Water and Forests every 10 years. There is clear evidence, that in many cases these plans have not been subject to sufficient environmental assessments required by law.
There are two environmental assessments which should be conducted prior to adoption of FMPs:

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
Based on the SEA Directive this assessment is required for a wide range of public plans and programmes. It is mandatory for plans and programmes which are prepared, among others, for forestry and which set the framework for future development consent of projects listed in the EIA Directive. The aim of the SEA is to ensure that plans and programmes take into consideration the environmental effects they cause. 

Assessment under the Habitats Directive
Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive requires that any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of a Natura 2000 site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives.
The focus of the assessment under the habitats Directive is specifically on the species and/or the habitats for which the Natura 2000 site is designated. An appropriate assessment should lead competent national authorities to agree to a plan only if they can ascertain that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned.
Lack of assessment under the Habitats Directive is particularly harmful in the context of logging in Romanian forests which are home to a number of protected species, including black stork which is protected under EU law.

The NGOs who authored the complaint to the European Commission identified several forest administrations, both under management of the Romanian forest authority Romsilva and under private administration, who apply national legislation in a manner which means that environmental assessments are not carried out until some considerable time (in some cases years) after logging has taken place: OS Baia de Aramă, OS Lerești, OS Spinu Podeni, OS Scara Mâzgavu, OS Tismana, OS Poieni, OS Padeș, OS Băile Herculane, OS Avrig, OS Izvoru Florii, OS Boișoara, OS Alpina Borșa, OS Lupeni, OS Făgăraș. In these areas activities under the FMPs (logging, selling the forest etc.) started well before the environmental assessments, which is indicative of a systemic problem in Romania.

The European Commission has a power, under Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, to take formal action against Member States who breach or fail to properly implement EU law. This action, known as “infringement proceedings”, allows the Commission to require the Member State to remedy the breach, and ultimately to take the Member State to court if the matter is not resolved. The present complaint has been submitted to DG Environment for them to assess whether a formal infringement procedure should be opened against Romania.

Conclusions:
Romania hosts the largest natural and virgin forest heritage within the temperate climate zone of the EU but the lack of effective strategic environmental assessment and appropriate assessment puts these forests in danger. These areas, constituting two-thirds of Europe’s last virgin forests, are being systematically logged and no national remedies appear to be able to prevent this logging.

Legal action in a similar case –  Bialowieza forest in Poland – has been brought before the CJEU which, in its ruling of 17 April 2018, found that the Government of Poland has failed to fulfil its obligations to protect the forest and ordered the immediate repeal of illegal logging permit. Meanwhile, Romanian law allows the systematic logging inside Natura areas without any assessment.
By continuing logging, Romania is not only violating EU and international legislation but also destroying some of Europe’s last virgin forests.

High level event in EU Parliament: EU’s Old Growth and Primary Forests Under Siege

Members of the European Parliament join NGO’s EuroNatur, Client Earth and Agent Green as well as the Director of DG Environment of the EU Commission to discuss status and future of EU’s last old growth and primary forests – September 24, Brussels

Most of the old-growth and primary forest remains in the temperate climate zone of the EU are located in the Carpathians – mainly in Romania, Slovakia and Poland.
A new inventory of Romania’s old- growth and primary forests, commissioned by EuroNatur Foundation, has revealed a huge extent of close-to-nature forests – and their threat from logging.

These forests are an outstanding biological treasure and capture huge amounts of carbon. The IPBES „Global Assessment“ report (May 2019) made clear that the global protection and restoration of na- tural ecosystems is equally important to tackling the climate crisis. However, logging of the EU’s last intact natural forest ecosystems proceeds at a rapid pace, including within Natura 2000 sites.

The European Court of Justice (2018) stopped logging activities in Polands Bialowieza Natura 2000 site due to the legal breaches of the EU‘s Habitat and Birds Directives. But what will happen to the rest of the EU‘s natural forests in Natura 2000 sites? Will the EU fulfil its own environmental responsibilities and act to protect our last old-growth and primary forests?

Therefore, we kindly invite you to join the high level event on September 24 with Members of the European Parliament, the Director of DG Environment of the EU Commission and NGO experts to contribute to the discussion about the future of Europe’s most valuable forests.

Please note that you need to register, if you do not have an access badge (see details below).

Thank you for sharing this information!

 

Spectacular climbing action shines spotlight on need to protect primary forests in the Romanian Carpathians

Protest against destruction of UNESCO World Heritage Site by road construction and logging in Romania

The environmental organisations ROBIN WOOD, AgentGreen and EuroNatur are protesting against the destruction of Romania’s irreplaceable natural and primary forests. This past weekend, climbing activists made a spectacular show for the protection of the forests in the Domogled Valea Cernei National Park in the Romanian Southern Carpathians: They were holding a 50-meter-long banner with the words “SAVE ROMANIAN PRIMARY FORESTS!” On Saturday, the banner fluttered over a pass, on Sunday over a 200 meter wide valley. The activists thus marked the threatened component part “Ciucevele Cernei” of the UNESCO World Heritage site for the protection of ancient and primeval beech forests in Europe, which is under UNESCO protection for all humankind.

The protest is directed against the planned expansion of the National Road 66a in the middle of the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park, which is also under the protection of the EU as a Natura 2000 site. The Romanian government is planning to upgrade the existing non-asphalted forest road to a two-lane highway. Of the 19 kilometres of the planned construction section, one kilometre runs through the core zone of the UNESCO protected area. This would jeopardise the status of the entire transnational European World Heritage Site for the protection of old beech forests. The conservationists call on the Romanian government to permanently protect these natural and primary forests, which are important for the entire EU, and to give up all plans for the expansion of National Road 66a.

Romania hosts the largest intact natural and primary forest areas in the EU outside of Scandinavia. However, the logging in these species-rich and structurally rich forests is progressing rapidly: in 2004 there were at least 218,500 hectares of untouched forests in Romania. Recent satellite image evaluations commissioned by the EuroNatur Foundation show that only half of them are still intact.

After previous plans for the expansion of the National Road 66a were stopped in 2010 through very public environmental protests, the situation has now rapidly worsened. On 25 July 2019, the tender for road construction was closed and the Romanian Minister of Transport Răzvan Cuc announced the start of construction within a month.

“The forest destruction and the expansion of the National Road 66a endanger the entire transnational UNESCO World Heritage site and destroy unique natural landscapes. Romania is thus acting against all humanity. We urge Prime Minister Viorica Dӑncilӑ to ensure that this destruction effort is stopped immediately, “says Gabriel Paun, founder and CEO of the Romanian environmental organization AgentGreen. The German nature conservation organization EuroNatur and Agent Green are fighting with the campaign “SaveParadiseForests” for the preservation of Romania’s primary forests.

“In times of mass extinction and climate crises, the destruction of Romanian forests is madness and has enormous consequences far beyond national borders,” says Jana Ballenthien, forest advisor to ROBIN WOOD. “We demand complete protection of Romania’s natural forests. The EU is also obliged to consistently enforce European nature conservation law!“

“Just recently Romania has received a rebuke from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee because it has failed to adequately protect its natural beech forests. Now a gravel road is planned to be cut into a national road and right through a World Heritage core area. This is not only an affront to UNESCO, it will also increase the pressure on Romanian forests, “explains Gabriel Schwaderer, Managing Director of the EuroNatur Foundation.

Background information:

The Domogled Valea Cernei National Park is with 612 square kilometers the largest national park in Romania and accommodates large primeval and natural forest areas. The entire national park is also designated as a EU Natura 2000 area. The EU Habitats and Birds Directives prohibit deterioration for EU-wide protected habitat types and species.

The transnational UNESCO World Heritage Site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe” preserves 92,023 hectares of endemic European beech forest in 12 states. Of which 23,981 hectares are located in Romania. UNESCO World Heritage Sites represent the highest level of protected areas in the world and are under the protection for all humanity. Romania was recently reprimanded in July 2019 at the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee in Baku for logging of natural forests in the buffer zones of the Romanian UNESCO component parts. The destruction of the natural beech forest and the planned road construction in Romanian UNESCO buffer and core zones endanger the status of the entire transnational World Heritage site: if these violations continue, the entire world heritage area is in danger of being abandoned. This would also affect the component parts in other countries such as Germany and Austria – eg. Serrahn in the German Müritz National Park or the Kalkalpen National Park in Upper Austria.

 

Protest pentru păduri UNESCO from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

Spectacular banner action over UNESCO protected “Cuicevele Cernei” reserve in Romania’s Domogled Valea Cernei National Park. The old road 66a is planned to be enlarged by removing parts of the protected ecosystems of “red rock” – with explosives. (c) Agent Green
Climbing protest action in Romanian Cera valley  to protect old growth and primary forests in Domogled Valea Cernei National Park from expansion of national raoad 66a – and from logging. Parts of the National Park are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe”, the road expansion would also severely damage the UNESCO site. (c) Minerva Vinze / Agent Green
Banner protest against planned expansion of national road 66a and against progessing logging in Romania’s Domogled national park. Parts of the National Park are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe” – the road would also damage the UNESCO site. (c) Minerva Vinze / Agent Green
The UNESCO Wold Heritage Site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other Regions of Europe” aim to protect these endemic ecosystems. The old reserve “Cuicevele Cernei” in Domogled National Park is part of this transnational World Heritage site. However, Romania wants to dig a new road through these wild beech forests… (c) Matthias Schickhofer
Old, narrow road 66a in Domogled Valea Cernei National Park: dimensions of a forest road, no major disturbance of animal migration routes – leave it as it is… (c) Matthias Schickhofer
First section of the new road 66a in Jiu valley, built 10 years ago: destruction of  ecosystems in the valley, major barrier for wildlife. (c) Matthias Schickhofer
New section of road 66a in Jiu valley (image taken in 2010), at the edge of Retezat National Park. Domogled National Park and the UNESCO site must not be damaged as well. (c) Matthias Schickhofer
EU (Natura 2000) protected natural “ravine forest” in upper Cerna valley in Domogled National Park. The contruction of the new road 66a would severely damage this wild forest landscape. (c) Matthias Schickhofer