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Romania: Justice suspends logging permits in natural forest in Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park

Agent Green succeeds to stop Romsilva from cutting down 20 parcels with intact natural beech forest in Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park / UNESCO World Heritage buffer zone and Mehedinti Natural Park

Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park contains very precious nature with „outstanding universal value“. So precious, that some of the park’s primary and old growth beech forests have been inscribed as UNESCO World Natural Heritage site.

Unfortunately, only a fraction of the highly valuable old growth beech forests in Cerna valley is protected from logging yet and has been included in the UNESCO site or in the strictly protected zone of the national park or designated as forest reserve (under the Romanian „Catalogue of Virgin Forests“).

Apparently, State Forestry Romsilva (they control the park management) kept more than 50% of the park’s forests outside the protection zone because of logging interests. Thus, logging proceeds and cuts are moving more and more into the natural beech forests. Centuries old trees fall, not far from the UNESCO World Heritage site, where the same type of forest is under protection, because of its „outstanding universal value“.

In 2018, Romsilva issued logging permits for 20 parcels in some of the parks most precious wild forest landscapes, such as pristine Radoteasa valley in Cernisoara production unit (2B, 25, 27C, 45B, 45C). This gorgeous valley was largely untouched until 2017. Then, a new forest road was brutally dug into its western slopes and logging started.

Five parcels in Mehedinti Nature Park (bordering Domogled Valea Cerni national park to the south) were also planned for logging. A forest road was built there to give access to old growth beech forest on a unique limestone plateau. 10.000 cubic meters (over 6000 beech trees) are planned for cutting only in the first phase of „progressive logging“.

Under Romanian law, „virgin and quasi-virgin forests“ are theoretically under protection and forest authorities must issue logging allowances only if the forests have been degraded already and do not meet (very strict) criteria for identification of „virgin and quasi-virgin“ forests.

Agent Green informed judiciary authorities about the high conservation value forest parcels and urged them to suspend the logging permits in order to allow (field) verification the ecological status of these potential „virgin and quasi-virgin“ forests. If their ecological integrity is confirmed, these forests have to be included in the „Catalogue of Virgin Forests“.

15 of the disputed forest parcels are located in Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park and five in Mehedinti Natural Park. Yesterday (November 12), the judiciary authorities followed the complaint by Agent Green and obliged the Forest Guard of Valcea to verify all parcels and to post them for studies on their webpage, as it is stated in the law (OM 2525/2016).

Catalina Radulescu, the environmental lawyer representing Agent Green in this subject, says: “This is an important success regarding nature conservation and implementation of forest protection legislation in Romania. However, this is not the final decision yet, as the concerned local forest administrations could make an appeal.”

Forest Guard of Valcea: No protection for pure beech forests because they do not have “enough biodiversity”

Furthermore, Agent Green has informed the Forest Guard of Valcea about the existence of large areas of potential „virgin and quasi-virgin“ forests in 708 forest parcels in Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park and in Mehedinti Natural Park.

In the reply to Agent Green the Forest Guard (signed by Mr. Zarnescu) said that they disqualified all 708 parcels, because they have do not show „enough biodiversity“, as they have the „composition of 100% beech trees“.

Beech dominated or pure beech forests are the natural forest types in most of the Domogled – Mehedinti region. The European beech (fagus sylvatica) is endemic in Europe and their protection is the main aim of the transnational UNESCO World Heritage site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe“, which also includes parts of the old beech forests in Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park.

For Agent Green the statement by the Forest Guard is a „huge abuse“ and strongly indicates a severe lack of qualification of this officer. It is certainly not possible to judge about biodiversity of a forest parcel from an office desk. Old growth and primary forests deserve secure and comprehensive protection, in particular when they are located within a national park, a UNESCO World Heritage buffer zone and a Natura 2000 site, Agent Green argues.

Natural beech forests with old trees are key habitats for numerous theratened and red listed species. World nature conservation organisation IUCN has been expressing strong concern about the decline of dead wood depending species such as saproxylic beetles. These highly specialized creatures need old growth and primary forests with large veteran trees. As these kind of forests are almost extinct in Europe, it is even more important to preserve all intact remains.

Demands by Agent Green and EuroNatur Foundation:

– All logging permits in old-growth and primary forests in national parks and UNESCO World Heritage site buffer zones to be cancelled and logging activities to be stopped immediately;

– All old-growth and primary forests in the national park and UNESCO World Heritage site buffer zones be preserved as designated non-intervention areas (eg. core zones enlarged, UNESCO sites expanded, National Catalogue of Virgin Forests properly implemented). As almost all forests within the UNESCO buffer zones are under the management and ownership of the Romanian state, this should be achievable without the need for financial compensation for private land owners;

– National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites be promoted as places where nature conservation is paramount and adequately funded, world’s best practice management to prioritise the protection, promotion and restoration of natural ecosystems, not the exploitation of natural resources.

 

Domogled -Valea Cernei National Park and UNESCO World Heritage. The planned logging of the old growth and primary forests would severly damage the ecologcal integrity of the whole protected area.
Huge potential of old growth and primary forests in Domogled – Valea National Park (dark green polygons). In order to sustain the ecological integrity and connectivity of the UNESCO World Heritage site all intact natural forest remains in the buffer zone urgently need protection.

Very old and biodiversity rich beech trees in parcel 45B in Radoteasa valley. This forest lacks any protection and Romsilva intends to log it, although it is located in the middle of a national park…
Unprotected wild nature in Radoteasa valley in Domogled National Park. The Forest Guard of Valcea argues that pure beech forests do not deserve protection because the do not show “enough biodiversity” …
The UNESCO World Heritage site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe“ protects the most precious European beech forests – including three forest complexes in Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park. Image: UNESCO component part “Iauna Craiove”, a pure beech forest with tremendous biodiversity …

Romania’s Domogled National Park: Fresh logging in primary forests threatens UNESCO World Heritage Site

Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park in the Southern Carpathians is one of the EU’s premier natural landscapes: steep limestone cliffs, Arcadian mountain pastures, hot springs, endemic black pines and huge natural beech forests are all found there. To protect these special values, a national park (Romania’s largest), a Natura 2000 protected area and component parts of the transnational UNESCO World Natural Heritage site for the protection of European beech forests have been established here. Unfortunately, however, more than 50% of the forests in the national park are excluded from the park’s core protection zones and are treated as industrial exploitation forests by the Romanian state forests. The result: primary and old growth forests are continuously logged in the middle of this precious national park.

Only a week ago, a large forest fire destroyed valuable forests and threatened farmhouses near the small hamlet of Dobraia. The central authorities in Bucharest were unable to effectively fight the fire in the protected area. Only oncoming rain helped dampen the fire’s impact.

However, another round of bad news came in just today. The National Park administration (which is controlled by Romania’s state forest agency, Romsilva) has allegedly approved logging in primary beech forests immediately adjacent to the border of the UNESCO World Heritage core zone Iauna Craiova. Pictures that were transmitted to us today show a very recent intensive cutting in the primary beech forest. Also in adjacent old forests, many very ancient beech trees have also already been marked for cutting.

Fresh cutting on primary beech forest at the boundary of Iauna Craiova UNESCO World Heritage Site component part
Fresh cutting in primary beech forest at the boundary of Iauna Craiova UNESCO World Heritage Site component part © Alexandru Teleaga
Marked for the chainsaw: Ancient beech tree in a primary forest in Domogled – Valea Cernei national park and Natura 2000 site © Alexandru Teleaga

The entire Domogled – Valea National Park is designated as buffer zone for a component of the UNESCO World Heritage site for the protection of European beech forests. The primary forest Iauna Craiova covers more than 1,000 hectares of wild, untouched forests. Directly next to this area there are more primary forest stands which were not originally included in the World Heritage core zone, most likely because the state forest manager had the intention to log them in the future. However, the World Heritage Convention prohibits any exploitation in buffer zones that endangers the ecological integrity of the core zone. Clear-cuts in primary forests, immediately adjacent to the core zone boundary, are undoubtedly a threat to the ecological integrity of the World Heritage site.

This transboundary World Heritage property Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe stretches over 12 countries. Any deliberate damage to a component part in one of the participating countries threatens the property as a whole and UNESCO could decide to take the whole property in 12 countries off the list. Sites like Serrahn or Jasmund Nationalpark in Germany or Kalkalpen Nationalpark in Austria would then lose their World Heritage status. 

Only in July 2019 Romania was reprimanded by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for logging in the UNESCO buffer zones. But apparently this UNESCO decision hasn’t changed the attitudes of Romsilva.

EuroNatur and Agent Green hope that the new Romanian government values the country’s international reputation more than the fallen Cabinet of Prime Minister Dancila – and takes international laws and conventions protecting Romania’s unique forest heritage more seriously. Immediate intervention is necessary to ensure the protection of Romania’s irreplaceable primary and old-growth forests.

Primary beech forests inside the UNESCO site are protected because of their “outstanding universal value”. Primary beech forests outside the core zone are not worth any protection at all? © Alexandru Teleaga

 

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.