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Environmental groups pursue new legal action over destruction of Romania’s natural forests

 

Environmental organisations EuroNatur, Agent Green and ClientEarth have revealed the catastrophic scale of illegal logging of old-growth and primary forests in Romania’s Natura 2000 protected areas in a new complaint submitted to the European Commission.

The organisations have today submitted a complaint against Romanian authorities stating that the government’s lack of action to address extensive logging of primary and old growth forests within protected areas is leading to irreversible loss of unique habitats and species.

Romania hosts two-thirds of Europe’s remaining primary and old-growth forests of the temperate climate zone. These precious ecosystems, protected by European law as Natura 2000 sites, are being systematically destroyed by large-scale logging operations.

ClientEarth wildlife and habitats lawyer Ewelina Tylec-Bakalarz said: “Intensive logging, approved by the Romanian authorities and carried out by state forestry, Romsilva, has caused serious deterioration of habitats and species protected under EU Nature Directives. Logging continues to be an ongoing threat to Europe’s most unique ecosystems and a striking violation of EU law.”

The legal action follows previous complaints which led to the European Commission launching infringement proceedings against Romanian authorities over their systemic and continuous failure to protect one of Europe’s last natural forests.

Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director of EuroNatur said: “Our current complaint provides the European Commission with new evidence proving that illegal logging is causing a profound environmental crisis affecting many protected areas in Romania. We hope that it will allow the Commission to intervene sooner, because now might be our last chance to take action before damage of these unique ecosystems becomes irreversible.”

The evidence obtained by the environmental groups reveals the devastating impact of logging protected forests. In Natura 2000 sites in Făgăraș and Domogled, the majority of analysed habitats showed severe signs of deterioration. In the Natura 2000 site in Maramures the researchers have documented over 10,000 hectares of clear-cuts.
Veronica Tulpan of Agent Green said: “There are whole mountains where the forest habitat has been completely removed and all of the wildlife along with it. We need a rapid intervention from the Commission to start applying the nature directives in Romania properly.”

Tylec-Bakalarz concluded: “The situation in Romanian forests is dire, but the case taken to protect Poland’s Bialowieza Forest gives us hope. It proved how effective European law can be in safeguarding of our continent’s natural wonders.” 

Video evidence about the fate of Romania’s Natura 2000 sites

Background information:

● The PRIMOFARO inventory (Primary and Old Growth Forest Areas of Romania), an analysis of Romania’s potential primary and old growth forests commissioned by EuroNatur, reveals that forest destruction is progressing quickly.

● Romania still has more than 525,000 hectares of potential old-growth and primary forests, which is more than any other EU member state (outside Scandinavia).

● Around 300,000 hectares of the Forests identified in the Primofaro inventory of Romanian woods are listed as Natura 2000 sites. Many protected animals such as large carnivores, black stork, owls, woodpeckers, bats and beetles depend on them for survival.

● Despite efforts by Romanian civil society groups to stop illegal logging, the situation in Romania has continued to deteriorate. The official national forest inventory shows that on top of 18 million m3 of legally harvested wood, another 8.8 million m3 of forest resources were extracted annually between 2009 and 2013 and increased to 20.6 million m3 annually between 2014 and 2018.

● 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).

Resources:
Briefing paper on the complaint to the European Commission

Briefing paper on Natura 2000 areas: Fagaras, Maramures and Domogled

Videos for Social Media

Memes for Social Media

Relevant videos: Primary forests, Maramures, Fagaras

About EuroNatur:
EuroNatur is a nature conservation foundation based in Radolfzell, Germany. Our efforts for a Europe with free-flowing rivers, ancient forests and a rich variety of cultural landscapes are transboundary in nature; we strengthen local conservation organizations and create international networks between them. Together with our Europe-wide partner network we create solutions that allow humans to live and work in harmony with nature. Our aim is a powerful network committed to protecting our European natural heritage.

About Agent Green:
Agent Green Association is a non-profit NGO for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation founded in 2009 in Romania. Established to protect Retezat Mountains, one of the last intact forest landscapes in the temperate climate of Europe, Agent Green evolved into carrying out investigations, scientific approach, strategic cooperation and effective campaigns targeted at bringing about positive and lasting change for nature.

About ClientEarth:
ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlinand Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.

 

Large complex of forest wilderness in Ucea Mare valley in Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site © Agent Green
Giant clearcut in Ucea Mare valley in Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site ©Agent Green
Logging in a natural beech forest Domogled – Valea Cernei Natura 2000 Site and National Park © Matthias Schickhofer

A snapshot of forests with great potential

The PRIMOFARO study: an assessment of Romania’s precious primary and old growth forests. A statement by EuroNatur foundation.

Some of the largest and most significant remaining tracts of the EU’s primary and old-growth forests are found in Romania. Many still exist because they are found in relatively inaccessible locations and have thus far avoided the impacts of human hands and modern development. These forests deserve strict protection on grounds of solid scientific data. Such forests are rare in the European Union, but they still do persist.

A contemporary debate is taking place in the EU that recognises the importance of non-intervention protection of intact natural ecosystems and is seeking consensus on targets for such protection. The Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), in its post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework draft report is proposing strict non-intervention protection of 10% of the world’s land surface in the next decade. Romania has the unique potential to achieve this by actually protecting places that to this day maintain a continuum of intact natural values that have existed for many hundreds, if not thousands of years – its most intact primary and old-growth forests.

It follows that to do this, the location of these forests need to be comprehensively understood. For decades, debate over the existence, amount and location of Romania’s intact forests has raged. However, an ecologically informed scientific consensus has not yet been reached. One reason for this is that the thing that is being attempted to be measured is a moving target – Romania’s close to nature forests are being logged and degraded at a rapid rate, and the ability to reach this consensus is constrained as no national logging moratorium in contentious forest areas has ever been enacted. This must change.

Given this context, the PRIMOFARO study, published by EuroNatur in 2019, is a contemporary attempt to gain a snapshot of forests that have the greatest potential as primary and old growth forests. It identifies forests that potentially indicate a high level of naturalness in comparison to forests that have been relatively recently logged, degraded or managed. Expanding beyond the restrictive and ecologically compromised current Romanian definition of “virgin forests”, the PRIMOFARO study holistically assesses Romania’s forests from the perspective of biodiversity conservation commitments, including the CBD, the IUCN and the EU’s Nature Directives.

Limitations of the study, which are based on visual analysis of aerial photographs with a corresponding error rate, are described transparently in the report, and the study explicitly invites further ecological verification of its inventory.

The PRIMOFARO study, in recognition of national and international climate and biodiversity commitments, offers policy and decision makers a tool to assess and deliver on these commitments.

At EuroNatur, we and our supporters are proud of our ongoing commitment to the conservation of Romania’s magnificent forests. As such, we urge the Romanian government to take the following steps to ensure these forests are forever protected:

  • Ensure that government intervention, discourse and participation in the forest discussion in Romania is scientifically based, transparent and accountable
  • Immediately place a moratorium on all potential primary and old growth forests, including those forests identified in PRIMOFARO, and other scientific studies
  • Resource and facilitate a scientific verification of the conservation and environmental values of these forests in relation to national and international biodiversity and climate targets, goals and commitments
  • Increase the size of existing protected areas to incorporate all primary and old growth forests and ensure strict protection of these forests

 

Primary and old growth forests still exist in the Romanian Carpathians…
…but the loggings destroy the Paradise Forests.

Europe’s Natural Heritage Disappearing Before Our Eyes – Romania

Paper submitted by EuroNatur Foundation and Agent Green to the “8th International NGO Forum on World Heritage at Risk” – World Heritage Watch

When one thinks of the natural wonders of Europe, Romania does not necessarily spring to mind as a country home to some of the largest areas of forests of outstanding universal value. However, hosting at least 500,000 hectares of potential primary and old-growth forests (Schickhofer and Schwarz 2019), Romania is easily home to the lion’s share of intact forests in the European Union outside of Scandinavia. Few would appreciate that Romania is home to some of the largest and healthiest populations of large carnivores – bears, wolves and lynx – in all of Europe. However, these ancient forests are being logged before the eyes of the European Union (EU), even at a time when the European Commission has communicated its intent to step up action to protect and restore the world’s forests. Logging, both legal and illegal, is occurring in Natura 2000 sites, national parks and in the buffer zones of UNESCO World Heritage areas, immediately adjacent to the core inscribed properties. The impacts on the integrity of the World Heritage property are undeniable.

In 2007, Europe’s ancient beech forests were first inscribed in the World Heritage List, with sites in Slovakia and the Ukraine forming a cross-border property Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians. This site was extended to Germany in 2011, and then 10 countries successfully added further forest sites to the property – now known as Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe – in 2017. This uniquely complex serial site now covers 92,023 ha across more than 40 protected areas located in 12 European countries. The Romanian component of this 2017 extension (23,983 ha) disproportionately comprised almost 40% of the 10-country addition (61,660 ha) to the existing site. In total, Romanian forests make up 26% of the entire 12- country World Heritage listing, making it by far the largest contribution from a country in the EU.

These component areas were added to the World Heritage List under criteria (ix) of the World Heritage Convention as they are “outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals”. The Romanian components are described, amongst other rich ecological and biodiversity values, as including important refuges of virgin forests, being of a high degree of naturalness, and supporting a vast array of plants and animals including endemic, rare and threatened species (Kirchmeir and Kovarovics 2016).

However, the Romanian forest sites included in the list certainly do not represent all forests of outstanding universal value. Many forests sites of equal natural value as those included in the property are being logged and under threat from future logging activities.

Timeline of significant related World Heritage events

2017 Romania’s forest areas added to Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe World Heritage Listing (Decision 41 COM 8B.7)

2018 Informal IUCN Field Trip to Domogled – Valea Cernei and Semenic – Cheile Carasului National Parks – visits to logging sites adjacent to World Heritage areas

July 2019 Noting with concern, the World Heritage Committee puts Romania on notice for allowing logging within buffer zones of the Romanian components of the World Heritage property. World Heritage Committee requests a Reactive Mission to Romania to assess the situation (Decision 43 COM 7B.13)

Nov. 2019 World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Mission to Romania. Further forest parcels adjacent to the World Heritage auctioned by Romsilva, Romania’s state forest agency only 10 days after the mission is due in Romania.

For decades, scientists and conservationists have been raising the alarm about the scale and intensity of logging in Romania and the government’s abject lack of serious commitment to protecting natural values. The situation today, where ancient forests of outstanding universal value continue to be logged, is the consequence of years of terrible forest governance – over-logging, illegal logging, corruption, mismanagement and a ubiquitous defiance of the rule of law. Even in 2017, when the Romanian sites were nominated to be listed, IUCN and World Heritage Centre specialists raised concern over the Romanian government’s lack of commitment to the World Heritage Convention and the protection of outstanding universal values of natural sites.

As a result, commercial logging which threatens the integrity of the UNESCO site through habitat fragmentation and loss continues. At the time of writing, it has been revealed that more forest areas within the UNESCO buffer zone and adjacent the UNESCO listed site – forests containing values equivalent to those within the UNESCO site – will be auctioned at the end of November 2019 and logged in 2020.

Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park – a case of worse practice

Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park in south-west Romania harbours towering limestone mountain peaks, natural thermal springs, deep gorges, spectacular waterfalls, impressive cave systems, large tracts of ancient, pristine forests and critical habitat for a plethora of protected plants and animals. It contains three component parts of the Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe World Heritage site: Coronini – Bedina, Iauna Craiovei and Ciucevele Cernei. The entire national park outside of the core UNESCO site constitutes the formal buffer zone of the site. The situation in Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park is probably the best understood and also the most serious in regards to commercial logging adjacent the World Heritage site and within the site’s formal buffer zone.

Brutal road construction and logging in old growth forest in Radoteasa valley in Romania’s Domogled National Park (buffer zone of the World Heritage site).

Park management staff openly talk about commercial logging within the park as if it is completely normal. Forest management is intense and commercially driven. It is mainly based upon “progressive cutting” (stepwise removal of all trees of a forest parcel over a period of 10 years) or “conservation logging” (cutting of openings in the forest to stimulate growth of young trees). This “progressive cutting” simply means that rather than an area being completely cut in one go, it is cut over a period of about 10 to 15 years. According to the World Heritage Centre, “a buffer zone is an area surrounding the nominated property which has complementary legal and / or customary restrictions placed on its use and development to give an added layer of protection to the property” (UNESCO WHC, 2017).

In many parts of the park, virgin forests that are supposed to be protected under Romanian law but have not yet gone through the difficult bureaucratic process of listing them, are illegally logged without effective criminal prosecution. Even in the strict non-intervention zones of the park, illegal logging has taken place.
In 2017, logging and road cutting was identified in virgin forests in the upper catchment of the pristine Cerna River. More recently, excursions to the park – including with members of the European Parliament, and during an informal visit with the European director of IUCN – have revealed firsthand the devastating commercial logging within the park. Logging progresses into the remotest areas of the park where the last strongholds of ancient beech forests are found. Only in the spring of 2017, a new logging road was cut in the Radoteasa valley, in the middle of a large untouched forest landscape, which is located between two UNESCO World Heritage site component parts.

As has been previously communicated to IUCN and the World Heritage Centre, logging is happening at the immediate border of the UNESCO World Heritage site. In November 2019 Romanian conservationists witnessed recent logging activity at the border of the Iauna-Craiova component part of the UNESCO World Heritage property. The beech forests neighbouring the property – and earmarked for logging – are similar to the forest inside the World Heritage component part and share the same outstanding universal value. Even though they exist within the national park, they are not protected from logging.

Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park is also a designated EU Natura 2000 site. Nevertheless, irreplaceable primary and old-growth forests are continuously being degraded and deteriorated with approval of the national park administration and Romsilva, Romania’s state forestry agency.

These future logging plans, supported by the previous Romanian government, represent a clear disregard for UNESCO values and for the World Heritage Convention. It is not clear yet how the new government will deal with the progressing logging issue in Romania’s protected areas. Any deliberate damage to a component part in one of the participating countries threatens the 12 country property as a whole and the Romanian government’s ongoing logging plans, which undermine the entire property, could lead to the property being listed “In Danger” in the future.

Romania’s ancient forests are a true treasure of European natural and world heritage. Urgent intervention is required to ensure that as much of what remains of them is protected for all time.

In addition, the issue of logging in buffer zones of World Heritage Areas is not isolated to the Romanian World Heritage component sites.

We therefore request the World Heritage Committee to urge the World Heritage Centre and advisory bodies to set standards for buffer zone management that clearly prohibit industrial exploitation use of recourses – such as commercial logging – within buffer zones of World Heritage properties. Natural habitats deserve reliable protection also in buffer zones, in particular when they are of similar value like the ones included in the UNESCO properties itself.

We encourage the World Heritage Committee to support the protection of Romania’s ancient beech forests of outstanding universal value.
We respectfully urge the WHC to request the Romanian government to uphold the values of the World Heritage Convention through the following actions:

· 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 and world’s best practice management prioritises the protection, promotion and restoration of natural ecosystems, not the exploitation of natural resources.

Fact finding trip in November 2018 with IUCN into threatened Radoteasa valley in Cernisoara Forest in buffer zone of Domogled National Park. According to documents issued by State Forstry Romsilva, also the remaining old growth forest should be logged stepwise in the next years.
The old growth and primary beech forest in the buffer zone of Domogled National Park / UNESCO Natural Heritage is identical with the protected beech forest in the core zone / UNESCO site. But these precious ecosytems lack any protection.

References

European Commission (2019). EU Communication (2019) on Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests, 23 July 2019, viewed 6 November 2019,
https://ec.europa.eu/environment/forests/eu_comm_2019.htm

Kirchmeir, H. and Kovarovics, A. (eds.) (2016). Nomination Dossier “Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe” as extension to the existing Natural World Heritage Site “Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany” (1133bis). Klagenfurt, 409p

Schickhofer, M. and Schwarz, U. (2019). PRIMOFARO. Inventory of Potential Primary and Old-Growth Forest Areas in Romania. Report for EuroNatur.

UNESCO World Heritage Centre (2017). Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention