Forest Protection

Weak impact of legal protection measures in Romania

Romania’s primary and old growth forests have been subject of several legislative attempts to protect them. However, all these legal measures have not yet led to their adequate protection: the virgin forests disappear at a rapid pace, especially in protected areas, before the eyes of the Government and authorities…

The current government is under severe criticism of environmentalists, to further undermine virgin forest  protection. Often, Romanian politicians argue that the era of forest destruction has been overcome. However, a check of aerial and satellite images shows, that this is by no means the case.

Here is a chronicle of the forest protection in Romania since EU accession:

The Romanian Forest Code in 2008 stated:

Art. 26
”Conserving the biodiversity of the forest ecosystems implies measures of sustainable management, by applying intensive treatments, which are promoting the natural regeneration of the species from the natural fundamental forest types and by conserving virgin and ”cvasivirgin” forests.”

This  vague wording was altered in the 2015 version of the Forest Code:

Art. 26
(3) Virgin and „cvasivirgin” forests will be strictlly protected and will be included in „The National Catalogue of Virgin and Cvasivirgin Forets”, built as an instrument for recording and managing, by an order of the manager of the Central Public Authority responsible for forestry. To recognize the exceptional value and to ensure the protection on long term, the virgin and „cvasivirgin” forests will be included, accordingly to each sitiation, in UNESCO World Heritage Patrimony, in scientfic reserves and / or they will be integrated in areas of strict protection of the national or natural parks.

The Ministerial Order No. 3397 (from 10.09.2012) defined the criteria and indicators for identification and protection of “virgin” and “cvasivirgin” forests.  

This ordinance declared that “virgin” and “cvasivirgin” forests will be “grouped in the forest management plans in functional category 1.5o (cvasivirgin forests) and functional type I” – (TI; virgin forests), which means (theoretically) that no forest management is allowed any more.

The ministerial order also said, that forests that were subject of the study “Inventory and strategy of sustainable management and protection of the virgin forests in Romania – Project Pin – Matra/2001/018”, done by The Dutch Royal Society for Conservation of Nature in cooperation with Romanian Forest Research Institute (ICAS), “included in the plans for decadal timber harvest as principal products, will be harvested accordingly with the management plan, only based on an approval of the Territorial Inspectorate for Forest and Hunting Regime (ITRSV) which has territorial competences, which is attesting that the stands are not fulfilling the C&I criteria approved by the present order.”

In simple words: The Ministerial Order No. 3397 bans logging in forests which were identified as virgin forests by the Pin – Matra inventory. Even if the 10 years forest management plan allows timber cutting a virgin forest stand, that forest stand can only be logged if the Forest Guards testifies that this forest does not meet the criteria for identification of virgin and cvasivirgin forests any more.

This defacto moratorium has been (and is being) ignored almost everywhere in the country. One reason for this was the lack of a compensation scheme for private forest owners. A number of owners fought against the alleged “expropriation”. Since 2017, state resources have been available for the compensation of private forest owners. However, the scheme is complicated, contradictory and the resources for strictly protected virgin forests (functional category T1) are narrowly limited.

Primeval forest destruction on state property and in national parks

The moratorium even has not been respected sufficiently by state forestry administrations. In the spring 2017, for example, the state forest administration approved logging of an ancient forest in a previously untouched valley in the heart of the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park. The approval was officially issued and published on the Internet. 50% of the area of ​​this national park is commercially logged in a more or less brutal manner. The same applies to most national parks in Romania. Numerous most valuable natural and primeval forests are destroyed under the eyes of the government and the authorities. They simply claim that this is not a pure primeval stand – and give permission for its elimination. The IUCN International Nature Conservation Union, which examines and awards national parks worldwide, has developed best practice criteria for national parks: at least 75 percent of the area must be strictly protected as a “core zone”. Throughout the National Park nature conservation goals have priority, industrial exploitation of nature is prohibited. These criteria are not meet by single national park in Romania …

Brutal logging in the heart of Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park in 2016.

„The National Catalogue of Virgin and Cvasivirgin Forets” is developing in slow pace. As the work to populate that catalogue of protected forests is completely deferred to NGOs and volunteering forest experts progress is limited due to capacity constraints .

All potential primary forest areas submitted for the National Catalogue have to be documented by expert studies, which have to include detailed information about forest parcels affected and forest ownership. As soon as such a study is submitted to the local forest authorities, a temporary logging ban enters force and the forest has to be evaluated by authorities.

However there is no guaranteed public access to that information and there have been reports that in several cases forest managers and forest authorities have not cooperated with experts. As a consequence studies could not be completed on time before the winter break 2016 year (no studies were accepted between October 2016 – February 2017). Those forests are not protected now and could be logged.

The regulations for protection of primary forests within the National Catalogue of Virgin Forests are partly unclear and include potential loopholes allowing interventions „according to the law“, which could result in logging (Article 10).

Furthermore the criteria for the identification of primary forest stands for the National Catalogue are defined in an unscientificly strict  which allows forest owners and forest authorities to undermine forest protection.

The Ministerial Order No. 3397 already set the criteria in an exclusive way, thus risking the exclusion of valuable areas due to factors of minor importance for the conservation value and the ecological integrity of the forest ecosystems. Selection criteria such as a general requirement for “frequent presence of dead wood“, the “absence of roads“, “difficult access“ and “natural limits“ (such as rivers and ridges) can be used as arguments countering protection and to start with logging. If similar criteria were to be applied for other European Union member states most of the valuable old growth forest remains there would be destroyed today…

2017: Dangerous setback for forest protection

In June 2017, a press release by the Romanian Ministry of Forests and Water caused irritation and protests. The Matra Primary Forest Inventory would not exist at all, “nobody has it, nobody knows it”, could be read in the press release. The Romanian primeval forest conservation legislation, which is strongly related to this study (based on a Romanian-Dutch cooperation within the so called Pin Matra-project), must therefore be relaunched. This would inevitably lead to a massive weakening of forest protection. Romanian environmentalists responded accordingly and described this move as a blunt attack on nature conservation: “The lobby-controlled policy of misinformation and the resulting crimes against nature damage the reputation of Romania. Our unique virgin forests are destroyed every day. Those who are allowed to deforestation do not have the power to keep the ministry from their obligations, “said Gabriel Paun, President of Agent Green.

But the alarm bells ring even more: the PSD- (social democrats) led government announced a massive increase of approvals for the overall logging volume in Romania. In September 2017, Forest Secretary Istrate Şteţco, said during a meeting with with Euronatur and Agent Green,  that he is convinced that there is only a maximum of 35.000 hectares of virgin forests left (according to the legally defined criteria) in Romania. Similar statements   had been expressed previously by other voices from the forestry sector: there is virgin forest in Romania, but not very much. Environmentalists and “primeval forest professors” would in fact invent pristine forests.

However, scientists and environmentalists estimate that more than 100.000 hectares of highly protected forest areas are still existing… Apparently, the forest industry is operating  with “alternative facts” in order to create confusion and to promote logging.

German Federal Foundation for Environment DBU supports mapping of virgin forests in Romania

In order to promote the protection of primary forests and to support Romania in the implementation of the “National Catalog of Virgin Forests”, the German Federal Foundation for the Environment DBU has launched a mapping project. German subsidies enable advanced mapping work by Romanian experts. More information: here.

Stramba valley, Fagaras Natura 2000 Site: This primary forest was identified in 2005 as “virgin forest” and is legally under protection. However, it it is vanishing progressively, in May 2017 another parcel with virgin forest was cut down…