Investigation Video: Primeval Forest Destruction in Romania’s National Parks

EuroNatur and Agent Green: This is currently Europe’s biggest environmental drama!

Most of the EU’s last primeval forests are found in Romania.  But they are under immediate threat from ongoing commercial logging, even in national parks and Natura 2000 areas, environmental NGOs EuroNatur and Agent Green claim. Today the NGOs publish the first episode of the investigative video documentary online series “Out of Control”, showing evidence of fresh and brutal logging of primeval forests within the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park.

Agent Green investigators visited the last untouched valley of the park, which was opened for commercial logging by the forest and park authorities last spring and discovered scandalous devastation of pristine nature.

“The eradication of primeval forests in Romania is Europe’s biggest and most pressing nature conservation drama today. But almost nobody is taking notice”, says Gabriel Schwaderer, CEO of EuroNatur Foundation. “If no action is taken now, many of these valuable forests will be gone within the next 2 to 3 years”, explains Gabriel Paun, President of Agent Green. EuroNatur and Agent Green call on the Romanian government to immediately halt commercial logging in all Romanian national parks, to include all primeval and old growth forests in national parks in the core zones and to adopt a modern, independent and well-funded national park management system. Also the EU needs to get proactively engaged in saving this precious European natural heritage.

Deliberate old growth forest devastation in Romania’s national parks

In Romania’s national parks, centuries old trees are logged for products such as wood-based panels, firewood, pulp and other products.. In the vast majority of these “protected areas”, commercial logging is present on most of the park’s surface, eating away large areas of precious, biodiversity-rich primeval forests.

12 out of 13 national parks in Romania fail to meet international conservation criteria, which prioritise conservation objectives in management plans and ban industrial exploita-tion of resources. Logging is happening with the approval of the national park administrations and right before the eyes of the Government. The Romanian state does not provide basic funding for the national parks. Most of the national and nature parks are administered and financed by Romanian State Forestry company, Romsilva. Environmentalists and scientists claim that Romsilva dictates a commercial perspective before conservation commitments.

Logging of old growth forests for cheap products?

Recently, the Romanian logging industry with support of the government embellished in hyperbole about an alleged “fire wood crisis”, justifying logging of old growth forests to prevent people from freezing in winter. Only about 3% of Romania’s 6.5 million hectares of forests are old growth or primeval. “To argue that we need to destroy ancient forests because of a sudden ‘fire wood crisis’ is clearly deliberate manipulation of the truth. There are plenty of degraded forests in the country, where extraction of fire wood has a lesser impact on biodiversity and would not breach nature protection obligations,” Gabriel Paun says.

The Romanian Government and EU need to take immediate action.

EuroNatur and Agent Green call on the Romanian government to:

  • enlarge core zones of the national parks according to international standards (at least 75% of surface)
  • halt commercial logging in all Romanian national parks
  • include all primary and old growth forests in national parks in the core zones
  • adopt a modern and independent national park management system, following best practice models like in Sweden, Germany or Austria; and
  • provide private forest owners within the national park boundaries with appropriate compensation.

All Romanian national parks are included in Natura 2000 sites based upon EU legislation.  Despite this supposed protection measure, virgin forests are being lost and degraded in contradiction to the EU’s nature directives. Therefore the EU needs to take action as well to ensure appropriate law enforcement takes place in Romania.

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BACKGROUND-DOSSIER – OUT OF CONTROL – The tragedy of logging in Romania’s national parks

Intact, but unprotected virgin forest in Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park.

Film synopsis: OUT OF CONTROL

Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park is the biggest National Park in Romania, covering 62,000 of hectares of rare beauty. It is a sanctuary for flora and fauna. The park stretches along the beautiful Cerna river and the surrounding mountain ranges, which were covered until recently with mostly untouched beech and endemic black pine forests. Domogled National Park used to be part of Europe’s last Intact Forest Landscape in the temperate climate, but large areas of pristine nature have been lost in recent times. Only one major side valley of Cerna river was left untouched: Cernisoara.

Presently, only 48% of the park’s surface is under strict protection and this is mainly alpine meadows and steep slopes surrounding the ancient city of Baile Herculane. The pressure of exploitation has already moved into the last untouched stands and has reached old forests at the tree line, close to the alpine area.

Logging approval in the park’s last untouched valley

In April 2017 logging was also approved in the Radoteasa-Vlasia valley system, the last remaining completely untouched valley and home to the most valuable primeval mixed beech forest. In October 2017 the investigators found large areas of pristine forest on the southern slope of Radoteasa valley have been pierced by intrusive roads and cutting ancient trees. The camera documented the deliberate destruction of supposedly protected nature and massive chaos: huge stumps of over 250 years old beech trees, industrial oil barrels, rusty old logging trucks left to rot in the middle of the forest. Forest workers told the investigators that the logging site was given away for commercial logging although national park managers were aware of the presence of virgin forests in that area. They said that they will continue to log as long the forests are not under protection and Romsilva and the national park administration give approvals for wood harvesting.

The investigation team was accompanied by an employee of Romsilva (the Romanian State Forestry administrator), who agreed to reveal the truth behind the so called “legal harvesting activities” within the park. The inspector took the investigation team to several primeval forests containing rich biodiversity which were being brutally logged at the time of filming. In great sorrow, he quoted his grandfather, who recently told him: “We guarded these untouched forests and now I have lived to see them destroying them“”

National park director hides from the film team

The investigation team wanted to confront the director of the park with their findings several times. But the official, who is employed by Romsilva, made up several ridiculous excuses for not being able to meet the reporters. The same thing happened with the Commissioner of the Environmental Guard, who were also unable to speak to the national park director even if a notification was sent to him beforehand.

UNESCO World Heritage Site threatened

Parts of Domogled – Valea Cernei were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Primeval and old growth beech forests of the Carpathians and other countries of Europe” by the World Heritage Committee in July 2017. The park hosts the largest share of the Romanian contribution to the UNESCO site. The rest of the national park, outside the UNESCO core zones, has been defined as a “buffer zone”, which, according to the World Heritage Committee, should be managed “sympathetically to ensure the long-term conservation of the particular character of the designated beech forests together with its inherent attributes”. The reality in Romania is different: natural beech forests are continuously destroyed and degraded all over the UNESCO “buffer zone”, including fresh massive logging in the immediate vicinity of the UNESCO core zone boundaries. The investigation team discovered fresh logging close to the UNESCO site component part “Iauna Craiova”.

Residents and ancient cultural land affected by logging

Domogled National Park also hosts ancient cultural land in the Cerna Valley of outstanding beauty, where residents live a very traditional livelihood. This cultural heritage where people have been living in a subsistence economy for hundreds of years in remote villages, in a fine-tuned balance with the nature, is also about to be destroyed. The planned logging will put their way of life at risk. In the video report, one local of 24 still living in 11 households of Inelet mountain village, expresses serious concern and critique on the exploitation plans. Commercial cutting was never allowed in that cultural heritage area. The new road and planned wood harvesting will destroy a forest with an average age of more than 200 years.

Logging of old growth forests for cheap products?

While the old growth forests have the highest conservation value, they offer the lowest economical value being harvested for so called „fire wood quality“. Some pieces end in massive furniture while most of it in wood-based panels and fire wood. Recently, the Romanian logging industry with support of the government embellished in hyperbole about an alleged “fire wood crisis”, justifying logging of old growth forests to prevent people from freezing in winter. Only about 3% of Romania’s 6.5 million hectares of forests are old growth or primeval.

Devastation of pristine Radoteasa valley in the middle of Domogled National Park.