Romania hosts the largest tracts of virgin forests within the EU. But they are vanishing due to industrial logging, corruption and corporate greed. However, this major nature tragedy is almost unknown in wider Europe. Therefore, EuroNatur Foundation and Romanian environmental organisation Agent Green organised an expert conference in the European Parliament in Brussels on the 8th November. The conference was hosted by Thomas Waitz and Benedek Jávor, both Member of the European Parliament.
Benedek Jávor opened the conference with the words: “Virgin forests have a special importance in Europe, not only for biodiversity but also for ecosystem services… In Romania they are under huge pressure not only from illegal logging, but also from legal logging. Deforestation is closely related to corruption issues and problems with governance. Low level of governance and high level of corruption contribute to legal and illegal logging.”
Thomas Waitz then also gave a clear introduction: “I am a forester, I’m not against logging as such.” He had been in Romania in May 2018 upon invitation from EuroNatur and Agent Green. During this trip he also talked to corporations and found out that forest areas are massively overlogged. In national parks the non-core protected areas, so called buffer zones should not be larger than 25% of the area. In Domogled National Park, which he also visited, the buffer zone is bigger than 50%. Only a third of the park’s forests are under strict protection. “There are rules how forestry interventions should look like. As I am a professional, I could see what sort of interventions they did.” But “…they are not even applying their own weak rules.”
Gabriel Paun, president of the NGO Agent Green, also pointed out, that the deliberate destruction of virgin forests and Natura 2000 sites is happening with support of the Romanian government. In 14 years only 10% of the mapped virgin forests (Pin Matra study in 2004) have been put into the National Catalogue of Virgin Forests.
Gabriel Schwaderer, CEO of EuroNatur Foundation agreed that something is going wrong in Romania: “We consider this (National Catalogue) as a great tool… But we are wondering if it´s applied in the right way. And to be frank with you, sometimes I have the feeling that it´s not used really to protect those forests legally. But it´s is rather used to exclude as much as possible from it. And I have the question why only 21,000ha are inscribed in it, so many years after adopting this ministerial order” (in 2012).
Paun also said: “We put much hope after seeing the Bialowieza case that the EU will find ways to have a strong intervention to help save what´s left of our forests, which are also a European treasure.”
Humberto Delgado Rosa / EU-Commission: “Reports are unsettling, shocking and outrageous”
His hope will be supported as Humberto Delgado Rosa, Director of Natural Capital with DG Environment of the European Commission said: “You can see my presence as the proof that we do pay attention to this.” The reports by NGOs and media about logging of Romanian forests are “definitely a reason for EU concern. We do pay attention to his… We will monitor the situation as we did in Bialowieza. And we do have some new tools to monitor it better, including satellite technology…”
He stressed that “the reports by NGOs, the images and the presented documentaries about logging in Romania are unsettling, shocking and outrageous. He also made it clear that “all old growth forests” in Europe “require a non-intervention approach”.
With Natura 2000 sites there is a need for “better implementation…But the enforcement remains a challenge.” For the EU infringement procedure “We need some data gathering and we need to have some evidence that convinces us internally in the Commission.”
Sadly, Thomas Waitz added that the Romanian MEPs were invited to the conference, but none showed up: “as you can see… there is no Romanian MEP in the room. So it seems to be either a hurtful topic for them or they don´t care…”
Romanian EU-presidency: spotlight in the case
Gabriel Schwaderer concluded: “The Romanian virgin forests are vanishing while we speak. It´s a key European matter, thus EU involvement is crucial. The Romanian EU-presidency in 2019 will also give a spotlight on this case. We call on EU institutions to help and push to save this treasure. We see clear evidence of systematic violation of nature directives and call on EU institutions to act. He informed the audience that IUCN is also looking more deeply into the situation in Romania.