Tag Archives: conservation

A closer look: The shocking reality of Romania’s logged forest wilderness documented

EuroNatur and Agent Green present a photo documentation and a video that give an insight into the tragic fate of the wild forests in Romania’s Natura 2000 areas. At the same time, the Romanian environmental minister Costel Alexe seems to try distracting media attention from the Natura 2000 issue …

On April 22. 2020, the NGOs Client Earth, EuroNatur and Agent Green submitted a complaint on the progressive destruction of primeval and natural forests in Romania’s Natura 2000 areas. In order to visualize the catastrophic situation of these particularly valuable forests, EuroNatur is now publishing the photo documentation “Natura 2000 and Forests – the Romanian Status Quo” and the video “Out of Control” that give insights into the harsh reality in Romania’s European protected areas.

The photos were taken at local inspections in the Natura 2000 sites: Fagaras Mountains, Domogled – Valea Cernei, Nordul Gorjului de Vest, Semenic – Cheile Carasului and Retezat. They document the progressive destruction of ecologically extremely valuable primary and old growth forests.
The documentation also shows pictures of intact natural forests that illustrate the extraordinary biodiversity and beauty of these forest areas.

More than 300,000 hectares of potential primary and old growth forests are located in the designated Natura 2000 areas. This corresponds to 5% of Romania’s forests. The majority of this outstanding natural heritage is not safe from logging, despite the theoretical protection provided by the EU Nature Directives. EuroNatur, Client Earth and Agent Green have therefore urged the EU to ensure that Romania complies with EU legislation.

Romanian environmental minister Alexe Costel, however, does not seem to appreciate the topic of Natura 2000 and forest protection in Romania very much. According to a post on his Facebook page, he spoke on April 22. 2020, the day of the submission of the EU complaint, to the EU environmental commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius via video. But the EU complaint and the ongoing infringement procedure apparently were not addressed there – at least the Natura 2000 topic is not mentioned in the posting.
Instead, the minister praises himself for improvements to the SUMAL forestry monitoring system. Sure, making SUMAL fit for puropose is a positive thing (after the previous government partially has obstructed it). But as SUMAL is monitoring and tracking legality of wood harvesting is does not solve the problem of all those permissions for logging of primary and old growth forests in national parks and Natura 2000 sites.

The EU has initiated infringement proceedings against the Romanian government precisely because there is clear evidence of tremendous ecological damage to forests (in very good conservation status) in Natura 2000 protedted sites caused by planned cuttings. No serious environmental / appropriate impact assessments have been carried out prior to the felling permissions. As a consequence, Natura 2000 protected habitats and species have been significantly deteriorated from logging. It is therefore evident that EU legislation in the Romanian forestry sector is not being properly implemented on a large scale.

The video conference with the EU Environment Commissioner therefore appears to be a targeted PR stunt to divert attention from the uncomfortable Natura 2000 topic. However, it can be doubted that such tactics work. The EU Commission will probably not be impressed by media distractions …

You can download the file here (click on the image):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video reportage about the fate of primary and old growth forests in Natura 2000 sites:

Romania: New inventory reveals huge and threatened natural forest treasure

EuroNatur and Agent Green: Europe needs to do its homework and halt forest destruction in Romania

While Europe is shocked about the forest destruction in the Amazon, central Europe’s largest natural forests in Romania are vanishing due to logging. EuroNatur Foundation submitted a comprehensive inventory of the valuable forest stocks of Romania: PRIMOFARO (PRIMary and Old growth Forest Areas of Romania). 

The results are promising – and concerning: Romania still host more than 525.000 hectares of potential old growth and virgin forests, more than any other EU member state (outside Scandinavia). But the analysis also reveals that forest destruction moves ahead quickly.

At least on paper, two thirds – more than 330.000 hectares – of Romania’s natural and virgin forests are protected, because they are already part of the EU Natura 2000 network (which includes all national parks). But most of these forests lack any effective protection. Only 6 per cent of these forests have been listed with the Romanian „National Catalogue of Virgin Forests“so far. This programme grants protection only to those forests that comply with the strictest virgin forest criteria. Other natural forests are left without any protection. As a consequence, logging in Natura 2000 sites and national parks is omnipresent.

PRIMOFARO also shows that almost 50 percent of Romania’s virgin forests, which were identified in 2005 as part of a comprehensive inventory of virgin forests, are degraded or destroyed already.

„We intentionally looked beyond the narrow scope of ‚virgin forests’ and tried to identify high biological and climate value forests in Romania. Around 8 percent of Romania’s forests are still potentially in a very natural status. They are somehow the European equivalent of the Amazon forest. Thus they all deserve special protection,“ PRIMOFARO co-author Matthias Schickhofer underlines.

„Europe needs to act together to preserve the outstanding natural heritage of Romania. We expect that Romania respects international law and fully comply with Natura 2000 legislation: Natura 2000 protected natural forests on state property have to be protected by the governmental action immediately. Financial compensation, which must also be supported by the EU, is indispensable for private natural and virgin forest areas,“ Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director of EuroNatur Foundation says.

While the Romanian government kept conservationists busy with a bureaucratic burdens in conjunction with the ‚Virgin Forests Catalogue‘, 10.000s of hectares of natural forests in Natura 2000 sites and national parks were destroyed. EU legislation obliges us to protect all forests in good conservation status, not just a few virgin forest museums,“ Gabriel Paun, president of Agent Green explains.

EuroNatur Foundation and Agent Green call on the European Union and on Romania to take urgent action to save this „European equivalent of the Amazon natural forest“ and to ensure that Natura 2000 legislation is enforced in Romania. It was only on 10 September 2019 that EuroNatur, Agent Green and Client Earth submitted an EU complaint about systematic violations of EU forestry legislation by the Romanian state.

Background information

Link to the study: PRIMOFARO REPORT

The main results of the PRIMOFARO inventory:
– The analysis constitutes the biggest cluster of potential close-to-nature (old-growth and primary) forest in an EU country outside Scandinavia: 525,632 hectares of untouched or semi-natural forests, home to many strictly protected species.
– 332,844 hectares (63%) are located within Natura 2000 sites, 81,716 hectares of which are additionally protected as national parks. Even in these protected areas, natural forests are not safe from deforestation.
– However, only 116,589 hectares (or 55 percent) of the 2005 so called Pin Matra inventory still appear to be in an intact status.

Methodology of PRIMOFARO:
The PRIMOFARO digital map is based upon detailed visual analyses of satellite images, applying science based criteria to distinguish between natural forest stands and production forest. The analyses was calibrated by use of images of example areas and during several field visits (over the course of more than 2 years) and by data provision from partnering primary forest research projects (REMOTE project led by University of Prague and a forest mapping project led by Forsthochschule Rottenburg, financed by Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt).

The findings were validated during several field trips and by an evaluation of PRIMOFARO digital maps against historical CORONA satellite images. CORONA are espionage images created by the US Army in the 1960ties. Only 2% of the initial data sets showed signs of logging in the 1960ties (roads logging areas). These polygons were excluded from the PRIMOFARO digital map.

So far, the Romanian forest protection program („Virgin Forest Catalogue“) almost exclusively is focused at protection of „virgin forests“, which are defined by rather strict identification criteria, laid down in Ministerial Orders. These criteria have been applied in a very restrictive way and the registration process is scandalously slow.,

This leds to exclusion of numerous natural and virgin and even many virgin forests of international importance are still unprotected and acutely threatened by logging.. As a result, a large number of primary forests with international significance are not protected and are under threat of logging.

In addition, the EU Nature Directives do not restrict conservation obligations to „virgin“ forests only. The Habitats and the Birds Directives bind EU member states of ensure avoidance of deterioration and degradation of habitats in good conservation status. Romania widely fails or implements this EU legislation.
Primary forests and old growth forests

The PRIMOFARO inventory identifies potential “primary forests” (according to the Romanian definition), but also „old growth forests“ which were probably influenced by humans in a very extensive way or long time ago. Both, old growth and primary forests harbor rich biodiversity (like: hermit beetles, alpine longhorn beetles, bats, woodpeckers, owls, capercaillies, bears, lynxes, etc.) and capture large amounts of carbon.

Use of historical declassified satellite images (US Army, CORONA, 1060-ties) to validate the PRIMOFARO digital map.
Fagaras Mountains region – the biggest cluster of (potential) old growth and primary forests in Romania.
Many important primary forests in Romania still lack any protection. Like the wild valley of Boia Mica – one of Europe’s most outstanding wild wonders.

Romanian Transport Minister wants to override nature protection legislation in favour of roads and profit

Agent Green: Unacceptable attack on EU directives and Romanian natural heritage – during Romania’s EU-presidency

The Romanian government wants to water down national legislation in order to put profits, road-construction or resource exploitation above the conservation objectives of  protected areas such as Natura 2000 sites and national parks.

Agent Green has submitted a formal statement to the Transport Ministry which includes profound critique of this retrograde and unlawful attempt to override nature conservation legislation for profit. Today, April 1st, the deadline for amending the draft law by the Romanian government ends. The government’s legislative draft would allow road construction even in strictly protected zones within national parks and prior to the completion of any environmental impact assessment.

European legislation requires environmental impact assessments for any large plan or project (such as roads or dams) that could negatively impact the environment or human health. Furthermore, within the boundaries of EU Natura 2000 sites, appropriate assessments are mandatory in order to avoid significant deterioration or degradation of protected habitats and species. These assessments have to be based upon scientific data. Only after permission by the respective competent authorities can the plan or project begin. The new Romanian legislative proposal will allow the construction works to begin (eg.for roads) even before such environmental checks are pursued and permissions granted.

Gabriel Paun, founder of Agent Green, says the governmental initiative is “illegal and unethical”. Agent Green believes that infrastructure can be built without harming protected areas: “In the specific situations in which protected areas can not be bypassed, customized alternative solutions must be found. But modifying the law in a way to generalise the legalisation of illegal construction completely dismantles our obligations for preservation of our natural heritage. Last but not least, this is highly offensive to the public, civil society, scientists, the media and politicians who have created the current legal basis for nature conservation.“

The Romanian Minister of Transport Răzvan Cuc recently launched an attack against the basis of the nature conservation laws – as  quoted in Romanian media: “NGOs should go to other states to fight with teeth and to let us in Romania alone to make highways properly. I am the Minister of Transport, I initiate emergency ordinances that I think are appropriate to help with the implementation of the projects, to discuss with my other colleagues in the cabinet, we also take into account NGOs to say their point of view, but I will never block an infrastructure project in Romania no matter what power they think they have. If we want to make a highway we are always aware that we have bats, bears or frogs. We are talking about very important projects here such as Sibiu – Pitesti highway.” He said that he would never block an infrastructure project because of NGOs.

“This retrograde government initiative aims to dismantle EU nature protection legislation and comes in the middle of Romania’s EU presidency. This is unacceptable. The protected natural areas and the biodiversity they host represent a huge national heritage that can be underpin sustainable economic development based on ecological tourism,“ Gabriel Paun explains.

Destructive road construction in a Romanian Natura 2000 site

Here you can read a translation of the statement by Agent Green:

Regarding the Government Project for amending and the Law no. 255/2010 regarding the expropriation for public utility cause, necessary to achieve objectives of national, county and local interest, we send the following comments:

The modification of the law no. 255/2010, of article 24, is illegal and unethical.

Construction permits cannot be issued without proper documentation and therefore without legal permits. The technical and economic permits corresponding to each project phase – from technical expertise and feasibility study to execution details must be prepared and approved prior to the start of the construction and execution of the project. The modification proposed by the Government contradicts not only the legal provisions regarding the construction legislation, but also the European Directives for Habitats and Birds. The proposal has no logic. How is it possible to start a construction site/project and ask for permits after the construction is done? This is without any logic.

Also, we consider unacceptable the proposed modifications of the law 292, from 2018, regarding the environmental impact of public and private infrastructure projects.
It is not possible for transport infrastructure to be exempted from environmental impact assessment since it is known and proven that infrastructure construction works generate a significant impact on the environment. How is it possible that all of Romania’s finished infrastructure projects have been evaluated also for the enviromental impact (before the construction started) and now the government requests the cancellation of this official environmental approval phase?

With these legislative modifications, Romania risks disastrous effects on the environment and an excessive anthropogenic impact. Also, we consider that the modifications are inconsistent and break the European directives reaffirming the need for the environmental impact assessment 2011/92 / EU and 2014/52 / EU.

Also we consider unacceptable the changes of environmental protection through Government Emergency Ordinance (GEO) 195/2005. If the new paragraph 17 is approved, the project infrastructure engineer can change the route of the highway/national road at any time without being forced to apply and receive the necessary environmental approval. These modifications can drastically change the permit conditions without any analysis of the construction project. It is impossible to assess the overall impact of the project on the environment and its modifications.

We also consider unacceptable the proposed changes of GEO 57/2007. These modifications breach protected area legislation, both nationally and at the European level – inside nature protected areas the priority is nature conservation, with the exception of national security and health issues.

All modifications imply that priority should change from conservation to enforcing construction projects inside protected areas.

We strongly oppose the approval of construction sites inside protected areas and buffer areas inside National and Natural Parks. Romania has vouched in front of international institutions to protect and preserve these areas according to international, European and national legislation. These modifications are breaching two European Directives on nature conservation – 79/409 / EEC and 92/43 / EEC.

With disappointment and regret we consider that all these modifications clearly demonstrate that the Romanian Government lacks vision, holds total disregard towards environmental principles and shows that the mentality of Romanian government officials in general is an obsolete one, according to which protected areas represent a break from development.

Agent Green believes that Romanian infrastructure network can develop without harming protected areas. Of course for specific and prompt situations, customised alternative solutions must be negotiated and found according to the legislation.

But we position ourselves against the modification of the law by officials who plead for generalisation, when isolated problems can be solved promptly using already existing legislation.

These modifications offend the public, the civil society, the scientists, the media and the politicians who have created the current legal basis for nature conservation and now see that all their work is thrown away.

Protected natural areas and the rich biodiversity they support represent a huge national heritage that should be the foundation of a sustainable development of Romania based on ecological tourism alongside infrastructure.

I ask you to consider the observations and criticisms we bring to these modifications and to make the right decision.

Regards,
Gabriel Paun,
Chairman Agent Green

 

The planned motorway Pitesti – Sibiu could negatively impact the Natura 2000 protected old growth forests in Olt valley