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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.

Success: Romanian High Court suspends logging plans in Domogled national park

Forest management plans for Domogled – Valea Cernei national park and Natura 2000 site ignore nature conservation laws

The Romanian High Court of Cassation and Justice suspended forest management plans of forest units Cernisoara, Baia de Arama, Balmes, Ivanu and Olanu in the upper sector of Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park, which is also under protection by EU Natura 2000 legislation. The trial was initiated by Agent Green to obtain the annulment of all forest management plans within the park territory, which are in severe contradiction to provisions from mandatory nature protection legislation such as EU’s Habitats and Birds Directives.

The entire national park has been designated as a Natura 2000 site and as a UNESCO World Heritage site (including a buffer zone). However, not even 50% of the forests in the park are under effective protection and have been included in the strictly protected core zone. The rest of the forest, including highly valuable primary and old growth beech forests, is vanishing progressively due to intensive logging.

State forests enterprise Romsilva is controlling the national park management and they have been issuing logging permissions for a large number of forest parcels in the buffer zone. Even old growth and primary beech forests have been sawed down with official papers.

Euronatur foundation and Agent Green welcome the court decision as a major milestone in their campaign to save the outstanding natural forest heritage of Romania. Only recently, the EU Commission has launched infringement procedures against the Romanian state, following a complaint by EuroNatur, Client Earth and Agent Green.

“Domogled National Park can for the first time since many years breath in peace,” Gabriel Paun from Agent Green said. “It’s just the beginning! Agent Green won the High Court of Cassation and Justice trial against the Ministry of Environment and state forests Romsilva. 19369.24 hectares of Domogled National Park – Cernea Valley can no longer be reached for logging as of today. Anyone who sees a wood truck coming out of UP is asked to immediately notify the police. Transportation would be 100% illegal. Any forestry work now means a forest offense and a violation of court decisions,” Paun added. 

The forest management plans for four production units was suspended and with it, all planned cuts. Another trial to achieve anullment of the forest management plans of the production units in lower Cerna valley is still underway and the court decision is awaited.

Agent Green and Euronatur call on the Romanian government to urgently take all necessary measures to ensure that Romsilva and the operating logging companies immediately leave the Domogled National Park and all logging operations will be stopped.

In a next step, the forest management plans have to be changed in a way to fully comply with both Natura 2000 legislation and IUCN Guidelines for Category 2 protected areas, national parks. This means, that commercial forest exploitation must be ended in the whole national park and all natural (old growth and primary) forest stands need to be included in the non intervention zone of the national park.

Furthermore, the non intervention zone fragments must be connected to ensure fullfilment of globally defined IUCN guidelines for national parks. IUCN wording about national parks: “Large natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities.”

In the interpretation of the protected area management categories for Europe (EUROPARC and IUCN, 2000), the IUCN guidelines clearly state that management of the IUCN protected category II should eliminate exploitation (of natural resources), including hunting and fishing, and that this is a duty of the authorities responsible for the management of the national park.

Brutal wounds in the paradise: Destructive logging road in unprotected Radoteasa valley – in the middle of Domogled national park.
Unprotected forest wilderness in Cernisoara production unit. Logging there is suspended for the time being – and must not return.

 

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.