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Large unprotected primeval forests discovered – Domogled and Valcan area

Ground truthing trip by German DBU-Foundation funded Forest Mapping Project in October 2017

A team of Romanian forest experts, partnering with a DBU (German Government foundation Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt) forest mapping project, recently visited mountainous areas in the southwestern Carpathians searching for threatened primary forest.  Analyses of fresh satellite and aerial images had given indications of the existence of large intact forest areas with logging progressing at the edges.  Unfortunately, these ancient forests are not yet protected from logging, even though they are located in the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park and with the Natura 2000 site, Nordul Gorjului de Vest.

In Romania, more virgin forest has survived than in any other EU country. It is estimated that there are still 200,000 to 300,000 hectares of largely untouched forests in the Carpathian region.  Primeval forests can now be reported to authorities and to the Romanian government for protection in its “National Catalogue of Virgin Forests” if their “primeval forest quality” is proven in expert reports.  But the necessary mapping and official procedures cost time and money.  To date, the government has not allocated budget for this critical conservation task.  Therefore, since summer 2017, the German Federal Foundation for the Environment (DBU), thanks to the efforts of Univ. Prof. Rainer Luick (University of Forestry Rottenburg), has been supporting forestry experts in their Romanian mapping work.

In October 2017, a Romanian team of researchers set out in the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park and the neighbouring Valcan Mountains in the Southern Carpathians to identify unprotected virgin forests and to prepare the necessary assessments for their conservation. The objective of the trip was to identify, map and submit forests for inclusion in Romania’s virgin forest protection system, the “National Catalogue of Virgin Forests”.

Magnificent wild forests survive in the upper catchment area of ​​the Cerna River in the Domogled National Park – Valea Cernei and along the main ridge of the nearby Valcan Mountains.  This was the identified through analyses of fresh satellite and aerial photos that the experts conducted prior to their trip. Unfortunately, logging is already gnawing at the primeval forest edges, even though these are national park and Natura 2000 areas. Logging workers are already on site, so it is clear to the experts, that these areas are under acute threat and demand immediate priority listing.

The registration of virgin forests in the catalogue follows a bizarre and complicated procedure.  Before the experts are allowed to conduct their research, they must announce their mission to the local forestry authorities. The State Forestry agency, Romsilva, also even requires offical notification prior to the commencement of research.

So the team had to spend valuable time informing the forestry authorities about their mapping intentions.  This critical research is not always received with enthusiasm by forestry authorities, even though primary forests are supposed to be protected under the Romanian Forest Code and Romanian law.  Many of the primeval forests in Romania have not yet been protected because someone, either the forest owner, steward or authority favoured them to be logged and turned into money.

Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park: Iauna Craoiva UNESCO World Heritage Site. Experts found more large primeval forests there, but outside the protection zone… Photograph: (c) Matthias Schickhofer

After the inaugural visit to the local forest directors, the forestry experts finally can depart into the wilderness.  The team first visited the Cerna Valley, in the heart of the Domogled National Park.  Autumn had come to a brilliant climax, and the mixed beech woods were painted with intense orange, red and yellow colours.  Due to the wild conditions, a strong four-wheel-drive vehicle is needed to reach upper Cerna Valley.  After several hours of bumpy driving through autumnal forest halls, the  expedition reached the upper end of the Iovan hydro reservoir and turned into the Radoteasa Valley.  To their astonishment, there they found a brand new forest road cut through the forests, allowing easy access to the untouched primeval forest valley, both for researchers and for logging trucks.

The wild forests in the area of Radoteasa, Vlasia and Carbunele valleys have never been cut. Beech forest has been growing here since the end of the last ice age, over 6000 years ago.  However, in April 2017, the local forestry authority gave permission to start logging for the first time.  Shortly afterwards, the loggers arrived and the southern slope of the Radoteasa Valley was devastated successively in the summer and autumn of 2017.  Today, large holes gape in the canopy of the beech forest.  The forest floor has been extensively eroded by logging and destroyed for the long term. Excavators have cut brutal swathes through slopes that have never before been touched by humans.

Untouched (and unprotected) parts of Radoteasa and Vlasia valleys in the middle of Domogled National Park. Romanian experts want to save the forests by submitting expert studies to the Ministry. Photograph: (c) Matthias Schickhofer
However, the experts confirmed that the northern slopes of the Radoteasa valley and the Vlasia-Carbunele mountain complex are still intact.  An estimated 600 hectares of primeval forests grow here still.  But next year more virgin forests will be opened for logging.
Since this is a national park (even if in many parts it resembles an intensive logging zone), there is a far better, and more sensible alternative to this wanton destruction: the long overdue expansion of the core zone of the park and the protection of the remaining virgin forests.  Currently, the core zone of the Domogled National Park covers less than half of the park. The majority of the park’s forests are not managed for conservation as national park areas should and are instead logged and destroyed.
The wild forests in the Radoteasa, Vlasia and Carbunele valleys should be integrated into the core zone as quickly as possible and linked to the primeval forests further up the tree line, which have already been mapped by the WWF and which are partially located in the core zone.  The area to be protected is comparatively large  at more than 600 hectares.  In comparison, the largest virgin forest in the entire Alps, the Austrian Rothwald, is around 400 hectares in size.
The next exploration area was the Valcan Mountains. Twelve years ago, there were huge, completely wild forests. The first virgin forest inventory of Romania (“Pin Matra Study”, 2005) showed that Valcan was one of the country’s most important  hotspots of pristine forests. However, in the meantime large areas were logged, although the whole mountain range is dedicated to the Natura 2000 conservation programme of the EU. But: there are still some large areas with pristine (but unprotected) beech and spruce forest in the upper sections of several valleys. Tragically, logging is proceeding also there.
The long term protection of these paradise forests is of course not just of interest to researchers.  It represents an important basis for the development of natural and wilderness tourism, an untapped potential in Romania. In the often poverty-stricken mountainous regions of the Carpathians tourism could add substantially to the local economy.  Domogled National Park has so far done little in terms of developing sustainable local economies.  Intensive logging in the supposedly protected areas has been of bigger interest.

The local population does not get any long-term benefit from the extensive logging in their community.  Logging companies and workers often come from other parts of the country, and workers are sometimes treated like commodities themselves.  As locals report again and again, they do not see the benefits from the logging of the national park, but some forest managers own luxury cars cars and large houses.

And all that is left behind by the logging is a totally devastated forest.


Pristine beech forest in Valcan mountains, not mapped and not protected yet. A project funded by DBU / Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt and coordinated by HFR Rottenburg / Germany wants to support Romania’s efforts to preserve these forests. Photograph: (c) Matthias Schickhofer


German Foundation DBU and Uni Rottenburg support virgin forest protection in Romania

Romanian expert project partners explore potential primeval forests in Romania and prepare studies for protection

At the end of July 2017, forest ecology scientists and experts from Germany and Romania trekked to several potential primary forest sites to confirm their status of naturalness and to prepare grounds for expert studies to include these forests into Romania’s “National Catalogue of Virgin Forests”. The expert team included international scientists Professor Rainer Luick (Professor for Nature Conservation and Environmental Protection) from Hochschule für Forstwirtschaft in Rottenburg (Germany) and Professor Hans D. Knapp, one of the “fathers” of the UNESCO World Heritage programme to preserve Europe’s primeval and old growth beech forests.

Accompanying the professors were Gabriel Schwaderer, executive director of EuroNatur Foundation (Germany) and Romanian forest experts Dietmar Gross, Mihail Hanzu and Ion Holban. The experts visited the pristine forests in wild Boia Mica and Curpanului valleys in the southern Fagaras Mountains, a beautiful but vanishing mixed beech-fir forest near Malaia and the untouched forest in Laitei valley in northern Fagaras.

The research trip was part of the project “Old growth Forests in Romania. Safeguarding European Biodiversity Heritage” which is funded by the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt and directed by Professor Rainer Luick (University Rottenburg) in partnership with Matthias Schickhofer (consultant, author and photographer; Austria) and Professor Iovu Biris (Romania). DBU foundation was launched by the German Government in 1990 and is one of the largest foundations of this kind in Europe today.

The aim of the project is to assist and support Romanian efforts for the conservation of primeval and old growth forests. In particular Romanian DBU-project partners will visit potential primary forest areas, liaise with owner and forest managers, conduct scientific site checks regarding naturalness and compliance with criteria as set by the Ministerial order, compile their findings in studies, following the legal requirements, and submit to local Romanian forest authorities and the Ministry for Water and Forests. All studies will be written by Romanian ecology and forest experts. As soon as they are submitted they will be published on this website.

Wild, pathless Laitei valley, Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site.

“Virgin forests” in Romania have theoretically been protected by law since 2008. In 2012, a government decision defined that all primeval forests, which had been registered by the Dutch-Romanian “Pin Matra” forest inventory in 2005 should be protected. However, in the last 10-15 years large areas of old growth and primeval forests have been logged, also in so called “Pin Matra” areas. The legal settings for forest protection have been, and still are, widely ignored. In 2016, the former Romanian government issued another Ministerial Orders (Nr. 1417/2016 and Nr. 2525/2016) which defined criteria for virgin forest identification and procedural settings for the development and submission of expert studies about “virgin and quasi-virgin forests” for the “National Catalogue of Virgin Forests”.

Several experts and organisations including WWF, Greenpeace, Agent Green submitted studies about virgin forests for the National Catalogue at end of September 2016, but only a few of these expert papers have been accepted by authorities and a Ministerial commission so far.

In order to provide information about the DBU-funded project and to make clear that the project aims to help with implementation of Romanian forest protection programs, Professor Rainer Luick sent a letter to the Minister for Water and Forests, Doina Pana on July 17th 2017, explaining the objectives of the project and asking for formal “acknowledgement and endorsement of the project by the Ministry”. A formal letter from the Ministry confirming their support for the DBU / German Government funded project would significantly help the expert project-partners – to identify themselves when getting in touch with forest authorities and owners and to build trust amongst stakeholders. Unfortunately the Ministry for Water and Forests is not willing to give that kind of support for the (Romanian) expert partners who are actually helping with the population of the Romanian “National Catalogue of Virgin Forests”…

Awesome primeval forest of Boia Mica valley in Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site. Without compensation for the owners it could be lost soon…

Despite statements from Romanian government representatives in July 2017, that logging of primeval forests in Romania has been stopped and “virgin forests” are protected, rampant destruction continues. The experts found fresh logging in primeval, high ecological value forests during the trip. Those forests are theoretically under protection by Romanian law, but logging proceeds.

The situation has gotten worse since the new government was set up in 2017. No studies for the protection of “virgin forests” have been accepted by the Ministry this year. NGOs are alarmed by the latest government actions which could lead to an erosion of forest protection laws in Romania.

In June 2017, an irritating press release from the Ministry of Water and Forests stated that the ‘Pin Matra’ inventory study from 2005 does not exist, and neither the Ministry nor authorities have it. However, the study was published in 2005, the project was executed by the Royal Dutch Society for Nature Conservation (KNNV) in co-operation with Romanian Forest Research and Management Institute (ICAS). Other project partners were the IUCN-European Office and independent European forestry experts. Data from the study is used on the website www.inspectorulpadurii.ro which is run by the Romanian Government. NGOs reacted with great alarm at the time to the bizarre ministerial announcement and called it an attempt to derail forest protection in Romania.

Despite these ridiculous setbacks, the DBU-Rottenburg project will do its utmost to help save some of Europe’s last large remnants of primeval forests. The expert teams started with field studies in June and July 2017. The project is funded for a period of two years.

Report by Prof. Rainer Luick about the DBU-mapping project.

Professor Rainer Luick (first line, right), Romanian forest expert Mihail Hanzu (middle), Romanian-German forest expert Dietmar Gross (left) in Boia Mica primary forest.
Professor Rainer Luick and Ion Holban, using a drone to examine naturalness of wild Laitei valley.

Gabriel Schwaderer, CEO of EuroNatur Foundation (left), Professor Hans D. Knapp (center) and and Octavian Anghelescu (right) in Boia Mica valley.
Breathtaking primeval forest in Curpanului valley, Fagaras mountains.
Expedition style: There are no trails in steep and wild Boia Mica and Laitei valleys.
Awesome nature scenery at the entrance to the pathless wilderness in lower Laitei valley.