Tag Archives: deforestation

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 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 8percent of Romania’s forests are still 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 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 “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 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.

Romania: Biologist of Semenic National Park quits job protesting against logging

Sinculeț Teodora Alina: „During 15 years I submitted many complaints, but no action was taken. The management contract was broken on a daily basis by the park administration“…

The conflict about logging in Romania’s Semenic- Caraş Gorge National Park is intensifying. Romsilva, the state forest agency in charge of managing protected area mainly on state property, has been criticized by NGOs for intense logging in high conservation value forests and for the intention to decrease the park’s strictly protected core zone from 47.5% to 32%.

Recently, the national parks biologist, Sinculeț Teodora Alina, quit her job in protest against ongoing logging of the park’s valuable natural forests. She published a manifesto explaining her decision. Here is an excerpt:

„I decided to resign and to quit my job after almost 15 years of activity as a biologist for Semenic National Park. My decision was determined after I was put under pressure for doing my job and for fullfiling complaints when I discovered illegalities happening inside the National Park.

During my 15 years in the office I submitted complaints to almost all authorities that are in charge of control and inspection of the management of the park – to all the managers of the park, to all general managers of Romsilva, state secretaries and ministries, prosecutors, police officials, forest guard inspectors and environment investigators. No action was taken against those who broke the law.

Because of all these complaints I was threatened and received a lot of pressure from my superiors and came to the point that I felt my integrity, life and my families safety were affected.”

„I love my job and I dedicated the last 15 years to protect biodiversity“

“It was very difficult for me to resign, because I love my job and I dedicated the last 15 years to protect and preserve the biodiversity inside the park. My resignation is also a form of extreme protest to raise more attention regarding the destruction of Protected Areas and Natural Reserves, but it is also a way of protecting myself and my family against future threats.”

Aljazeera report about the tragedy of Semenic national park…

A long list of illegalities…

“It is difficult to summarise in a few pages all the illegalities that happened inside the park, but I will pinpoint the main reasons for my decision to resign.

• The national park management contract signed in 2014 between Romsilva and the Environment Ministry was broken on a daily basis by the park administration.
• The dismissal of the entire body of specialists from the Scientific Council in 2016, because the council was against logging inside the park and asked permanently for impact studies inside natural areas to be submitted.
• I was against logging inside Cheile Carasului Reserve, Unit production Comarnic, that was allowed by administration officials who forged documents and modified the reserve limits.
• I was against the logging permits issued between 2004-2018 and ravaged the old-growth forests inside Barzavita, Buhui Marghitas Cheile Carasului Reserves and inside special conservation areas inside Caraslui Gorges and Buhui.
• The park employers did not receive the proper instruction regarding field work, we did not receive proper equipment for our work and we did not receive proper training on how to prepare and fight against forests fire. Fire inside Semenic forests is a real problem.
• The park administration did not comply to Romanian legislation regarding archiving all the official administration documents (such as logging permits, fines, approvals) and the administration does not have a legal archive as the law requires.
• No fine was given and no measure was taken against the logging companies who affected the environment and polluted rivers with industrial oil and other illegal debris.
• No fine and no measure was taken against illegal logging companies and those who did illegal natural resource harvesting such as surface mining.
• No fine and no measure was taken against illegal constructions that were build inside the park limits.”

„National park manager forbade me to visit logging areas“

“In many cases the national park manager forbade me to visit areas were aggressive logging was active, especially in areas were old-growth forests were still standing. In many cases the manager of the park used the park wild video surveillance cameras for hunting purposes.

Romsilva and the management of the park opposed the Scientific Council decision taken in February 2013 that stated 48% of the Semenic National Park should be a strictly protected area – a decision that was supported also by the Romanian Academy, the Timisoara branch. Myself and two other colleagues were put under pressure from several Romsilva managers for supporting the 48% non intervention area.

I have always dreamed to work passionately in a national park administration and I have dedicated all my personal resources for this. I have endured many wrongdoings, pressure and threats from Romsilva and park officials, but I managed to find my strength to overpass all these and continued to fight to save each parcel of protected and old-growth forest, tried to save each ancient tree that was worth saving.

I got to the point when with a lot of grief I resigned from the position of biologist as a last form of protest against the destruction that happens inside Semenic, against the pressure and threats that many honest employees of the park have to endure.

I really hope that the Enviromental Minister will take things seriously, will take back control over the national parks, will decide to manage the national parks without Romsilva and finally will investigate all the wrongdoing and illegalities inside the park and will punish the ones responsible for the atrocities.“

Logging depot in Toplita valley.
NGOs start legal action against destruction of Semenic National Park

Recently, the NGOs Agent Green and Neuer Weg started legal proceedings against the Caraş Severin Environmental Protection Agency to cancel the management plan of the Semenic National Park managed by Romsilva, which intends to increase the exploitable area to 68% of the park.

The strictly protected area decreased by 5,527 ha compared to the proposal endorsed in 2013 by the Scientific Council and recommended by the Romanian Academy (Timisoara branch). The Semenic-Cheile Caraşului National Park is a tragic, yet clear example illustrating the fraudulent management of the national parks in Romania.

“Romsilva wants more exploitation within the National Park and in the absence of specialists, the Ministry of the Environment does not generally oppose this administrator who is unable to understand what a national park means and preserving biodiversity,” said Gabriel Păun, president of Agent Green.

Semenic is also a Natura 2000 site of European interest, so it is also subject to the regime of the European Nature Directives. “If the diabolical plan of Romsilva will be backed by the ministry, then we also take into consideration to call on the European Commission to launch legal procedures for severely sanctioning Romania’s foolishness. Poland tried the same thing last year in Bialowieza National Park and was stopped by an infringement procedure and the European Court of Justice,“ warns Paun.

Inspection by Romanian Senator Gotiu in Semenic National Park

Senator Mihai Gotiu (USR) visited Semenic – Caras Gorge National Park. He urged to stop the destruction of the protected area and for the removal of Romsilva from the park’s administration.

„Because I am sick of abuses and illegalities, as well as evasive answers and endless delays from the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry for Water and Forests, I have notified the Commission for the Investigation of Abuses, Petitions and Fight Against Corruption in the Senate, requesting the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry commission of all the illegalities we have documented over the last two years in the area. There is no time to wait. If the Romsilva plan to allow logging in two thirds of the national park gets approved, the Semenic National Park – Carasul Gorge will be turned into sawdust,“ Senator Gotiu said.

 

Protest action with bear in Berlin: EU environmental ministers must protect Romania’s virgin forests

Robin Wood e.V. protests against scandalous deforestation in Romanian national parks and Natura 2000 sites in front of Romanian embassy in Berlin

On Tuesday, 5th March, parallel to the meeting of the EU environment ministers in Brussels, activists of the environmental organisation Robin Wood e.V. demonstrated against the destruction of the Romanian virgin forests. Their protest took place with symbolic “logging” of an old tree in front of the Romanian embassy in Berlin.

Equipped with foresters clothes and a chainsaw, they shredded a tree trunk in front of the Romanian embassy to draw attention to the massive deforestation in Romania’s highly valuable forests. People in bear costumes were holding a banner with the following text on it: “No Loggings in Romanian National Parks”.
“The Romanian virgin forests are being illegally logged – in national parks, biosphere reserves and Natura 2000 sites – and we call on the Romanian government to take effective measures to prevent this” says Jana Ballenthien, forest expert from Robin Wood. The environmental activists used the Romanian EU presidency to draw the spotlight on Romania and illegal logging. Even in the Natura 2000 sites, which are actually protected under European law, deforestation is massively taking place in Romania. “The last virgin forests on our earth with their biodiversity and their function for a stable climate must be reliably protected – not only on other continents, also here in Europe. We call on the Romanian government to use its presidency of the European Council to put forest protection right at the top of the agenda,” says Ballenthien.
Romania’s forests biodiversity is overwhelmingly rich and the forests provide habitats for numerous endemic and threatened species. The Carpathians host most of the last virgin and natural forests in the European Union – almost untouched since the ice age. They are invaluable for climate and biodiversity. Many regions in the Romanian mountains are difficult to access and are amongst the few remaining refuges of European brown bears, lynxes and wolves.
In particular, Robin Wood calls on the Romanian government and Romsilva to establish an effective control system to prevent illegal logging in national parks and to enforce EU legislation consistently to protect designated Natura 2000 sites. EU-wide sanctions for illegalities in Natura 2000 sites must be ensured. In addition, logging and trade in illegal timber must also be effectively prevented within the European internal market.

Romania’s virgin forests need help. So please sign this petition and spread it further. Thank you!

Bears protesting for the conservatin of their forest homes (© Stephan Röhl, CC BY SA 4.0)
Activists in front of the Romanian embassy in Berlin (© Stephan Röhl, CC BY SA 4.0)