Tag Archives: European Commission

Romania: The government’s own monitoring website reveals “live” the ongoing destruction of protected forests

“Habitat tree funeral” – EuroNatur / Agent Green: EU must speed up infringement procedure to avoid further destruction of Natura 2000 sites.

Members of the European Parliament  urge EU Commission to ensure overhaul of logging permissions in Romanian Natura 2000 sites.

Experts from EuroNatur Foundation and Agent Green have conducted thorough checks of the Romanian government’s own Forest Inspector website (“Inspectorul Pădurii”) and have unveiled some extremely disturbing findings. The ‘control’ images of trucks hauling trees from Romania’s forests (which have to be uploaded by the truck drivers themselves) reveal the scandalous extent of the continued destruction of outstandingly precious forests in Natura 2000 areas. The images show hundreds of giant and centuries old methuselah trees, cut down in protected areas and loaded on trucks every single day. This digital ‘habitat tree funeral’ provides realtime “live” reporting of one of the biggest nature destruction scandals in the EU.

As not all truck transports on the website are illustrated with photographs and illegal logging transports have no entry on the Forest Inspector website at all, the tragedy in the vanishing natural forests of Romania is most likely even bigger.

These images give objective and independent proof of the scandal of ongoing logging in high biodiversity value forests in Romanian Natura 2000 sites, national parks and other protected areas.

The sheer volume of cut down habitat trees on the website is overwhelming.

“The fact that these images (see below; comment) are being uploaded and published on an official governmental web server in 24/7 rolling coverage, without the relevant politicians and authorities taking any immediate action to protect these forests, is really mind-boggling. The government and authorities are obviously aware of these images illustrating the progressive destruction of many of Europe’s most valuable forest habitats. This is a tragedy and its utterly unacceptable. The European Commission must speed up with the infringement procedure in order to contain the destruction of many of EU’s last intact old growth and primary forests now“, Annette Spangenberg, Head of Conservation at EuroNatur Foundation says.

Images gallery 1: Domogled-Valea Cernei Natura 2000 site/ national park

Images of logging trucks loaded with (old growth habitat) trees from natural forest stands in Domogled -Valea Cernei national park / Natura 2000 site (images downloaded all on March 25, 2021). The images have been taken and uploaded by logging operators.

These images are just a tiny percentage of the screen shots from the Forest Inspector website taken within the last couple of weeks.

The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against the Romanian state in February 2020 due to violations of EU law including the illegal logging in Natura 2000 protected forests. Since the EU Commission published a clear and critical “reasoned statement” in July 2020, the process has not yielded any outcome that has stopped this destruction from continuing.

In the meantime, indications have emerged that Romania is apparently trying to stall the procedure with the promise of a some adjustments of national laws to EU legislation. These legislative changes would not have any impact on already approved 10-years logging plans. So the deliberate destruction of EU protected forests – before the eyes of the public – would continue.

“If the EU Commission accepts that Romania is only obliged to improve EU compliance of some laws but not be urged to overhaul all existing logging permissions concerning natural forests in Natura 2000 sites, that would be a serious setback for the entire EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, the Green Deal and the implementation of Natura 2000 throughout the EU”, Annette Spangenberg adds.

Members of EU Parliament urge European Commission to ensure logging of natural forests in Natura 2000 is halted

This opinion was also expressed recently in a letter by several Members of the European Parliament to the European Commission: “If the infringement proceedings were closed without ensuring that the current logging impact on primary and old-growth forest in Romania is significantly reduced it would also seriously hamper the Green Deal and the EU’s embedded Biodiversity Strategy 2030. It would also be completely contradictory if on the one hand the European Commission is willing to invest into planting 3 billion trees in the EU while on the other hand the massive felling of old-growth forests is accepted.”

The MEPs Martin Häusling, Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg, Thomas Waitz, Sarah Wiener and Michal Wiezik conclude: “We call for the necessary suspension and complete overhaul of all forest management plans and logging licenses affecting Natura 2000 sites and primary/old-growth forests and finding a solution to compensate owners accordingly. Romania’s primary and old growth forests need to be preserved according to the objectives of the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and the EU Green Deal.“

Images gallery 2: Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site

Images of logging trucks loaded with (old growth habitat) trees from natural forest stands in Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site (images downloaded all on March 25, 2021). The images have been taken and uploaded by logging operators. 

Images gallery 3: Frumoasa Natura 2000 site

Images of logging trucks loaded with (old growth habitat) trees from natural forest stands in Frumoasa Natura 2000 site (images downloaded all on March 25, 2021). The images have been taken and uploaded by logging operators. 

Romania: Protection of some primary forests announced – shortly before national elections

After years of bureaucratic burdens some iconic primary forest – such as Boia Mica valley in Fagaras Mountains – are finally protected. However, studies about 13.000 ha of precious forest are still blocked by the government – and hundreds of thousands of hectares of high nature value forests are still under threat from destructive logging …

The Romanian Ministry for the Environment recently announced a new version of the „National Catalog of Virgin Forests“ on its website. The new version now includes 43.823,36 ha of forests. The „Catalogue“ has been growing by 14.000 ha since the year 2019. This includes 9.500 ha of forests, which were protected strictly already before as UNESCO World Heritage site component parts. Thus, the real enlargement of strictly protected primary forest area in Romania melts down to 4.500 ha.

The environmental organisations EuroNatur Foundation and Agent Green welcome this „long overdue“ last minute step by the government, two weeks ahead of the national elections. Nevertheless, the conservation organizations make clear that 43.000 ha is far below the real number of primary and old-growth forest in Romania. Thus, they conclude that this instrument has obviously failed largely.

Among the newly inscribed primary forest areas there is also the outstanding natural heritage of Boia Mica valley in the Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site. This pathless, steep valley harbors 960 ha of untouched primary forest. Boia Mica is one of the wildest and most pristine mountain forests of the EU. However, Romanian forest experts, in partnership with the German Forest University HFR Rottenburg, had been burdeend by a years long bureaucratic back and forth driven forward by provincial forest authorities and the „Technical Commission“ in the Forest Ministry. Luckily, Boia Mica was now finally accepted without further complications.

At the same time, logging of primary and old-growth forests in national parks and UNESCO sites (buffer zones) as well as Natura 2000 sites all over Romania continues at a catastrophic level and without any counter action by the Romanian government.

On November 16, Agent Green succeeded at the Appellation Court in Bucharest in suspending forest management plans in parts of Domogled -Valea national park (and Natura 2000 site) and a neighboring Natura 2000 site. Agent Green has filed a lawsuit against logging pursued by state forestry Romsilva. The court confirmed that the forest management plans are finally suspended. So, logging in state forests in the area concerned is stopped. Conservationists now hope that the precious beech forests – especially in wild upper Cerna valley – will be included in non intervention management zones.

However, despite the High Court decision and the currently running EU infringement procedure against the Romanian state, Romsilva managers started to auction logging permits in 32 plots in the south-western section of Domogled National Park, where logging plans have not been suspended.

EuroNatur and Agent Green call on the EU Commission not to be lulled by this minimal expansion of the “Virgin Forest Catalog”. Clear cuts in protected, natural coniferous forests and the multi-phase clearing of the biodiversity-rich mixed beech forests is continuing unabated. The ‚Catalog‘ currently does not even protect 10% of the 500.000 ha of natural forests that identified in the Primofaro study.  

Especially with the new EU Biodiversity Strategy – adopted unanimously by the EU environmental ministers including Romania – requesting the strict protection of all primary and old-growth forests in the EU, Romania has to make sure that these forests are safe from logging.

Fantastic Boia Mica Valley in Fagaras Natura 2000: after years of struggle with bureaucracy, the valley is finally included in the “National Catalog of Virgin Forests”.
Boia Mica is (hopefully) safe now and the ancient creatures living there (numerous 400 – 500 years old beech trees) will be there for a longer while. However, in the rest of Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site forest destruction continues. It has even accelerated.
Natura 2000 areas in Romania are hot spots of forest destrcution. And it is not just large clear cuts in spruce forests that wipe out the unique wealth of primary forests. Also stepwise shelterwood cuttings ultimately lead to the complete removal of ancient habitats and all the rare creatures that have lived there undisturbed for thousands of years. Here: Logging road crossing the UNESCO protected forest “Codrii seculari de la Sinca”.

Attempted political coup in Romanian Parliament against the EU Biodiversity Strategy

In a direct attack on EU nature protection goals, a draft decision was introduced to the Romanian Parliament by the President of Chamber of Deputies, with the aim of pushing it to a vote on the next day, November 17. Luckily, this decision has been delayed. Agent Green and Greenpeace call on Deputies to reject this unprecedented attack against nature protection.

Agent Green and Greenpeace reacted immediately and drew the attention of the parliamentarians of the Chamber of Deputies that the draft decision on the EU Biodiversity Strategy would seriously endanger national security and biodiversity and would aggravate the climate crisis. The underhanded intent of this draft decision is to block the enlargement of strictly protected areas in Romania from current coverage of only 1% to the EU goal of 10% of the country’s surface and the expansion of the European network of Natura 2000 protected natural areas from 23% to 30%. These targets are to be met gradually by 2030.

The draft decision was submitted by the President of the Chamber of Deputies. It is not known who the drivers in the background are for this unprecedented attempted political coup against nature protection. In the end, the draft decision was not voted in the Chamber of Deputies immediately as planned. However, it will be sent to the internal Commission of European Affairs in two weeks time. NGOs see this as an attempt by vested industry lobby interests to derail nature protection regimes.

For conservationists, it is completely incomprehensible that this unprecedented step has been initiated in the middle of ongoing EU infringement proceedings against the Romanian government triggered by widespread and systemic non compliance of the Romanian forest sector with EU nature protection legislation.

“Deputies cannot adopt a decision that endangers the future of nature and the life of every citizen, a life that depends on a healthy natural environment. The decision submitted to the vote today is a deeply anti-European one, it deprives Romania of key financing and endangers the economic recovery. It is unprecedented in the European Union “, warned Gabriel Păun, the president of Agent Green.

Ciprian Gal, Greenpeace Romania: “We are concerned that some in the Romanian Parliament do not understand how important biodiversity is to us. However, we hope that parliamentarians will have time to google ‘biodiversity’ before voting on one of the most shameful legislative initiatives in the history of environmental protection. In addition to a lot of information that even for children can understand, they will be able to find reports, including by the United Nations, that talk about the importance of saving natural ecosystems.“

Furthermore, the EU strategy provides for an allocation of EUR 20 billion per year for biodiversity protection from various sources, including EU funds and national and private funding. Aspects related to natural capital and biodiversity should be integrated into commercial practices.

A key element of the European biodiversity strategy is to increase the Natura 2000 network to 30% of the natural ecosystems of each Member State, including Romania. The Natura 2000 network is estimated to support 104,000 direct jobs in protected area management and conservation activities and another 70,000 indirect jobs. All this is based on annual investments of EUR 6 billion for the management and restoration of the network. In the future, biodiversity needs are expected to generate up to 500,000 jobs. Nature restoration means direct and indirect jobs, which give new life to local communities.

The draft decision fundamentally attacks the new EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and the need of biodiversity protection as such and apparently lacks any understanding of the issues addressed. It states that there is a need to conduct scientific analyses, based on long term experiments and monitoring, to demonstrate in detail, that biodiversity of natural and anthropic ecosystems really contribute at the resilience of the communities.

In May 2020, when the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 was published, the European Commission announced that “it is time to reconcile with nature. Nature restoration is a central element of the EU’s recovery plan from the coronavirus pandemic, providing immediate business and investment opportunities to revive the European economy. Climate change, biodiversity loss and the spread of devastating pandemics are proof that this is necessary.”

Rich, intact biodiversity is essential for functioning of ecosystems and their services for humans – such as water storage, food provision, soil protection, slope stabilisation, oxygen production and local climate regulation.

The world is facing an escalating biodiversity crisis, as the UN Biodiversity Council revealed in 2019. Wildlife population has declined by 60% in the last 40 years.
1 billion species are at risk of extinction. The decline of biodiversity and the climate crisis are interdependent. Restoring forests, soils and wetlands and creating green spaces in cities are key to mitigating the effects of climate change by 2030.

“This proposed decision utterly undermines science and humanity’s common understanding of the critical importance nature plays in sustaining life on earth. It must be rejected”, Mr Păun says.

 

Cemetery of majestic centuries-old trees: giant chipboard factory of an Austrian company in Romania. Large companies’ hunger for timber is fueling excessive legal and illegal logging of high biodiversity value forests all across the country. Thus, the new EU nature protection goals are apparantly seen by the networks in the forest industry as a threat to their “business”. The latest attack on the EU protection goals in the Romanian Chamber of Deputies is likely to be seen as a crude statement by parts of the industry against law enforcement and improved protection goals.
Brutally built road in Fagaras Natura 2000 site, financed with EU funds. Ruthless cutting down of old forests in protected areas as a boundless El Dorado for greedy individuals, supported by the Chamber of Deputies in the Romanian Parliament?