Tag Archives: Fagaras

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.

Primary forest research in Romania’s Fagaras Mountains compromised by logging

Primary forest research project REMOTE calls for urgent protection of high nature and science value forests in Romania

In late December 2018, the REMOTE project  (REsearch on MOuntain TEmperate Primary Forests) published a worrying report highlighting immediate threats to their outstanding primary forest research program in the Fagaras Mountains in the Romanian Carpathians.

The Fagaras mountains, the highest in Romania, host the “largest areas of primary forests in the entire EU“, the report explains. Scientists from the Czech Republic and Slovakia estimate a total surface of primary forest of about 10,000 hectares in the region. In addition, further extensive areas are covered by other valuable natural forests, which “connect primary forest localities into larger complexes of high naturalness“. Therefore, the Fagaras Mountains deserve “special attention and conservation“.

REMOTE project: biggest primary forest research
The REMOTE research project is one of the biggest dendrochronological primary forest research programs in the world. It is a long-term international research collaboration, led by the Department of Forest Ecology (Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences at Czech University of Life Sciences) in Prague. This comprehensive scientific research program started in 2010. The project is based on a network of permanent sample plots (defined research areas) over a large range of primary forests in nine countries in central, eastern, and southeastern Europe.

The main research goals are to conduct “spatial and temporal analyses focusing on various aspects of disturbance regimes in primary forests” and to perform “dendrochronological studies”. In other words: the scientists measure impacts of disturbances (such as wind breaks, insect outbreaks etc.) on untouched forests over a long period of time and they collect data about past tree growth based on tree rings from individual trees.
Such studies have never been undertaken on this scale and over such a large geographic range and their database is one of the largest on this topic in the world.

Primary forest research to inform sustainable forest management
The REMOTE project aims to understand natural dynamics and then help to develop sustainable forest management practices – which will produce wood, but also sustain biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Several hundreds of permanent study plots have been established and are evaluated over a long period of time. Data is collected and compared periodically during exhausting field trips into the wild and remote forests. The project delivers a better scientific understanding of change dynamics of primary forests over a long period of time. The data includes measurements of changes in forests structure, habitats of rare species and measurements of individual tree growth. The project has established a database containing thousands of individual trees.

In the Fagaras mountains, approximatley 200 research plots have been established in eleven remote valleys. The scientists have identified several primary forest areas over 1000 hectares. Such primary forest valleys no longer exist anywhere else in the temperate climate zone of the EU. They are critical habitat for many protected species – including bears, lynx, wolves, capercaillie, owls, woodpeckers and saproxylic beetles.

Gallery: REMOTE project research works in Fagaras mountains


Europe’s wildest mountain valley: Boia Mică in southern Fagaras
One of the most outstanding primary forest valleys is Boia Mică which covers 1,145 ha with an altitudinal difference of 1,670m over a distance of 7.5 km. The valley is completely pristine: there isn’t even a path. “This is probably one of the oldest forests of Romania: We measured 37 trees older than 300 years, 10 trees older than 400 years, and 1 tree older than 500 years on only 14 randomly selected study plots in Boia Mică,“ REMOTE coordinator Martin Mikoláš reports.

REMOTE project researchers found an extraordinary concentration of very old trees in Boia Mica valley – with numerous beech trees older than 400 years.
Boia Mica: No path leads into the wilderness.

High science and nature value forests under immediate logging threat

The project findings highlight the value of this unique and huge complex of primary forests. Primary forests are not only of high value for scientists and biodiversity – they also help protect the climate by storing large amounts of carbon, they are important for water cycle regulation and stabilize mountain’s slopes. Once they are destroyed, it will take hundreds of years to regenerate, in particular in high mountains.

“Primary forests and natural forests are so rare, that we need to prevent any further loss. Not only in tropics, but also in Europe,” Martin Mikoláš explains.

In the past, these wild forests were protected by default through their inaccessibility. But this is changing rapidly: forest roads and logging are moving into the valleys, even into the heart of Natura 2000 sites. Some of their first plots have been destroyed together with the surrounding forest. Forest “management“ in Fagaras mountains so far has been including very large clear cuts destroying the entire landscape along with the complete loss of high conservation value habitats. The scientists therefore urge for stricter protection.


Logging in unmapped primary spruce forest in Ucea Mare valley.

Incomplete primary forest mapping, bureaucratic obstacles and inconsistent preservation 

WWF Romania had previously pursued some mapping of primary forests in Fagaras. They identified thousands of hectares of primary forests, in particular in some northern valleys. However, the REMOTE scientists detected more primary forests which have clearly not been included in the WWF mapping. One main problem is that the criteria for identification of primary forest are extremely strict and can easily exclude important forest.

Overview Arpaselu, Arpasul, Ucea Mare and Ucisoara valleys: not all primary forest stands have not been mapped yet. White polygons: mapped by WWF, red polygons: unmapped primary forest, green dots: permanent study plots.
Primary spruce stands in Sambata valley with permanent study plots: not mapped, not protected.

WWF Romania has been developing numerous studies about primary forests in order to include them in the “National Catalogue of Virgin Forests“ for strict protection. But there are several problems connected to this official Romanian “virgin forest“ protection program: forest management plans often underestimate the average age of forest parcels. As a consequence, authorities sometimes do not accept those forests than as a “virgin forest“. The management plans also often allow cutting in parts of forest parcels. Once these cuts are done, the forest parcel is compromised and authorities do reject the inclusion of the forest as a “virgin forest“, including remaining intact stands.

Even within already mapped polygons logging occurs, because owners did not accept protection. In Belia valley for instance, a large clearcut (20 hectares) and several kilometers of new forest roads cut now through primary forests.

Furthermore, it takes a long time until the submitted forest areas are included in the “Catalogue“ due in part to year-long bureaucratic approval procedures with authorities.

At this stage – according to WWF Romania, Greenpeace Romania and Foundation Conservation Carpathia – between 3 and 5 thousand hectares in Fagaras mountains have been inscribed in the „Catalogue“ (Link). But there are additionally between 6 and 7 thousand hectares of primary and virgin forest more and they are under serious threat as long as they are not included.

Gallery: Many primary forests in Fagaras mountains have been excluded from mapping (and protection) so far. Thus, REMOTE permanent study plots are under threat…


Offense against researchers during a regular hike
In the summer of 2018, the scientists spent several weeks in the wilderness of Fagaras mountains. As they returned from a hike to primary forests they found their car (parked outside a barrier) damaged with deliberately punctured tyres.
This is worrisome to the scientists – what will come next?
Their research work is based upon official permits.

According to media and NGO reports Illegal logging seems to be present in many areas in Romania. Attracting more international tourists are a key economic perspective of many remote areas in the Carpathians. Attacks against foreigner visitors will certainly hamper this option severely.

Comprehensive protection of larger forest areas is key
The REMOTE scientists conclude that action must be taken now to halt the loss of these internationally important primary forests. They  point out that it is crucial to avoid creating a fragmented system of protected forests – surrounded by heavy logging. In order to preserve the ecological integrity of these forest habitats (and their inhabiting species) the comprehensive protection of larger, connected forest ecosystems is needed. Therefore protection should also include natural forests which do not meet the strict legal definition of “virgin forests“ in Romania to create a better connected network of non intervention areas.

Only the protection of larger forest landscapes will prevent the Fagaras mountains from ending up like other degraded forests everywhere else in Europe: isolated, fragments of natural forests disconnected by large areas with industrial forestry – including clear cuts and even aged monocultures and non natural tree crops.

This kind of degraded landscape does not preserve our natural heritage but also damages the ecosystems so far that ecosystem services will no longer be provided.

To read the full Fagaras Rreport (by Martin Mikoláš and Ondrej Kameniar), please click here.

More reading?  Report “Where are Europe’s last primary forests?”

You can help to help to protect the largest complex of primary forests within the temperate zone of the EU- the Fagaras Mountains – and other natural forests in Romania: please sign our petition and forward this story to friends!

Destroyed permanent study plot in Ucisoara valley: help to save these unique forests and the important REMOTE research work!
Ancient world of Arpasul valley: wilderness of this quality has been almost extinct in Europe. Please help to preserve it!


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.