Tag Archives: forests

EuroNatur: New EU Forest Strategy must promote biodiversity and ecosystem functions – not intensified logging

The world is facing an interconnected climate and ecosystem crisis. Natural forests play a crucial role for both climate change mitigation and preservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Therefore, they must  be better protected and the biological diversity of forests restored – also in Europe. EuroNatur Foundation submitted the following feedback to the EU Commission’s Roadmap for a new forest strategy:

Europe’s forests have been affected by climate crisis born drought, storms, wild fires and insect calamities in the past years. These impacts of climate heating now combine with the failures of past forest management, which is primarily based on maximized exploitation of wood resources resulting in large scale clear-cutting, even aged wood plantations (often comprised of one or two fast growing trees species), harvesting with high-impact heavy machinery, drainage of swampy stands and/or the complete removal of critically important old and dead trees.

The latest “State of Nature” report paints a bleak picture of Europe’s forests. Only 15% of forests in the Natura 2000 network are in a favourable status. Less than a third of forests are of uneven aged and 30% are monocultures with only one tree species. Only 5% have five or more tree species. The increase of exploitation, especially for energy production, leads to a further loss of threatened species due to clear-cutting and destruction of habitats, including the loss of dead wood and old trees and reduces the potential for carbon sequestration.

At the same time, the rather small remains of intact natural forests are shrinking, especially in the Carpathians and in Scandinavia.

Forests play a multifunctional role for life on earth and for human society. Therefore, the Forest Strategy needs to go beyond the promotion of the traditional wood extraction-based economy and shift its focus to better consider promoting ecological functions and sustainable flows of goods and services.

In contrast to other regions of the world that are mainly oriented towards aggressive wood extraction and overuse, Europe has a tradition of sustainable forest management when it comes to reforestation and forest planning.

However, sustainable forest management is more than growing at least as many trees as harvested before and needs to ensure durable ecological functioning of forest ecosystems as a key priority. Even-aged monocultures or clearcutting methods cannot not be considered as “sustainable” from an ecological point of view and need to be prohibited in times of emerging climate and nature crisis.

These counterproductive management practices should not be repeated with future efforts regarding afforestation and tree planting, which should be governed by clear and strict ecological criteria. Natural regeneration needs to be considered wherever possible including allowing development of pioneer forests.

We appreciate that the EU Forest Strategy will “foresee measures to avoid or correct unsustainable practices” and seek the “right balance and synergies” between ecological functions and socio-economic interests related to forests.

It is important, that the new Forest Strategy is kept consistent and mutually supports the Biodiversity Strategy and the Green Deal and is not turned into a “Forestry Strategy” driven forward by economic interests.

We support the improvement of “forest protection and restoration to meet the EU biodiversity and climate objectives, and de-crease the loss of forest coverage, while strictly protecting all remaining EU primary and old-growth forests”.

The key formula for the future of Europe’s forests should be: Preserve all biodiversity rich, resilient, close to nature forests – including all remaining old-growth and primary forests – and manage the production forests in a way to enrich biodiversity, maintain and strengthen ecosystem services and improve climate stability. 

Strict protection of all remaining primary and old-growth forests in the EU is crucial, also because of their important ecosystem services and their genetic pools for the re-forestation of collapsed wood plantations.

We are convinced that the EU Forest Strategy must go beyond the focus on protection of “old-growth forests” and also consider preserving previously “managed” close-to-nature forests with closed canopy, intact interior micro climate and healthy tree diversity. This is key in particular when it comes to beech and other mixed deciduous forests where a well shaded and cool interior is crucial to keep forests healthy and resilient in the face of climate crisis challenges with increased heat and extended periods of drought.

These kinds of forests could be considered under the title “climate and ecosystem protection forests” and should be either preserved without management or managed in a very cautious and close to nature way (following continuous cover forestry methods or similar to close to nature forest management principles as defined by German “Naturland” certification system), giving priority to the restoring biodiversity, durable functioning of ecological services and their role as important carbon sinks.

Owners, especially private owners of these “climate protection and ecosystem services forests” deserve fair compensation payments.

Furthermore, the habitat and species protection obligations from the Natura 2000 regime need to be respected and better enforced in the forestry sector. In numerous Natura 2000 sites (SCI, SAC, SPA) all over the EU, but in particular in countries such as Romania and Slovakia, valuable and biodiversity rich forest habitats (including old growth and primary forests) are being destroyed or significantly deteriorated by logging – either by clear cutting or by stepwise removal of entire mature stands by shelterwood cuttings. Often, appropriate assessments are not being pursued at all or done with very poor quality and lacking a scientific basement.

Without better enforcement of Natura 2000 legislation in the forest sector and strengthening the conservation aspects of Habitats and Birds directives, the EU Biodiversity Strategy will be severely undermined.

We appreciate development of new products that replace the intensive fossil-based materials and effectively contribute to a TRULY new climate neutral society, but we object any fostering of systems that lead to increased logging of intact forests and more carbon emissions from burning of wood for energy purposes.

The expansion of the wood biomass demand for energy production is a major driver of logging in intact, natural forests in the EU. Forest biomass burning is NOT climate neutral in the short to medium term (the carbon debt can last for centuries), and certainly not at scale by 2050. Emissions from burning wood are seen by the atmosphere just like emissions from fossil fuels. They are real and thus need to be considered as such on the emissions side of the greenhouse gas accounts. The decline in the EU forest sink is a shocking consequence of the increased use of forest biomass as a “renewable” energy source. Forest biomass should not be considered a “renewable” source like solar and wind and should not be eligible for subsidies.

Afforestation and tree planting can contribute to CO2 capture and sequestration, but such efforts must not open doors for a new wave of non-natural tree plantations with low biodiversity value or lead to a revival of monocultures but need to follow strict ecological criteria with clear biodiversity outcomes.

To date, most nature conservation efforts, fostering ecosystem service provision, have come from the public forest estate. Private forest owners have been largely absent in this debate and have mainly reflected their interest in developing timber based economy or even acted in opposition to the promotion of the common good aspects of the forest sector. In the future, private forest owners will have to be more actively engaged in the critical climate and biodiversity functions that forests must play, as they manage a large part of the forest area in Europe.

These solutions should strive to integrate timber production with a wider range of ecosystem services, beyond the classical wood based economy, including public-private partnerships and payment schemes for sustainable supply of ecosystem functions.

Natural forests not only safeguard biological diversity, but also offer important ecosystem functions such as the storage and supply of fresh water

Groundbreaking supreme court ruling for the protection of Romanian natural forests

Bucharest Court of Appeal decides on full public access to forest management plans; EU Commission calls for full transfer of the Natura 2000 directives into Romanian national law.

Forest management plans contain environmentally relevant information and must therefore be publicly accessible. The Court of Appeal in Bucharest has now also adopted this legal opinion. The NGO Agent Green has filed more than 100 lawsuits against forest owners and authorities in the past year to get public access to forest management plans in order to enforce the EU directive on public access to environmental information, the Aarhus Convention and the EU Nature directives in connection with the protection of ecologically valuable forests. The Court of Appeal in Bucharest has now handed down an important decision: The public has the right to access environmental information in forest management plans.

For a long time, Romanian authorities and Romsilva, Romania’s state forest administration, have kept environmentally relevant information in forest management plans secret  – contrary to the provisions of the Aarhus Convention and the EU Environmental Information Directive. Agent Green has therefore had to seek access to relevant information in numerous legal proceedings. The court of appeal in Bucharest has now found Agent Green is correct and dismissed an appeal lodged by the Ministry of the Environment. With immediate effect, the ministry is therefore obliged to make environmentally relevant information from forest management plans available to the public on request. This means that civil society can finally access information, including: the volume of wood that exists in the forest, the species of trees, the average age of the trees, what kind of logging activity is planned and the volume of wood approved for cutting in the last 10 years. This is an important step to ensure public control of compliance with EU directives and thus the protection of ecologically valuable forests.

The decision also sends a strong signal to the rest of the EU, because forest management plans are kept secret almost everywhere. The issue of inadequate access to environmental information is also essential with regard to the EU infringement proceedings against the government in Bucharest. The EU Commission could soon escalate the infringement proceedings to the Court of Justice of the EU.

At the same time, the pressure from Brussels on the Romanian government is  growing. In its latest publication on infringement proceedings, the European Commission calls on Romania to fully ensure the conservation of the country’s natural habitats and the protection of wild animals and plants in accordance with the requirements of the EU Nature Directives. The EU Commission complains that the forest management plans often do not take Natura 2000 provisions into account. The nature conservationist witnesses of Agent Green have repeatedly documented illegal logging, in particular in designated Natura 2000 sites. Romania now has two months to remedy this situation, otherwise the EU Commission threatens to issue a reasoned opinion, which could lead to legal proceedings at the Court of Justice of the EU – and potentially a harsh sentence afterwards.

Devastation of a (formerly) pristine side valley in the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park / Natura 2000 area.

 

Environmental groups pursue new legal action over destruction of Romania’s natural forests

 

Environmental organisations EuroNatur, Agent Green and ClientEarth have revealed the catastrophic scale of illegal logging of old-growth and primary forests in Romania’s Natura 2000 protected areas in a new complaint submitted to the European Commission.

The organisations have today submitted a complaint against Romanian authorities stating that the government’s lack of action to address extensive logging of primary and old growth forests within protected areas is leading to irreversible loss of unique habitats and species.

Romania hosts two-thirds of Europe’s remaining primary and old-growth forests of the temperate climate zone. These precious ecosystems, protected by European law as Natura 2000 sites, are being systematically destroyed by large-scale logging operations.

ClientEarth wildlife and habitats lawyer Ewelina Tylec-Bakalarz said: “Intensive logging, approved by the Romanian authorities and carried out by state forestry, Romsilva, has caused serious deterioration of habitats and species protected under EU Nature Directives. Logging continues to be an ongoing threat to Europe’s most unique ecosystems and a striking violation of EU law.”

The legal action follows previous complaints which led to the European Commission launching infringement proceedings against Romanian authorities over their systemic and continuous failure to protect one of Europe’s last natural forests.

Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director of EuroNatur said: “Our current complaint provides the European Commission with new evidence proving that illegal logging is causing a profound environmental crisis affecting many protected areas in Romania. We hope that it will allow the Commission to intervene sooner, because now might be our last chance to take action before damage of these unique ecosystems becomes irreversible.”

The evidence obtained by the environmental groups reveals the devastating impact of logging protected forests. In Natura 2000 sites in Făgăraș and Domogled, the majority of analysed habitats showed severe signs of deterioration. In the Natura 2000 site in Maramures the researchers have documented over 10,000 hectares of clear-cuts.
Veronica Tulpan of Agent Green said: “There are whole mountains where the forest habitat has been completely removed and all of the wildlife along with it. We need a rapid intervention from the Commission to start applying the nature directives in Romania properly.”

Tylec-Bakalarz concluded: “The situation in Romanian forests is dire, but the case taken to protect Poland’s Bialowieza Forest gives us hope. It proved how effective European law can be in safeguarding of our continent’s natural wonders.” 

Video evidence about the fate of Romania’s Natura 2000 sites

Background information:

● The PRIMOFARO inventory (Primary and Old Growth Forest Areas of Romania), an analysis of Romania’s potential primary and old growth forests commissioned by EuroNatur, reveals that forest destruction is progressing quickly.

● Romania still has more than 525,000 hectares of potential old-growth and primary forests, which is more than any other EU member state (outside Scandinavia).

● Around 300,000 hectares of the Forests identified in the Primofaro inventory of Romanian woods are listed as Natura 2000 sites. Many protected animals such as large carnivores, black stork, owls, woodpeckers, bats and beetles depend on them for survival.

● Despite efforts by Romanian civil society groups to stop illegal logging, the situation in Romania has continued to deteriorate. The official national forest inventory shows that on top of 18 million m3 of legally harvested wood, another 8.8 million m3 of forest resources were extracted annually between 2009 and 2013 and increased to 20.6 million m3 annually between 2014 and 2018.

● The campaign “SaveParadiseForests“ aims at protecting the most valuable old-growth forests of the Carpathians, particularly Romania. It is jointly coordinated and carried out by the NGOs EuroNatur (Germany) and Agent Green (Romania).

Resources:
Briefing paper on the complaint to the European Commission

Briefing paper on Natura 2000 areas: Fagaras, Maramures and Domogled

Videos for Social Media

Memes for Social Media

Relevant videos: Primary forests, Maramures, Fagaras

About EuroNatur:
EuroNatur is a nature conservation foundation based in Radolfzell, Germany. Our efforts for a Europe with free-flowing rivers, ancient forests and a rich variety of cultural landscapes are transboundary in nature; we strengthen local conservation organizations and create international networks between them. Together with our Europe-wide partner network we create solutions that allow humans to live and work in harmony with nature. Our aim is a powerful network committed to protecting our European natural heritage.

About Agent Green:
Agent Green Association is a non-profit NGO for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation founded in 2009 in Romania. Established to protect Retezat Mountains, one of the last intact forest landscapes in the temperate climate of Europe, Agent Green evolved into carrying out investigations, scientific approach, strategic cooperation and effective campaigns targeted at bringing about positive and lasting change for nature.

About ClientEarth:
ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlinand Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.

 

Large complex of forest wilderness in Ucea Mare valley in Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site © Agent Green
Giant clearcut in Ucea Mare valley in Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site ©Agent Green
Logging in a natural beech forest Domogled – Valea Cernei Natura 2000 Site and National Park © Matthias Schickhofer