Tag Archives: infringement

Agent Green: Romanian court suspends unlawful logging permissions in Făgăraș Mountains Natura 2000 site

After a legal complaint filed by Romanian environmental NGO, Agent Green in 2019, the Romanian Supreme Court has cancelled logging permissions in more than 7,000 hectares of natural forest in Făgăraș Mountains Natura 2000.

For a number of years, Agent Green, has filed, at their own costs, many legal complaints against logging permissions issued by Ministry of Environment siting violations of national and international legal provisions, such as EU’s Nature Directives.

On November 29, 2021, the Bucharest Court of Appeal annulled the forest management plans for over 7,000 hectares of natural forest in the Avrig Forest District in Făgăraș Mountains, which are under protection by EU’s Natura 2000 legislation. The decision, though welcomed by environmentalists, may be appealed by Romsilva, Romania’s state forestry agency. The court’s decision puts the forests – where logging had been put on hold following earlier because of the complaint – under temporary protection.

“We made the preliminary complaint in 2018 and the court initiated legal action in 2019. The reason for our complaint was that the forest management plan allowed logging in two Natura 2000 sites, without any environmental and Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and because some forest parcels that were identified as potential virgin or quasi-virgin forests were destroyed and had not been classified in the appropriate category. A Ministerial Order from 2012 states that these plots must be preliminary classified in a strictly protected category until the area is studied and it is determined whether or not they are ‘virgin forests’. This did not happen and, tragically, some of these forests have already been destroyed,” Cătălina Rădulescu, the lawyer of Agent Green, explains. 

The illegal logging was detected by Agent Green investigators during earlier field visits. Forest destruction was in full operation although the area is theoretically protected by EU legislation – Natura 2000 prohibits deterioration of protected ecosystems and species that are in good conservation condition. It was found that there were no studies in place to assess whether or not the forests meet the criteria for ‘virgin forests’. 

Worryingly, the Romanian Ministry of Environment opposed the request to suspend the logging operations, arguing that the cutting of these forest parcels would not cause irreversible damage to the environment. Additionally, the Ministry called the ecological concerns “irrelevant”.

Agent Green presented evidence to the court that the approval of the forest management plan was issued in violation of laws because no environmental assessment was carried out during the development of the forest management plan. 

Only after the management plan entered into force – now shown to be illegal –  was documentation compiled that neither involved a proper strategic environmental assessment (as obligatory by EU Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive) nor an appropriate assessment (as obligatory by the EU’s Habitats Directive). Bizarrely, the Ministerial Order approved the documentation several years after the forest management plan had entered into force.

Logging operations in primary and old-growth forests in Romania’s Natura 2000 sites occurs without the legal requirement to conduct prior strategic environmental assessments or appropriate Natura 2000 assessments. This decision by the Bucharest Court of Appeal confirms that logging permissions that were granted without conducting these prior assessments are unlawful.

In 20201, the European Commission has opened an infringement procedure against Romania because of evidence of illegal logging of natural forests in Natura 2000 sites. However, the infringement proceedings have not progressed since July 2020 and forest destruction continues to spread.

This very case and evidence of ongoing destruction of primary and old-growth forest shows that the problem is not at all “solved”. Natura 2000 legislation in Romania has still major systematic enforcement problems and many of the most valuable natural forests in the EU are still being destroyed with the clear knowledge and permission of the state.

“The Supreme Court’s decision clearly shows that the Romanian government has been ignoring the EU’s mandatory legal obligations to protect primary forests and other natural habitats in good conservation status – as well as listed species and their habitats – in Natura 2000 sites. Unfortunately, even the recent legislative changes of the Romanian government do not comply with EU nature conservation requirements. On the contrary, field evidence clearly shows that the wide-spread destruction of primary and old-growth forests in Romanian EU Natura 2000 sites continues and has even increased after the European Commission launched the infringement procedure in February 2020,” Agent Green’s president Gabriel Paun underlines.

“The fact that the Ministry of Environment refused to take measures to protect these extremely valuable and EU-protected forests in the Natura 2000 site Făgăraș Mountains during the trial is unbelievable and shows that the government is not eager to improve forest protection. Therefore, we call on the European Commission to urgently continue the infringement procedure against the Romanian state and refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU,” Gabriel Paun concludes.

The link to the decision of the Appellation Court of Bucharest: http://portal.just.ro/2/SitePages/Dosar.aspx?id_dosar=200000000369607&id_inst=2

EuroNatur and Agent Green: Glasgow Declaration on Forests falls short of saving the world’s natural forests

EuroNatur and Agent Green welcome the Glasgow Declaration on Forests as an expression of will of a large number of states including some major drivers of forest destruction to improve forest protection. However, the paper remains vague, the deadline of 2030 comes far too late and signatories – including Brazil, Russia, Canada, US, UK as well as Romania – do not give any details how the implementation will be tracked and how it will be enforced.

“Although the Declaration indicates a potential change in attitude of forest destroyers, it falls short and comes years too late. We cannot wait another ten years for forest destruction to be stopped, an immediate change is needed. Logging needs to end as much in the EU as it does in the Amazon. In many European countries, to a large extent, natural forests have been degraded and converted into plantations of low ecological value over the past centuries. Still, the few remains of natural forests are largely not spared from destructive logging, in particular in countries like Romania or Sweden. It is of utmost importance that the ongoing massive devastation of natural and old-growth forests is being stopped within the next few years. If loggers will get ten more years to operate, a large propoprtion of the EU’s high biodiversity value forests outside strictly protected areas will most likely be gone – a disaster for both climate and biodiversity,“ says Annette Spangenberg, Head of Nature Conservation at EuroNatur Foundation. 

“The implementation of the Declaration will be key. Similar declarations on voluntary action to protect forests in the past failed greatly. This new declaration comes after the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests which included the commitment of governments to cut forest loss by half until 2020. Unfortunately, the rate of natural forest loss and destruction has dramatically increased in recent years. Our forests need urgent and bold conservation action now – and a change in forest management from greedy clearcutting to close to nature management. Furthermore, EU needs to ban burning of forest biomass from its list of sustainable and renewable energy sources. Emitting woodborne CO2 into the atmosphere is adding massively to climate heating and is not at all ‘climate neutral’ or ‘zero emission’,“ says Gabriel Paun, President of the Romanian environmental NGO Agent Green.

The Glasgow Declaration focuses on deforestation, which means the permanent loss of forests, e.g. caused by converting land for agricultural use. At the same time, the paper, and thus the signing states, remain largely silent on the devastating impact of ongoing logging of natural forests all over the world. It is using the often misused term of “sustainable forest management” without defining the exact meaning. This however would be important as, technically, even the giant clear-cut areas in Sweden are still counted as “forest” in the official registries and clear-cut forest management is being praised as “sustainable”. Logging of ecologically mature forests results in deterioration of forest biodiversity and carbon storage, similar to deforestation and permanent forest loss.

Very likely, the EU’s forest industry is not going to lose any sleep over the Glasgow Declaration, which will most likely also not lead to an end to clear-cuts in old-growth forests in Romania, Sweden, Estonia, the US or Canada – where those forests are increasingly being logged as the biomass and pellet industry is spreading its business.

EuroNatur and Agent Green call on the European Commission and the EU member states to ensure that the degradation and destruction of natural forests in the European Union by logging is stopped immediately. Strict protection of all old growth and primary forests is also stipulated in the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030. However, many of the EU member states such as Romania, Finland, Poland or Sweden continue to log natural forests on their territories – also in state-owned forests. This must be ended immediately. Signing nice-worded papers while at the same time actively pursuing the destruction of nature is hypocritical and unacceptable.

EuroNatur and Agent Green also call on the European Commission to accelerate the EU infringement procedure against the Romanian State to ensure that the destruction of EU Natura 2000 protected natural forests is stopped before it is too late for many precious forests and that the Glasgow Declaration on Forests does not wait another minute to be implemented.

Logs from mature forests are waiting to be burned in a biomass power plant in Austria.

 

 

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.