Tag Archives: logging

UNESCO World Heritage Center expresses „utmost concern“ about Romania’s World Natural Heritage property components

Agent Green and EuroNatur Foundation: Romania must respect international nature conservation requirements and abandon logging in all UNESCO and national park buffer zones!

At the its 44th session in August 2021, the World Heritage Committee examined the state of conservation of the transnational World Heritage property, protecting Europe’s „Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests“ and found little reason to be cheerful when it comes to logging activities in the buffer zones of Romania’s World Heritage components. In a document transmitted to the State Parties of the World Heritage property, UNESCO expressed „utmost concern that the current management of the Romanian components’ buffer zones does not meet the requirements of the Operational Guidelines and may have negative effects on the integrity of the property.“

The World Heritage Center, the world’s supreme culture and nature conservation body, urges Romania (as well as Albania) to implement all recommendations, issued earlier this year by a joint UNESCO and IUCN field mission, including a call to „strengthen the integrity of the property by minimizing the use of forestry interventions“.

Logging activities in buffer zones of Romanian components of the transnational UNESCO World Heritage property „Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe“ have been raising severe concerns by UNESCO, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and NGOs since several years.

However, field visits by IUCN and UNESCO and urgent calls by the World Heritage Center on Romania to stop logging threats to the World Heritage property did not yet result in any positive response by the Romanian state and its competent authorities: Logging operations in high biodiversity value (beech) forests have not been stopped by the Romanian Government or any change to the current management plans of the protected areas concerned has been implemented. For instance, logging in the buffer zone of the already heavily wounded Domogled – Valea Cernei national park is being driven forward.

Already back in 2020, IUCN expressed „significant concern“ about the situation of components of the serial World Heritage Property in Romania: „Logging in buffer zones in Romania and previous logging activities in the buffer zones of, and also within, the Slovak components remain a high threat until all these areas are protected from logging, both formally and in practice.“

In detail, the World Heritage Centre requests the States Party Romania to implement the following mission recommendations: 


– Conduct on-the-ground assessments in the buffer zones and component parts where impactful forestry interventions such as clear-cuts and shelterwood cutting have been permitted, to ascertain the extent to which the effective protection of the respective components might be compromised and the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) negatively affected, 


– Enhance the connective and protective functions of the buffer zones and strengthen the integrity of the property by minimizing the use of forestry interventions; 
- Ensure that any interventions avoid interference with the natural processes of the beech forest ecosystem taking into account the natural expansion of their surface and to strengthen their resilience, 


– Support undisturbed natural processes in all components and their buffer zones through natural regeneration, pro-forestation, aging of forest stands beyond conventional rotation ages, and to not take any decision that may affect the dynamics of such processes after external natural or anthropogenic events, such as fire, within or near the property’s components. 


UNESCO also notes „with utmost concern that the current management of the Romanian components’ buffer zones does not meet the requirements of the Operational Guidelines and may have negative effects on the integrity of the property, urges the State Party of Romania to fulfil its intention to limit interventions in buffer zones and approve new dedicated World Heritage national legislation aimed at safeguarding the OUV of the property“. 


Furthermore, UNESCO states „with concern the potential widening and paving of a forest track crossing the property and its bufferzone (national road66A) as well as potential future activities related to hydropower facilities in the buffer zone in Domogled Nationalpark in Romania, and thus also urges the State Party of Romania to abandon plans to upgrade the national road 66A inside and/or nearby the property, due to the potential impact of this project on the property’s integrity and its Outstanding Universal Value“.

For Agent Green and EuroNatur Foundation this clear wording by UNESCO proves, that Romania so far does not comply with UNESCO and IUCN rules and guidelines and that logging in in natural forests in Romania’s World Heritage property buffer zones has to be stopped immediately. The Romanian Ministry for the Environment must respect and implement by law the UNESCO and IUCN principles and criteria for World Heritage properties and national parks, as defined by both UNESCO and IUCN.

The NGO’s also criticize the role of Romanian state forest enterprise Romsilva, which is in charge of the management of almost all Romanian national parks – mainly advocating wood exploitation interests: “Romsilva is obviously rather a logging entity with no nature conservation skills and will. Its urgent removal from the equation is the first step my country must take to ensure further deliberate degradation of the UNESCO ancient and primeval beech forests” says Gabriel Paun, president of Romanian environmental NGO, Agent Green.

 

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. 

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.