Tag Archives: Natura 2000

Success: Cernișoara primary forest in Romania’s Domogled National Park finally strictly protected

After three years of protests and legal proceedings by Agent Green, the national park’s strictly protected natural forests were expanded. However, several very valuable forests are still without a protective shield …

Several important primary forests in the Cernisoara basin in the de facto unprotected buffer zone Domogled – Cerna Valley National Park and UNESCO world heritage site have now become strictly protected, three years after the Agent Green protests and after a series of investigations and trials at the supreme courts of Romania.

These forests of outstanding natural value, including most of the Radoteasa and Cărbunele valleys (except the plots degraded by aggressive logging until the date of the protest) are now listed with the new edition of the „National Catalog of Virgin Forests“.  This means that they are under a strict non intervention regime, equal to the neighboring UNESCO World Heritage site components parts and the core zone and the national park.

This success, unique in Romania comes both as a result of Agent Green’s protest in May 2018, and several lawsuits won by the organization in November 2019 against Romsilva and the Ministry of Environment at the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Cassation and Justice.

In the spectacular case of Agent Green against the Ministry of Environment and Romsilva, Baia de Aramă Forest District, the organization had suspended the cuts on an area of almost 20,000 hectares that overlap with Domogled National Park – Valea Cernei and Natura 2000 site North of Gorj West. The defendants appealed, which they lost and subsequently made an extraordinary appeal which they also lost by the final decision of the ICCJ.

In the meantime, Romsilva continued to extract secular trees from these areas until Agent Green repeatedly called on the Forest Guard to intervene. Shortly afterwards, the cuttings from Padeș, the neighboring state forest district on an area of 14,612.36 hectares, were also suspended by a decision of the Bucharest Court of Appeal (in the case of Agent Green against Romsilva and the Ministry of Environment).

Unfortunately there are still important but unprotected old growth forest patches in Ivanu, Olanu, Balmosu valleys and Cerna Sat area, adjacent to the areas which came under the shield of the „Catalogue“ recently. Also in Baile Herculane and Mehadia forest district the situation is still unsatisfying, especially in Mehedinti Mts, where only very small little „islands“ of old growth forest were included in the „Catalog“ so far. Same accounts with the UNESCO World Heritage Component Part Coronini-Bedina, which is is a very wild and beautiful area with old-growth beech forests grown on limestone.

In a „Mission Report“ (following a field trip in 2019) published in March 2021 UNESCO and IUCN called for strict protection of all old growth / primary forests in the national park: “The mission concludes that the current management of the component parts’ buffer zones does not meet the requirements of the Operational Guidelines (OG) in a satisfactory way and may have negative effects on the integrity of the transboundary property. The current forest management should seek to better support the natural processes and be based on strengthening and expanding ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems over time.“

In this report, UNESCO and IUCN urged Romania to “strictly protect all ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems that have not been included in the property, in order to foster the long-term preservation of those exceptional ecosystems; priority should be given to those located in proximity of the components visited by the mission, to enhance connectivity.“

The whole national park is also designated as a EU Natura 2000 site, where protected habitats and species must not be „significantly deteriorated“. Removal of rare pristine ecosystems like primary and old growth forests by logging undoubtedly needs to be classified as a „significant deterioration“ of the important natural heritage of the EU.

In 2021, the park’s new management plan will be done. Agent Green and its partner organisation EuroNatur Foundation call on the Romanian government to ensure that the strictly protected core zone of this unique national park area will be extended to ensure safe conservation of all intact natural ecosystems (including all high biodiversity value forest stands) and to meet international IUCN standards (of at least 75% strict protection zone).

Since the new EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, which was endorsed by all EU member states in 2020, aims to strictly protect all “primary and old-growth forests”, Romania is anyway obliged to map and protect these forests safely and comprehensively.

The enlargement of the strictly protected zone also needs to ensure that all three UNESCO World Heritage component parts sites, which are located within the boundaries of the national park, are connected to suffiently guarantee the ecological integrity. This needs to include initially degraded old growth forests as well and put them under non intervention management, as reommended by UNESCO / IUCN.

Protests against logging plans of Romsilva in Cernisoara area in 2018.
The wild Radoteasa valley in the forest district of Cernisoara was not included in the strict protection system of the national park until recently, and logging plans threatened these forests, identical to the forests of “outstanding universal value” on the adjacent UNESCO site.

 

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?