Tag Archives: Natura 2000

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?

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.