Tag Archives: nature

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 fails to properly manage World Heritage buffer zones – UNESCO/IUCN

Report about Reactive Monitoring Mission in 2019 published only recently: Romania does “not meet” international guidelines
EuroNatur and Agent Green call on Romania to immediately remove state forestry enterprise Romsilva from all protected area management duties and adopt site management according to international UNESCO/IUCN guidelines and EU legislation.

A few days ahead of the International Day of Forests on (March 21) a “Report on the joint World Heritage Centre / IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Reactive Monitoring Mission to Albanian and Romanian component parts of the transnational World Heritage Property ‘Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other Regions of Europe’“ was made available to the public.
The mission, visiting Domogled-Valea Cernei and Cheile Nerei-Besnita National Parks/UNESCO properties, took place in November 2019.

However, the report was only just made publicly accessible. It is not clear what the reasons for this massive delay are. Could it be that the critical conclusions of the UNESCO/IUCN experts with regard to the intensive logging operations in the buffer zones of Romanian UNESCO component parts caused controversy?

The document states: “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.“

UNESCO and IUCN also urge 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.“

This mission was triggered by numerous media reports and formal complaints from EuroNatur Foundation, Agent Green and many other conservationists concerning destructive logging of old growth and primary forests in UNESCO buffer zones, even in close vicinity to the UNESCO core protected areas. Commercial wood exploitation authorized by the Romanian state in the buffer areas affects biodiversity rich and mature forests with an equal “universal value” to the beech forests included in the UNESCO site (core area).

The joint UNESCO/IUCN Mission in 2019 was preceded by an informal IUCN Europe field visit in November 2018, where intensive logging operations in highly valuable old growth beech forests in Domogled-Valea Cernei and Semenic National Parks/UNESCO site component parts, including in buffer zones, were confirmed.

On top of the EU infringement proceedings against the Romanian state (launched by the European Commission in February 2020 due to deterioration of EU protected areas by logging), the clear findings of UNESCO and the IUCN are just another indicator that protection of high biodiversity value forests in Romania is in a catastrophically bad state.

The intensive logging operations in the Romanian World Heritage buffer areas ultimately endanger the existence of the entire transnational World Heritage site for the protection of the European primeval and ancient beech forests, which consists of 67 component parts in 12 countries …

EuroNatur Foundation and environmental organisation Agent Green interpret the findings of the report as “crystal clear evidence” that Romanian state forestry enterprise, Romsilva – the agency in charge of both logging in Romania and management of almost all Romanian national and nature parks – is “not capable” of managing protected areas for conservation of highly valuable ecosystems appropriately. The long record of controversies and the poor state of many protected areas under custody of Romsilva shows that the company is “obviously driven by commercial interests and fundamentally lacks ambition and expertise regarding nature conservation”.

Therefore, Romsilva needs to be immediately removed from all duties for protected area management. Management of Romania’s protected areas should be taken over by official national bodies (such as National Agency for Protected Areas) and equipped with adequate funding to ensure conservation objectives are met. Logging in buffer zones on state property needs to be halted until new management plans  in line with UNESCO/IUCN guidelines are developed. Management plans of all UNESCO World Natural Heritage properties, as well as national parks need to be revised following the recommendations by the UNESCO/IUCN report.

“The World is celebrating the International Day of the Forests on March 21. Romania’s outstanding natural forest heritage is one of the most valuable ecological treasures of Europe. Romania must act accordingly and stop logging primary and old growth forests. And the EU needs support Romania with adequate means for compensation of private land owners,” EuroNatur and Agent Green conclude.

In detail, the final report by World Heritage Centre and IUCN concludes with the following recommendations:

    • Define a forest management regime specific to the buffer zones that would be in keeping with the aim to ensure consistency and coordination across all buffer zones within the property, and that would promote the natural and unimpeded, progressive aging of the beech forest ecosystems present in the buffer zones. This regime should ensure an ecological transition between the component parts and the surrounding forest ecosystems of high ecological value, including those located in the buffer zones and, in case of Romania, the virgin and quasi-virgin forests listed in the ‘National Catalogue of Virgin Forests’.
    • This regime should prioritize natural processes and be based on ‘pro-forestation’ efforts and clear guidelines on appropriate intervention activities and limits, in the sense of Decision 43 COM 7B.13 of the World Heritage Committee (remark: “ensure appropriate buffer zone management in order to support undisturbed natural processes”)
    • It could include the establishment of a functional network of ‘aging’ and ‘senescence’ patches of forest, in the buffer zones, aiming to contribute to strengthening and extending the ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems, and supporting the natural processes leading to their conservation and naturalness over time:
      • “pro-forestation” efforts should be interpreted as all forest management activities seeking to promote natural tree reproduction and development;
      • “aging patches”should be interpreted as forest areas managed in such a way as leaving the trees growing beyond their usual rotation age, up to twice this duration (200-240 years in case of Romania);
      • “senescence patches” should be interpreted as forest areas deliberately abandoned to a spontaneous evolution of natural processes, until the complete collapse of the trees and resumption of the silvigenetic cycle (forest cycle);

UNESCO/IUCN also call on the Romanian State Party, to “combat and prosecute any illegal logging activities in the two national parks“, “abandon plans to upgrade the national road 66A, due to the potential impact of this project on the property’s integrity” and “inform the World heritage Centre of any proposal to extend or upgrade hydropower facilities within the property’s components and their buffer zones, before any decision is taken“.

Logging of ancient beech (300-400 years) in the buffer zone of Domogled – Valea Cernei UNESCO component part (Iauna Craiova)
Informal IUCN field mission (2018) into forest wilderness of Domogled National Park / UNESCO World Heritage (buffer zone).
Cemetery of old growth beech trees in the middle of Domogled National Park / UNESCO World Heritage buffer zone.
No proper protection: Pristine wilderness of Cernisoara forest wilderness in the middle of Domogled National Park / UNESCO World Heritage buffer zone.

Illegal road detected in one of Europe’s wildest mountain valleys in Romania

Illegal road cut into the pristine Sâmbăta Valley in Romania’s Făgăraș Montains Natura 2000 site

A few weeks ago, the Sâmbăta Valley (Sibiu province) was still a true paradise: the valley was not spoiled by any road and hosts vast old growth forests, remote mountain ridges, rare wild animals (including wolves, bears and otters) and a romantic hiking trail that passes under large, mossy, ancient trees. But a few weeks ago, this sanctuary has been despoiled: a local forest owner bulldozed a road along the once pristine river, destroying the banks and slopes covered with wild and biodiversity-rich ravine and mountain forests.

But this is just the beginning. Logging machinery are soon expected to invade the valley, now that they have access to the large old trees that have been growing here for centuries. And the fairytale forest, which is reminiscent of film scenes from “Lord of the Rings” could soon be ravaged. Tragically, Sâmbăta is not the only wild valley in Romania that has suffered from illegal logging during the COVID-19 lock down.

Local environmentalists discovered the new road and called for immediate inspection by officials from the Forest Guard authorities in Brasov. The response caused great concern and shock: no permits are required because an old road already existed that “was only being repaired”. This outrageous claim clearly contradicts the facts: pictures from previous years show that no road actually existed and that the valley was an untouched wilderness, hosting old-growth forest of sycamore, beech and spruce. Forest maps also confirm that the valley was not accessible by a road.

Questions of serious mismanagement are raised.

Why are forest guard officials defending this unauthorized road and why are they covering for the unknown beneficiary who drove this illegal project forward?

How could this happen during the very time when the EU Commission has initiated infringement proceedings against the Romanian state for deliberate, systemic and widespread violations of EU legislation by systemic logging and destruction of natural ecosystems in Natura 2000 sites?

Natura 2000 requires mandatory environmental assessments to be carried out prior to intervention in protected areas in order to exclude the risk of a deterioration of the ecological conservation status of listed habitats and species.

The facts, known to date, are:

  • The new dirt road stretches for about 1.5 km, is 3-4 m wide and was built between March and May 2020.
  • The road is in a Natura 2000 site
  • The road does not have a valid building permit
  • No adequate environmental assessment has taken place
  • No agreement or approval has been given by the Natura 2000 site custodian for works in protected habitats
  • The road has not been approved by the Romanian Forest Guard for cutting in areas mapped as “virgin forests” by the “Pin Matra study”
  • The road has not been approved by the Ministry of Environment for forest works in areas officially proposed for inclusion studies in the protection system of the “National Catalog of Virgin and Quasi-virgin forests”.

This is a long list of evidence showing clear violations of laws, rules and regulations that were supposed to ensure the permanent protection of such precious forests.

The work was carried out without an information panel, under the pretext of “rehabilitating a dirt road” that never existed on the left bank of the Sâmbăta river in a formerly roadless, wild valley. Only the touristic path that leads to mountain refuge Cabana Sâmbăta and which is located on the right bank of the river Sâmbăta appears on the forest maps.

The valley harbors large tracks of old growth forests with high biodiversity and scientific values (researched by the REMOTE Primary Forests project).

According to the NGO Agent Green, this is the list of potential illegalities:

  1. Unauthorised construction of a dirt road without proper building permit
  2. Unauthorised construction of a road without a proper environmental assessment
  3. Unauthorised construction of a road without consent of the Custodian of a Natura 2000 site
  4. Illegal change of land use category, from forest to road
  5. Disturbing the national forest fund and protected species by carrying out the illegal construction of the road
  6. Unauthorised construction of a road in forest stands identified by the “Pin Matra” study as virgin forests
  7. Unauthorised road construction damaging Natura 2000 protected habitats and species, ignoring the legal obligation of carrying out a (nature impact) appropriate assessment prior to any intervention
  8. Unauthorised road construction through the Sâmbăta riverbed and other tributary watercourses
  9. Destruction of the soil and dislocation of rocks on the edge of watercourses and in the forest
  10. Abandonment of felled trees in streams
  11. Unauthorised logging of trees in Natura 2000 priority habitats, in Pin Matra polygons and in potentially virgin forests included in the official list of the Ministry of Environment
  12. Damaging the status of protected species and habitats

In the context of the EU infringement procedure against Romania for forest exploitation in protected habitats without adequate appropriate assessment, it is very worrying that the new road was even built through potential “priority habitats” which are under strict protection in the whole of the EU – in particular:

91E0 * – Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior – Alno-Padion, Alnion incanae, Salicion albae

9180 * – Tilio-Acerion forests on steep slopes, rubble and ravines

Furthermore, the illegal road was built directly through the habitats of several protected species for which the Natura 2000 site was designated, such as the wolf and the otter, and the fact that the road affected the course of the river Sambata and will have had a negative impact on fish species found in this river, such as Cottus gobio.

Agent Green will file complaints against this illegal road, stating that the  Environmental Guard, Romanian Waters and the National Agency for Protected Natural Areas have a direct responsibility to investigate and prosecute these clear violations of the law and to force those who built the road to restore the affected area to its original state.

This scandalous contemporary example of clear contempt for nature and the law underscores the urgent need for EU intervention, as Romanian authorities are not able, and seemingly unwilling to fight such environmental crimes.

Here is a video by Agent Green showing the extent of the destruction:

 

Pristine Sâmbăta valley in 2016.
The same location in Sâmbăta valley in 2020: the rich biodiversity at the river banks has been devastated.
Untouched fairy tale forest in Sambata valley – Fagaras Natura 2000 site.
Forest maps do not show the existence of any road.
The beginnig of the new road, which is obviously not built on the hiking trail.
The road gives easy access to the old growth. Logging machinery will soon follow. Thus, the road has to be rehabilitated and the natural values completely restored.