Tag Archives: nature

Romania: New inventory reveals huge and threatened natural forest treasure

EuroNatur and Agent Green: Europe needs to do its homework and halt forest destruction in Romania

While Europe is shocked about the forest destruction in the Amazon, central Europe’s largest natural forests in Romania are vanishing due to logging. EuroNatur Foundation submitted a comprehensive inventory of the valuable forest stocks of Romania: PRIMOFARO (PRIMary and Old growth Forest Areas of Romania). 

The results are promising – and concerning: Romania still host more than 525.000 hectares of old growth and virgin forests, more than any other EU member state (outside Scandinavia). But the analysis also reveals that forest destruction moves ahead quickly.

At least on paper, two thirds – more than 330.000 hectares – of Romania’s natural and virgin forests are protected, because they are already part of the EU Natura 2000 network (which includes all national parks). But most of these forests lack any effective protection. Only 6 per cent of these forests have been listed with the Romanian „National Catalogue of Virgin Forests“so far. This programme grants protection only to those forests that comply with the strictest virgin forest criteria. Other natural forests are left without any protection. As a consequence, logging in Natura 2000 sites and national parks is omnipresent.

PRIMOFARO also shows that almost 50 percent of Romania’s virgin forests, which were identified in 2005 as part of a comprehensive inventory of virgin forests, are degraded or destroyed already.

„We intentionally looked beyond the narrow scope of ‚virgin forests’ and tried to identify high biological and climate value forests in Romania. Around 8percent of Romania’s forests are still in a very natural status. They are somehow the European equivalent of the Amazon forest. Thus they all deserve special protection,“ PRIMOFARO co-author Matthias Schickhofer underlines.

„Europe needs to act together to preserve the outstanding natural heritage of Romania. We expect that Romania respects international law and fully comply with Natura 2000 legislation: Natura 2000 protected natural forests on state property have to be protected by the governmental action immediately. Financial compensation, which must also be supported by the EU, is indispensable for private natural and virgin forest areas,“ Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director of EuroNatur Foundation says.

While the Romanian government kept conservationists busy with a bureaucratic burdens in conjunction with the ‚Virgin Forests Catalogue‘, 10.000s of hectares of natural forests in Natura 2000 sites and national parks were destroyed. EU legislation obliges us to protect all forests in good conservation status, not just a few virgin forest museums,“ Gabriel Paun, president of Agent Green explains.

EuroNatur Foundation and Agent Green call on the European Union and on Romania to take urgent action to save this „European equivalent of the Amazon natural forest“ and to ensure that Natura 2000 legislation is enforced in Romania. It was only on 10 September 2019 that EuroNatur, Agent Green and Client Earth submitted an EU complaint about systematic violations of EU forestry legislation by the Romanian state.

Background information

Link to the study: PRIMOFARO REPORT

The main results of the PRIMOFARO inventory:
– The analysis constitutes the biggest cluster of close-to-nature (old-growth and primary) forest in an EU country outside Scandinavia: 525,632 hectares of untouched or semi-natural forests, home to many strictly protected species.
– 332,844 hectares (63%) are located within Natura 2000 sites, 81,716 hectares of which are additionally protected as national parks. Even in these protected areas, natural forests are not safe from deforestation.
– However, only 116,589 hectares (or 55 percent) of the 2005 so called Pin Matra inventory still appear to be in an intact status.

Methodology of PRIMOFARO:
The PRIMOFARO digital map is based upon detailed visual analyses of satellite images, applying science based criteria to distinguish between natural forest stands and production forest. The analyses was calibrated by use of images of example areas and during several field visits (over the course of more than 2 years) and by data provision from partnering primary forest research projects (REMOTE project led by University of Prague and a forest mapping project led by Forsthochschule Rottenburg, financed by Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt).

The findings were validated during several field trips and by an evaluation of PRIMOFARO digital maps against historical CORONA satellite images. CORONA are espionage images created by the US Army in the 1960ties. Only 2% of the initial data sets showed signs of logging in the 1960ties (roads logging areas). These polygons were excluded from the PRIMOFARO digital map.

So far, the Romanian forest protection program („Virgin Forest Catalogue“) almost exclusively is focused at protection of „virgin forests“, which are defined by rather strict identification criteria, laid down in Ministerial Orders. These criteria have been applied in a very restrictive way and the registration process is scandalously slow.,

This leds to exclusion of numerous natural and virgin and even many virgin forests of international importance are still unprotected and acutely threatened by logging.. As a result, a large number of primary forests with international significance are not protected and are under threat of logging.

In addition, the EU Nature Directives do not restrict conservation obligations to „virgin“ forests only. The Habitats and the Birds Directives bind EU member states of ensure avoidance of deterioration and degradation of habitats in good conservation status. Romania widely fails or implements this EU legislation.
Primary forests and old growth forests

The PRIMOFARO inventory identifies “primary forests” (according to the Romanian definition), but also „old growth forests“ which were probably influenced by humans in a very extensive way or long time ago. Both, old growth and primary forests harbor rich biodiversity (like: hermit beetles, alpine longhorn beetles, bats, woodpeckers, owls, capercaillies, bears, lynxes, etc.) and capture large amounts of carbon.

Use of historical declassified satellite images (US Army, CORONA, 1060-ties) to validate the PRIMOFARO digital map.
Fagaras Mountains region – the biggest cluster of old growth and primary forests in Romania.
Many important primary forests in Romania still lack any protection. Like the wild valley of Boia Mica – one of Europe’s most outstanding wild wonders.

EU Commission urged to protect Europe’s largest natural forests in Romania from illegal logging

Environmental organisations EuroNatur, Agent Green and ClientEarth have advanced their fight against illegal logging of old-growth and primary forests in Romania by filing a complaint against the country’s authorities to the European Commission.

Their joint goal is to stop the ongoing deliberate destruction of natural woodlands making up two-thirds of Europe’s unspoilt forests (outside Scandinavia).
The organisations claim that Romania’s state forestry, Romsilva, is conducting logging operations within protected Natura 2000 areas without proper analysis of the impact on these unique sites. In some cases the relevant environmental impact assessments, which should be performed beforehand when logging is being planned, take place years after logging gets underway.

ClientEarth wildlife lawyer Ewelina Tylec-Bakalarz said: “Systematic logging in Natura2000 sites without effective assessment of its impact on those areas is a clear violation of EU law. This is a widespread problem across Romania, which is why we are now bringing this case to the European Commission.”

Romsilva manages 22 of 29 of the Romania’s national and natural parks. All these areas are part of the EU Natura 2000 network and fall under the provisions of both the Habitats and the Birds directives. However, legal experts say the state forestry often fails to comply with the EU legal requirements for the protection of such areas.
Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director of EuroNatur said: “If the breach of EU legislation in Romania is allowed to continue without any consequences, the whole Natura 2000 system is weakened. The ongoing nature conservation drama in Romania is one of the most pressing environmental crises in Europe, yet it is still largely unrecognised.”

Tylec-Bakalarz added: “The case of Poland’s Bialowieza Forest proves how effective European law can be in protection of our continent’s natural treasures. We hope that in the case of Romania’s forests the European Commission will also take action before damage of these unique ecosystems becomes irreversible.”

Notes for editors (more background info – see below):
– Around 300,000 hectares of Romanian natural forests are included in Natura 2000 sites. Many protected animals such as large carnivores, black stork, owls, woodpeckers, bats and beetles depend on them for survival.
– The campaign “SaveParadiseForests“ aims at protecting the most valuable old-growth forests of the Carpathians, particularly Romania. It is jointly coordinated and carried out by the NGOs EuroNatur (Germany) and Agent Green (Romania).

Large scale clear cut in Romania’s Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site. The destruction of this forest in Ucea Mare valley started in the year 2013 – more than five years after Romania installed its Natura 2000 sites in 2007/2008.

Probably central Europe’s most valueable primary forest: Pathless Boia Mica valley in Romania’s Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site. This pristine valley is not protected frm logging anyhow at the moment.

 

Background Briefing – Romania forests.

Complaint to the European Commission prepared by Agent Green, ClientEarth and EuroNatur, Sept. 10, 2019

Background:
Romania hosts the largest natural and virgin forests in the EU outside Scandinavia which are home to numerous species protected by EU Habitats and Birds directives. A high proportion of these species (such as saproxylic beetles, bats, owls, woodpeckers or forest cocks) depend on presence of old trees and standing and lying dead wood, which can only be found in unmanaged areas or very close to them. A large proportion of these high biodiversity value forests are located within Natura 2000 sites. Logging in Romania’s Natura 2000 sites areas has had a severe and widespread impact on natural forests with a protected conservation status.
Logging permissions in Romania are based upon forest management plans (FMPs), which have to be approved by the Ministry for Water and Forests every 10 years. There is clear evidence, that in many cases these plans have not been subject to sufficient environmental assessments required by law.
There are two environmental assessments which should be conducted prior to adoption of FMPs:

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)
Based on the SEA Directive this assessment is required for a wide range of public plans and programmes. It is mandatory for plans and programmes which are prepared, among others, for forestry and which set the framework for future development consent of projects listed in the EIA Directive. The aim of the SEA is to ensure that plans and programmes take into consideration the environmental effects they cause. 

Assessment under the Habitats Directive
Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive requires that any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of a Natura 2000 site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives.
The focus of the assessment under the habitats Directive is specifically on the species and/or the habitats for which the Natura 2000 site is designated. An appropriate assessment should lead competent national authorities to agree to a plan only if they can ascertain that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned.
Lack of assessment under the Habitats Directive is particularly harmful in the context of logging in Romanian forests which are home to a number of protected species, including black stork which is protected under EU law.

The NGOs who authored the complaint to the European Commission identified several forest administrations, both under management of the Romanian forest authority Romsilva and under private administration, who apply national legislation in a manner which means that environmental assessments are not carried out until some considerable time (in some cases years) after logging has taken place: OS Baia de Aramă, OS Lerești, OS Spinu Podeni, OS Scara Mâzgavu, OS Tismana, OS Poieni, OS Padeș, OS Băile Herculane, OS Avrig, OS Izvoru Florii, OS Boișoara, OS Alpina Borșa, OS Lupeni, OS Făgăraș. In these areas activities under the FMPs (logging, selling the forest etc.) started well before the environmental assessments, which is indicative of a systemic problem in Romania.

The European Commission has a power, under Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, to take formal action against Member States who breach or fail to properly implement EU law. This action, known as “infringement proceedings”, allows the Commission to require the Member State to remedy the breach, and ultimately to take the Member State to court if the matter is not resolved. The present complaint has been submitted to DG Environment for them to assess whether a formal infringement procedure should be opened against Romania.

Conclusions:
Romania hosts the largest natural and virgin forest heritage within the temperate climate zone of the EU but the lack of effective strategic environmental assessment and appropriate assessment puts these forests in danger. These areas, constituting two-thirds of Europe’s last virgin forests, are being systematically logged and no national remedies appear to be able to prevent this logging.

Legal action in a similar case –  Bialowieza forest in Poland – has been brought before the CJEU which, in its ruling of 17 April 2018, found that the Government of Poland has failed to fulfil its obligations to protect the forest and ordered the immediate repeal of illegal logging permit. Meanwhile, Romanian law allows the systematic logging inside Natura areas without any assessment.
By continuing logging, Romania is not only violating EU and international legislation but also destroying some of Europe’s last virgin forests.

Romanian Transport Minister wants to override nature protection legislation in favour of roads and profit

Agent Green: Unacceptable attack on EU directives and Romanian natural heritage – during Romania’s EU-presidency

The Romanian government wants to water down national legislation in order to put profits, road-construction or resource exploitation above the conservation objectives of  protected areas such as Natura 2000 sites and national parks.

Agent Green has submitted a formal statement to the Transport Ministry which includes profound critique of this retrograde and unlawful attempt to override nature conservation legislation for profit. Today, April 1st, the deadline for amending the draft law by the Romanian government ends. The government’s legislative draft would allow road construction even in strictly protected zones within national parks and prior to the completion of any environmental impact assessment.

European legislation requires environmental impact assessments for any large plan or project (such as roads or dams) that could negatively impact the environment or human health. Furthermore, within the boundaries of EU Natura 2000 sites, appropriate assessments are mandatory in order to avoid significant deterioration or degradation of protected habitats and species. These assessments have to be based upon scientific data. Only after permission by the respective competent authorities can the plan or project begin. The new Romanian legislative proposal will allow the construction works to begin (eg.for roads) even before such environmental checks are pursued and permissions granted.

Gabriel Paun, founder of Agent Green, says the governmental initiative is “illegal and unethical”. Agent Green believes that infrastructure can be built without harming protected areas: “In the specific situations in which protected areas can not be bypassed, customized alternative solutions must be found. But modifying the law in a way to generalise the legalisation of illegal construction completely dismantles our obligations for preservation of our natural heritage. Last but not least, this is highly offensive to the public, civil society, scientists, the media and politicians who have created the current legal basis for nature conservation.“

The Romanian Minister of Transport Răzvan Cuc recently launched an attack against the basis of the nature conservation laws – as  quoted in Romanian media: “NGOs should go to other states to fight with teeth and to let us in Romania alone to make highways properly. I am the Minister of Transport, I initiate emergency ordinances that I think are appropriate to help with the implementation of the projects, to discuss with my other colleagues in the cabinet, we also take into account NGOs to say their point of view, but I will never block an infrastructure project in Romania no matter what power they think they have. If we want to make a highway we are always aware that we have bats, bears or frogs. We are talking about very important projects here such as Sibiu – Pitesti highway.” He said that he would never block an infrastructure project because of NGOs.

“This retrograde government initiative aims to dismantle EU nature protection legislation and comes in the middle of Romania’s EU presidency. This is unacceptable. The protected natural areas and the biodiversity they host represent a huge national heritage that can be underpin sustainable economic development based on ecological tourism,“ Gabriel Paun explains.

Destructive road construction in a Romanian Natura 2000 site

Here you can read a translation of the statement by Agent Green:

Regarding the Government Project for amending and the Law no. 255/2010 regarding the expropriation for public utility cause, necessary to achieve objectives of national, county and local interest, we send the following comments:

The modification of the law no. 255/2010, of article 24, is illegal and unethical.

Construction permits cannot be issued without proper documentation and therefore without legal permits. The technical and economic permits corresponding to each project phase – from technical expertise and feasibility study to execution details must be prepared and approved prior to the start of the construction and execution of the project. The modification proposed by the Government contradicts not only the legal provisions regarding the construction legislation, but also the European Directives for Habitats and Birds. The proposal has no logic. How is it possible to start a construction site/project and ask for permits after the construction is done? This is without any logic.

Also, we consider unacceptable the proposed modifications of the law 292, from 2018, regarding the environmental impact of public and private infrastructure projects.
It is not possible for transport infrastructure to be exempted from environmental impact assessment since it is known and proven that infrastructure construction works generate a significant impact on the environment. How is it possible that all of Romania’s finished infrastructure projects have been evaluated also for the enviromental impact (before the construction started) and now the government requests the cancellation of this official environmental approval phase?

With these legislative modifications, Romania risks disastrous effects on the environment and an excessive anthropogenic impact. Also, we consider that the modifications are inconsistent and break the European directives reaffirming the need for the environmental impact assessment 2011/92 / EU and 2014/52 / EU.

Also we consider unacceptable the changes of environmental protection through Government Emergency Ordinance (GEO) 195/2005. If the new paragraph 17 is approved, the project infrastructure engineer can change the route of the highway/national road at any time without being forced to apply and receive the necessary environmental approval. These modifications can drastically change the permit conditions without any analysis of the construction project. It is impossible to assess the overall impact of the project on the environment and its modifications.

We also consider unacceptable the proposed changes of GEO 57/2007. These modifications breach protected area legislation, both nationally and at the European level – inside nature protected areas the priority is nature conservation, with the exception of national security and health issues.

All modifications imply that priority should change from conservation to enforcing construction projects inside protected areas.

We strongly oppose the approval of construction sites inside protected areas and buffer areas inside National and Natural Parks. Romania has vouched in front of international institutions to protect and preserve these areas according to international, European and national legislation. These modifications are breaching two European Directives on nature conservation – 79/409 / EEC and 92/43 / EEC.

With disappointment and regret we consider that all these modifications clearly demonstrate that the Romanian Government lacks vision, holds total disregard towards environmental principles and shows that the mentality of Romanian government officials in general is an obsolete one, according to which protected areas represent a break from development.

Agent Green believes that Romanian infrastructure network can develop without harming protected areas. Of course for specific and prompt situations, customised alternative solutions must be negotiated and found according to the legislation.

But we position ourselves against the modification of the law by officials who plead for generalisation, when isolated problems can be solved promptly using already existing legislation.

These modifications offend the public, the civil society, the scientists, the media and the politicians who have created the current legal basis for nature conservation and now see that all their work is thrown away.

Protected natural areas and the rich biodiversity they support represent a huge national heritage that should be the foundation of a sustainable development of Romania based on ecological tourism alongside infrastructure.

I ask you to consider the observations and criticisms we bring to these modifications and to make the right decision.

Regards,
Gabriel Paun,
Chairman Agent Green

 

The planned motorway Pitesti – Sibiu could negatively impact the Natura 2000 protected old growth forests in Olt valley