Tag Archives: old growth

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.

 

 

 

Finally a clear announcement: EuroNatur and Agent Green welcome EU biodiversity strategy

The EU Biodiversity Strategy aims at strict  protection of 10% of EU’s ecosystems – including protection of all primary and old growth forests

EuroNatur and Agent Green welcome the announcement by the European Commission regarding the new EU Biodiversity Strategy. The EU Commission clearly states that „nature is in a state of crisis“ and declared that „at least one third of protected areas – representing 10% of EU land and 10% of EU sea – should be strictly protected.” The EU Commission also emphasized, that “it will be crucial to define, map, monitor and strictly protect all the EU’s remaining primary and old-growth forests“.

The biggest and most precious chunks of never systematically managed or long untouched forests („primary and old growth” forests) of the EU can be found in Romania, Bulgaria and Scandinavia. In particular in Romania, the progress of logging of extremely biodiversity rich old growth and primary forest ecosystems is causing big concern among scientists and conservationists globally.

Lately, conservative voices from the Romanian forestry sector have been drawing the misleading picture that Romania’s high biodiversity value forests are a product of the Romanian forestry system, claiming that 90% or Romania’s forests are ecologically equal to natural forests and try to spread the non-factual picture, that Romania’s natural forests are “man made” and that „forest management“ (= logging) is key to sustain biodiversity in forests. These assertions are in sharp contrast to bold evidence for a catastrophic loss of high biodiversity value forests ecosystems in recent years.

Approximately 8% of Romania’s forests potentially still show a very high degree of naturalness. These forests should be subject of conservation efforts to meet the 10% EU target for strict protection, as now initiated by the EU Commission.

In order to get there, existing mapping inventories need to be further validated in a transparent and cooperative way – also using digital data from forest management plans, which are not publicly accessible yet.

EuroNatur and Agent Green are ready to collaborate with the Romanian government in order to improve forest protection, if it is ensured that this is happening in a fair, transparent and positive manner and the recent wave of attacks against forest conservation is being halted.

Untouched Boia Mica valley in Fagaras mountains: 1000 ha primary forest, but no protection – although the whole mountain range has been designated as a EU Natura 2000 site. The new EU Biodiversity strategy wants to get all primary and old growth forests under strict protection. Lets hope that this does not come too late for this unique natural treasure…

Environmental groups pursue new legal action over destruction of Romania’s natural forests

 

Environmental organisations EuroNatur, Agent Green and ClientEarth have revealed the catastrophic scale of illegal logging of old-growth and primary forests in Romania’s Natura 2000 protected areas in a new complaint submitted to the European Commission.

The organisations have today submitted a complaint against Romanian authorities stating that the government’s lack of action to address extensive logging of primary and old growth forests within protected areas is leading to irreversible loss of unique habitats and species.

Romania hosts two-thirds of Europe’s remaining primary and old-growth forests of the temperate climate zone. These precious ecosystems, protected by European law as Natura 2000 sites, are being systematically destroyed by large-scale logging operations.

ClientEarth wildlife and habitats lawyer Ewelina Tylec-Bakalarz said: “Intensive logging, approved by the Romanian authorities and carried out by state forestry, Romsilva, has caused serious deterioration of habitats and species protected under EU Nature Directives. Logging continues to be an ongoing threat to Europe’s most unique ecosystems and a striking violation of EU law.”

The legal action follows previous complaints which led to the European Commission launching infringement proceedings against Romanian authorities over their systemic and continuous failure to protect one of Europe’s last natural forests.

Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director of EuroNatur said: “Our current complaint provides the European Commission with new evidence proving that illegal logging is causing a profound environmental crisis affecting many protected areas in Romania. We hope that it will allow the Commission to intervene sooner, because now might be our last chance to take action before damage of these unique ecosystems becomes irreversible.”

The evidence obtained by the environmental groups reveals the devastating impact of logging protected forests. In Natura 2000 sites in Făgăraș and Domogled, the majority of analysed habitats showed severe signs of deterioration. In the Natura 2000 site in Maramures the researchers have documented over 10,000 hectares of clear-cuts.
Veronica Tulpan of Agent Green said: “There are whole mountains where the forest habitat has been completely removed and all of the wildlife along with it. We need a rapid intervention from the Commission to start applying the nature directives in Romania properly.”

Tylec-Bakalarz concluded: “The situation in Romanian forests is dire, but the case taken to protect Poland’s Bialowieza Forest gives us hope. It proved how effective European law can be in safeguarding of our continent’s natural wonders.” 

Video evidence about the fate of Romania’s Natura 2000 sites

Background information:

● The PRIMOFARO inventory (Primary and Old Growth Forest Areas of Romania), an analysis of Romania’s potential primary and old growth forests commissioned by EuroNatur, reveals that forest destruction is progressing quickly.

● Romania still has more than 525,000 hectares of potential old-growth and primary forests, which is more than any other EU member state (outside Scandinavia).

● Around 300,000 hectares of the Forests identified in the Primofaro inventory of Romanian woods are listed as Natura 2000 sites. Many protected animals such as large carnivores, black stork, owls, woodpeckers, bats and beetles depend on them for survival.

● Despite efforts by Romanian civil society groups to stop illegal logging, the situation in Romania has continued to deteriorate. The official national forest inventory shows that on top of 18 million m3 of legally harvested wood, another 8.8 million m3 of forest resources were extracted annually between 2009 and 2013 and increased to 20.6 million m3 annually between 2014 and 2018.

● 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).

Resources:
Briefing paper on the complaint to the European Commission

Briefing paper on Natura 2000 areas: Fagaras, Maramures and Domogled

Videos for Social Media

Memes for Social Media

Relevant videos: Primary forests, Maramures, Fagaras

About EuroNatur:
EuroNatur is a nature conservation foundation based in Radolfzell, Germany. Our efforts for a Europe with free-flowing rivers, ancient forests and a rich variety of cultural landscapes are transboundary in nature; we strengthen local conservation organizations and create international networks between them. Together with our Europe-wide partner network we create solutions that allow humans to live and work in harmony with nature. Our aim is a powerful network committed to protecting our European natural heritage.

About Agent Green:
Agent Green Association is a non-profit NGO for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation founded in 2009 in Romania. Established to protect Retezat Mountains, one of the last intact forest landscapes in the temperate climate of Europe, Agent Green evolved into carrying out investigations, scientific approach, strategic cooperation and effective campaigns targeted at bringing about positive and lasting change for nature.

About ClientEarth:
ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlinand Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.

 

Large complex of forest wilderness in Ucea Mare valley in Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site © Agent Green
Giant clearcut in Ucea Mare valley in Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site ©Agent Green
Logging in a natural beech forest Domogled – Valea Cernei Natura 2000 Site and National Park © Matthias Schickhofer