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Romania: Massive logging plans threaten Bârnova – Repedea Natura 2000 site

Romanian Government continues to ignore EU legislation

Romanian non-governmental organizations and local action groups sound the alarm that logging plans in the Natura 2000 sites ROSPA0092 Pârdurea Bârnova and ROSCI0135 Pădurea Bârnova – Repedea endangers biodiversity, natural habitats, quality of life in the urban area and ecotourism. The dimension of logging plans in the protected mixed oak forests near the city of Iași as well as the lack of a proper management plan including adequate conservation measures for the bird protection site and missing environmental checks for both sites are apparently violations of EU nature protection legislation.

The Romnian environmental ministry and the local authorities have been aware of this legal deficiencies since spring 2020 due to a court case opened by NGO Agent Green. However, they did not take any appropriate action to fix this legal non-compliance. The lack of any reaction by the Romanian state apparently also contradicts the precautionary principle, which underlies Natura 2000 legislation.
Only around 102 hectares of old growth forests of a total of approximately 14.000 hectares forest in the area of the two Natura 2000 sites have been conserved as reserves with non-intervention management – which is less than one percent of the total forest area in the Natura 2000 site. The remaining 99% of forests are in an intensive logging regime.

In the last 10 years, 180 hectares of natural forest have been logged. And the authorities have approved the extraction of over 750,000 cubic meters of wood in the next 10 years without conducting any Natura 2000 appropriate assessment to eliminate the risk of deterioration of the conservation status of protected habitats and species.
The Natura 2000 protected areas of ROSPA0092 Pârdurea Bârnova and ROSCI0135 Pădurea Bârnova – Repedea are located less than 5 kilometers from the city of Iași and thus serve as important recreation area and are of high importance for air quality. The two protected areas overlap in most parts, ROSPA0092 measuring 12684.80 hectares, and ROSCI0135 measuring 12236.20 hectares.

The city of Iași is already currently facing an infringement procedure with the European Commission due to severe air pollution. The forests in the Bârnova – Repedea protected sites (located less than 5 kilometers away) represent the main source of clean air for the city.

In reaction to a complaint about systemic and wide spread destruction of high biodiversity value forests in Romanian Natura 2000 sites, which was filed by the NGOs EuroNatur, Client Earth and Agent Green, the European Commission has opened an infringement procedure against the Romanian state in February 2020.
The forests of Bârnova – Repedea are relevant for both infringement procedures.

However, despite these Infringement procedures, logging continues without adequate assessments and conservation plans for protected habitats and species.
ROSPA0092 stands out, according to the EU standard data form, as a key habitat for the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo, the largest owl of Europe). It is a protected area that also meets the C1 and C6 criteria developed by Bird Life International for the designation of Important Bird Areas: There are at least 115 other bird species, some rare, vulnerable or endangered.

Sadly, despite its importance, ROSPA0092 does not have a management plan or a set of minimum conservation measures, even though 13 years have passed since the designation of this protected area.

ROSCI0135 Bârnova Forest – Repedea should have been designated, according to Article 4.4 of the Habitats Directive, as a Special Area of ​​Conservation (SAC), within a maximum of 6 years of Site of Community Importance (SCI) submission to the EU. This designation as „SAC“ did not happen until today.

ROSCI0135 lists a number of 23 priority species and two fragile habitats. Both SCI and SPA (ROSPA0092 under Bird directive) were designated in 2007, but only the SCI has a management plan, from 2016. It is not clear why an integrated management plan was not developed, because the two sites occupy approximately the same area.

The area was declared a site of community importance by the Order of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development No. 1964 of December 13, 2007 as an integral part of the European ecological network Natura 2000 in Romania for habitats and birds. It is a natural area (deciduous forests, forests in transition, pastures, meadows, arable lands, brook tributary of Bârlad valley) framed in the continental biogeographical-region of the Central Moldavian Plateau that shelters and conserves a diverse range of spontaneous flora and wildlife. The natural area has two types of natural habitats – Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests and Dacian oak and hornbeam forests – that provide food and living conditions for several species of small mammals, birds and insects and protect rare floristic elements.

Inexplicably, the ministry completely forgot that by its own order Bârnova became a special avifauna protection area 13 years ago and consequently the area still does not have a management plan and logging was approved that will leave exactly the species of birds for which the protected area has been designated without habitat.

Both, the SPA and the SCI site, are currently managed by Romsilva through their regional office of Iași.

“We are talking about a protected area of ​​which only one per cent is truly protected. It is a national shame. We ask the Ministry of Environment to increase the strictly protected area to at least 50 per cent of the surface of the protected areas and to set up a new natural park here, and to the candidates for the Iași County Council to support these steps. Said Veronica Tulpan, campaign coordinator with Agent Green.

More than 12,000 people from Iași region signed a petition for the protection of the Iasi forests recently. Agent Green as well as numerous local organizations call on Romanian Government to:

– Increase the strictly protected area in the Natura 2000 Bârnova-Repedea protected areas from one per cent to at least 50 pe cent by entering the functional category T I (non intervention). The rest of the protected areas must be included in the functional category T II (restricted forstry).

– Establishment of the protected area of ​​national interest “Bârnova – Repedea Natural Park” which will be superimposed with the protected areas of European interest Bârnova – Repedea.

– An immediate moratorium on all main holdings and the suspension of forest management plans until the approval of an addendum and the completion of the Natura 2000 appropriate assessment and management plan. In particular, progressive felling involving the felling of all mature trees in a plot must not take place in a protected area on the outskirts of a large city. Forest districts must have a database with all biodiversity trees (biotope trees).

– Stop the construction of new forest roads. The four forest roads under construction have neither an environmental permit nor an adequate environmental assessment. They are planned exclusively for the massive exploitation of the forest in areas with high biodiversity and do not make sense in a Natura 2000 site. The current network of forest roads is sufficient for interventions in case of natural disasters or to save lives (tourists).

Have a look at the awesome Bârnova – Repedea forest:

Societatea civilă își unește forțele pentru salvarea ariilor protejate Bârnova – Repedea from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

Amazon? No, Bârnova – Repedea forest in Romania.
Romanian citizens urge the government to protect the last primary and old growth forests.
Already logged parts of Bârnova – Repedea forest.
On September 16, a large number of citizens from Iasi region protested against the logging plans.

Tackle illegal logging or face court, Commission warns Romanian Government

The European Commission has demanded today that Romanian authorities take immediate action to stop illegal logging of old-growth and primary forests in Romania’s protected Natura 2000 areas.

In the latest step in infringement proceedings against Romania, the European Commission issued a reasoned opinion over Romanian authorities’ systemic and continuous failure to protect one of Europe’s most precious forests.

A reasoned opinion is a last call for the Romanian Government to address the problem. If the country’s authorities fail to act, the Commission will take a case before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – the EU’s highest court.

The Commission’s intervention follows a series of complaints submitted by Environmental organisations EuroNatur, Agent Green and ClientEarth, which led the European Commission to launch infringement proceedings against Romanian authorities earlier this year.

ClientEarth wildlife and habitats lawyer Ewelina Tylec-Bakalarz said: “The Commission’s opinion clearly shows that the Romanian Government is breaking EU law and demands specific measures are taken by the authorities to improve the situation.

“If this persistent failure to act continues, there is a high risk the country will appear before the EU’s highest court. The importance of these forests cannot be underestimated – and the European Commission’s opinion reflects how serious the situation is.”

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

Gabriel Paun of Agent Green said: “We are not surprised that the infringement is going to the next level. The illegal logging and destruction of Natura 2000 sites continues with the consent of the environmental ministry. If fines are imposed on Romania for breaking EU law, taxpayers’ money will be used to pay it – this is unfair and continued failure to act would represent a deeply irresponsible move by the state.”

Gabriel Schwaderer, Executive Director of EuroNatur, concluded: “The Commission clearly recognises the need to urgently protect Romania’s natural forests. We hope that the Commission will continue to act quickly by referring the Romanian Government to the CJEU so that the ongoing destruction of its country’s forests can be stopped.”

The Commission also opened another infringement procedure against Romania, calling on its authorities to respect their obligations to protect and manage their Natura 2000 sites under the Habitats Directive by designating explicit “Special Areas of Conservation”.

Recent illegal destruction of the pristine wilderness in Sambata valley in Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site.

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.