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EU announces legal action against Romanian authorities for illegal logging of Europe’s last natural forest

The European Commission has announced today its decision to pursue legal action against Romanian authorities over their systemic and continuous failure to protect Europe’s last natural forests.

The announcement follows complaints submitted last year to the European Commission by environmental groups Agent Green, ClientEarth and EuroNatur against Romania’s ongoing and deliberate destruction of tens of thousands of hectares of its protected old-growth and primeval forests.

The groups claimed that Romania’s state forestry management is conducting logging operations within protected Natura 2000 areas without proper analysis of the impact in these unique sites. Failure to carry adequate and strategic environmental assessments when approving logging in protected areas and lack of access to environmental information breaches EU law.

The environmental groups therefore welcome the launch of the Commission’s infringement proceedings against Romania as a new hope to protect the country’s natural forests.

ClientEarth lawyer Ewelina Tylec-Bakalarz said: “The destruction of Romanian forests is a huge systemic problem far exceeding in scale the illegal logging of Poland’s Bialowieza forest, which was the basis of our legal challenge three years ago.”

“The Romanian government has repeatedly failed to fulfil its obligations to protect its forests under European environmental law. By opening infringement proceedings against Romania, the European Commission is sending a clear signal that it takes this problem very seriously. This is an important warning that Romania must stop blatantly disregarding its legal obligation to protect these unique forests”.

Gabriel Schwaderer, CEO of the German EuroNatur Foundation added: “Romania is still home to more than half a million hectares of primary and old-growth forests, although enormous areas have been logged since 2007 when the country joined the EU. Natura 2000 sites are hot spots of logging. EU legislation has been widely ignored. Thus, the Commission intervention comes last minute and we urge to speed up the process as it is the only real chance to save a very large share of Europe’s last great natural forests. They are home to many important and threatened animal and plant species and they store enormous amounts of CO2”.

Gabriel Paun of Agent Green warned: “Imagine for example a single clear cut on a surface of 3700 hectares in Maramures Natura 2000 site, the region where Liviu Pop, a local forest ranger has been killed recently. The place looks like a battlefield and is larger than the entire city of Brussels. We have documented 10 000 hectares of logging in this protected area including in priority habitats made of ash and alder trees. These woods were home for bears, wolves, lynx and many wonderful wild creatures. Economically, at least 5 million m3 of wood in value of at least a quarter of a billion euros are missing just from the clear cuts we documented in this site. But the same happens in Fagaras, the Carpathian most beloved mountains and other Natura 2000 sites. These actions happen in both, state and privately owned forests. The situation is completely out of control”.

Agent Green, ClientEarth and EuroNatur welcome the action taken by the European Commission and call on the Romanian Government to:

  • Immediately start complying with Nature Directives.
  • Strictly preserve all remaining primary and old-growth forests as indicated in PRIMOFARO inventory that overlaps with Natura 2000 network.
  • Protect primary and old-growth forests located outside Natura 2000 sites.
    Publish logging plans and forest age data of all forest management plans of Natura 2000 sites.

As part of the infringement proceedings launched today against Romania for illegal logging within its Natura 2000 sites, the Commission is also taking legal action for Romania’s failure to properly implement the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) by allowing illegally harvested timber to enter the EU market.

The Romanian government has now just one month to send a detailed reply to the concerns raised by the European Commission. The Commission will then decide whether to take further steps towards bringing the case before the Court of Justice of the European Union – the EU’s highest court.

Background information:

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).

The PRIMOFARO inventory (Primary and Old Growth Forest Areas of Romania), an analysis by EuroNatur and Agent Green, reveals that forest destruction moves ahead quickly.

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

Giant clear cut on steep mountain terrain in southern part of Romania’s Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site.

International NGOs call on Romanian President and Government: Protect Romania’s natural forest heritage

Open letter by International NGOs to Romanian President and Government – Natural Forest Heritage

11 February 2020

Dear Mr. President Iohannis, dear Prime Minister Orban, dear Minister Alexe,

last week on 4-5 February 2020 at the International Conference on forests for biodiversity and climate, convened by the European Commission, the protection of natural forests has been in the international spotlight.

As the UN Biodiversity Council made clear in May 2019 (when publishing the „Global Assessment Report“), we are facing a serious and combined climate heating and biodiversity destruction crisis, which is interlinked and fueling each other.

Climate crisis has arrived also in Europe’s forests. Unnatural forests in Europe are increasingly breaking down due to heat, drought and insect calamities, leaving large areas of bare land without protection from heat, floods or erosion.

Biodiverse natural (old-growth and primary) forests with an undisturbed canopy cover show a much higher degree of resilience against climate crisis born disturbances such as drought, heat, wind fells, insect attacks or wild fires. They provide essential ecosystem services and they are an irreplaceable haven for rare and threatened biodiversity.

Facing the progressing collapse of Europe’s unnatural plantations, natural forests potentially could become the only intact forests landscapes left in the emerging climate crisis. Thus, they will play an important role in preserving Europe’s forest cover and will help with forest restoration.

Furthermore, natural forests play an important role in forest carbon capture and sequestration and thus they are an important asset with efforts for climate security.

Unfortunately, primary and old-growth forests (including „virgin and quasivirgin“ forests as defined in Romania) have become extremely rare in Europe. Less than 4% of the forests within the EU are more or less “undisturbed by man” (Forest Europe 2015).

A huge proportion of Europe’s natural forests remains is located in Romania: PRIMOFARO inventory (2019) identified more than 525,000 ha of potential old-growth and primary forests. This is the biggest share of old-growth and primary forests in EU outside Scandinavia. Out of these, more than 330,000 ha are designated as Natura 2000 sites.

The Habitats and Birds directives rule, that habitats and species in a favourable conservation status may not be deteriorated significantly by any plan or project. This certainly is also relevant for the forest sector. In 2018, the Court of Justice of the EU ruled that the logging campaign in old forest stands in the Bialowieza Natura 2000 site in Poland was violating EU legislation. This means that logging of natural (old-growth and primary) forests in Natura 2000 sites poses a serious risk of breaching EU law.

There are indications that provisions from this EU’ s Nature Directives have not been followed sufficiently by Romanian authorities and governmental institutions in the years since 2007. As a consequence, deliberate and potentially unlawful logging of primary and old-growth forests is omnipresent in Romania’s Natura 2000 sites.

The new EU Biodiversity Strategy will most likely set new nature protection targets: A target of 30 % of EU’s marine and terrestrial ecosystems to be included in protected areas and a third of this area, 10 % of the total surface, to come under a strict non-intervention management, is receiving sympathy from both the European Parliament and the European Commission.

More than 525,000 ha or around 8 % of Romania’s forests are in a very favourable conservation status, as the PRIMOFARO inventory revealed. This is equivalent to just 2.3 % of the total territory of the Romanian state. With other words: if Romania would fulfill the new EU nature protection requirement with forested areas only, around 28 % of all forests would have to be set aside as non-intervention sites. 330,000 ha, or 5% of Romania’s forests, are under protection already – at least on paper. We are convinced, that all Romanian old-growth and primary forests (> 525,000 ha) have to be safeguarded from deterioration and thus preserved under a legally binding regime, e.g. such as the Natura 2000 network.

The comprehensive and strict protection of this outstanding natural forest heritage would be a significant step towards meeting the new EU biodiversity targets and implementing existing legislation, avoiding infringement interventions by the European Commission.

We urgently call on you to rapidly initiate steps to comprehensively and permanently preserve all old-growth and primary forests in Romania. It is important to do this based on scientific grounds and transparent rules.

Therefore, we ask you to take the following steps:

  • All natural forests in Romania should be included in (enlarged) Natura 2000 sites. EU’s Natura 2000 legislation provides the legal base, the PRIMFOFARO inventory gives indications about the locations of potential natural forests.

  • Old-growth and primary forests on state property should be put under non-intervention management immediately.

  • Owners of natural forests on private or municipal property need to be compensated for accepting non-intervention management for high biodiversity value sites. Therefore a compensation mechanism is urgently required.


Dear Mr. President, dear Prime Minister, dear Minister, many people in Europe condemn forest destruction in the Amazon region or elsewhere – and rightly do so. However, representatives from countries in the global South have stated clearly that they expect Europe to protect its own natural forests as well. So, this is a global responsibility.

We strongly urge you to ensure the full protection of Romania’s unique natural forest heritage – and we do offer co-operation in this huge undertaking.

Signed by representatives of: EuroNatur Foundation, Agent Green, ARA, BirdLife Europe and Central Asia, Bruno Manser Fonds, BUND – Friends of the Earth Germany, BUND Naturschutz in Bayern e.V., German NGO Working Group on Forest, Frankfurt Zoological Society, International Young Naturefriends (iynf), Fern, Hnutí DUHA – Friends of the Earth Czech, Friends of the Earth Europe, Kulturnetz e.V., Pro Regenwald, ROBIN WOOD e.V., Michael Succow Foundation.

Here is the link to the scan of the original letter.

Overview of potential primary and old growth forests in Romania (PRIMOFARO inventory)

EuroNatur statement: EU Biodiversity strategy and the European natural forest heritage

At the EU International Conference on Forests for Biodiversity and Climate on February 4-5, 2020, EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans found clear words on forest protection.
Nevertheless, there are strong concerns that Europe’s forests will continue to be viewed primarily as suppliers of wood and for growing demand for “bioenergy” could even lead to more loss of natural forests.

In response to the conference, EuroNatur Foundation calls on the European Commission to intensify efforts to protect Europe’s primary and natural forests.

These forests are not only an important habitat for numerous threatened animal and plant species, they also play an important role in climate protection because they store huge amnounts of carbon.

In the European Union, there still exist large areas of primary ad old growth forest, in particular in Romania. However, the massive volument of logging in the Carpathians destroys this natural heritage and even does not stop at protected areas (including EU Natura 2000 sites).

Unprotected primary forest in Arpasul valley in Romania’s Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site