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Romania: Biologist of Semenic National Park quits job protesting against logging

Sinculeț Teodora Alina: „During 15 years I submitted many complaints, but no action was taken. The management contract was broken on a daily basis by the park administration“…

The conflict about logging in Romania’s Semenic- Caraş Gorge National Park is intensifying. Romsilva, the state forest agency in charge of managing protected area mainly on state property, has been criticized by NGOs for intense logging in high conservation value forests and for the intention to decrease the park’s strictly protected core zone from 47.5% to 32%.

Recently, the national parks biologist, Sinculeț Teodora Alina, quit her job in protest against ongoing logging of the park’s valuable natural forests. She published a manifesto explaining her decision. Here is an excerpt:

„I decided to resign and to quit my job after almost 15 years of activity as a biologist for Semenic National Park. My decision was determined after I was put under pressure for doing my job and for fullfiling complaints when I discovered illegalities happening inside the National Park.

During my 15 years in the office I submitted complaints to almost all authorities that are in charge of control and inspection of the management of the park – to all the managers of the park, to all general managers of Romsilva, state secretaries and ministries, prosecutors, police officials, forest guard inspectors and environment investigators. No action was taken against those who broke the law.

Because of all these complaints I was threatened and received a lot of pressure from my superiors and came to the point that I felt my integrity, life and my families safety were affected.”

„I love my job and I dedicated the last 15 years to protect biodiversity“

“It was very difficult for me to resign, because I love my job and I dedicated the last 15 years to protect and preserve the biodiversity inside the park. My resignation is also a form of extreme protest to raise more attention regarding the destruction of Protected Areas and Natural Reserves, but it is also a way of protecting myself and my family against future threats.”

Aljazeera report about the tragedy of Semenic national park…

A long list of illegalities…

“It is difficult to summarise in a few pages all the illegalities that happened inside the park, but I will pinpoint the main reasons for my decision to resign.

• The national park management contract signed in 2014 between Romsilva and the Environment Ministry was broken on a daily basis by the park administration.
• The dismissal of the entire body of specialists from the Scientific Council in 2016, because the council was against logging inside the park and asked permanently for impact studies inside natural areas to be submitted.
• I was against logging inside Cheile Carasului Reserve, Unit production Comarnic, that was allowed by administration officials who forged documents and modified the reserve limits.
• I was against the logging permits issued between 2004-2018 and ravaged the old-growth forests inside Barzavita, Buhui Marghitas Cheile Carasului Reserves and inside special conservation areas inside Caraslui Gorges and Buhui.
• The park employers did not receive the proper instruction regarding field work, we did not receive proper equipment for our work and we did not receive proper training on how to prepare and fight against forests fire. Fire inside Semenic forests is a real problem.
• The park administration did not comply to Romanian legislation regarding archiving all the official administration documents (such as logging permits, fines, approvals) and the administration does not have a legal archive as the law requires.
• No fine was given and no measure was taken against the logging companies who affected the environment and polluted rivers with industrial oil and other illegal debris.
• No fine and no measure was taken against illegal logging companies and those who did illegal natural resource harvesting such as surface mining.
• No fine and no measure was taken against illegal constructions that were build inside the park limits.”

„National park manager forbade me to visit logging areas“

“In many cases the national park manager forbade me to visit areas were aggressive logging was active, especially in areas were old-growth forests were still standing. In many cases the manager of the park used the park wild video surveillance cameras for hunting purposes.

Romsilva and the management of the park opposed the Scientific Council decision taken in February 2013 that stated 48% of the Semenic National Park should be a strictly protected area – a decision that was supported also by the Romanian Academy, the Timisoara branch. Myself and two other colleagues were put under pressure from several Romsilva managers for supporting the 48% non intervention area.

I have always dreamed to work passionately in a national park administration and I have dedicated all my personal resources for this. I have endured many wrongdoings, pressure and threats from Romsilva and park officials, but I managed to find my strength to overpass all these and continued to fight to save each parcel of protected and old-growth forest, tried to save each ancient tree that was worth saving.

I got to the point when with a lot of grief I resigned from the position of biologist as a last form of protest against the destruction that happens inside Semenic, against the pressure and threats that many honest employees of the park have to endure.

I really hope that the Enviromental Minister will take things seriously, will take back control over the national parks, will decide to manage the national parks without Romsilva and finally will investigate all the wrongdoing and illegalities inside the park and will punish the ones responsible for the atrocities.“

Logging depot in Toplita valley.
NGOs start legal action against destruction of Semenic National Park

Recently, the NGOs Agent Green and Neuer Weg started legal proceedings against the Caraş Severin Environmental Protection Agency to cancel the management plan of the Semenic National Park managed by Romsilva, which intends to increase the exploitable area to 68% of the park.

The strictly protected area decreased by 5,527 ha compared to the proposal endorsed in 2013 by the Scientific Council and recommended by the Romanian Academy (Timisoara branch). The Semenic-Cheile Caraşului National Park is a tragic, yet clear example illustrating the fraudulent management of the national parks in Romania.

“Romsilva wants more exploitation within the National Park and in the absence of specialists, the Ministry of the Environment does not generally oppose this administrator who is unable to understand what a national park means and preserving biodiversity,” said Gabriel Păun, president of Agent Green.

Semenic is also a Natura 2000 site of European interest, so it is also subject to the regime of the European Nature Directives. “If the diabolical plan of Romsilva will be backed by the ministry, then we also take into consideration to call on the European Commission to launch legal procedures for severely sanctioning Romania’s foolishness. Poland tried the same thing last year in Bialowieza National Park and was stopped by an infringement procedure and the European Court of Justice,“ warns Paun.

Inspection by Romanian Senator Gotiu in Semenic National Park

Senator Mihai Gotiu (USR) visited Semenic – Caras Gorge National Park. He urged to stop the destruction of the protected area and for the removal of Romsilva from the park’s administration.

„Because I am sick of abuses and illegalities, as well as evasive answers and endless delays from the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry for Water and Forests, I have notified the Commission for the Investigation of Abuses, Petitions and Fight Against Corruption in the Senate, requesting the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry commission of all the illegalities we have documented over the last two years in the area. There is no time to wait. If the Romsilva plan to allow logging in two thirds of the national park gets approved, the Semenic National Park – Carasul Gorge will be turned into sawdust,“ Senator Gotiu said.

 

EU-Parliament: Romanian government downplays logging crisis

Romanian ministers Gavrilescu and Denes disguise the massive problem of the destruction of natural forests at hearing in EU Parliament; EuroNatur and Agent Green provide GPS data of destruction sites.

During a meeting of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety in the European Parliament on 21st January 2019, the Romanian Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Environment, Graţiela Leocadia Gavrilescu, and the Romanian Minister for Water and Forests, Ioan Deneș, both denied any problems with legal and illegal logging in Romania.

Minister Gavrilescu declared that all protected areas in Romania are preserved and well managed. She said the Romanian EU-Council Presidency has, among other topics, the priority of biodiversity. She only came up with vague statements such as: “biodiversity needs to be something we are proud of, regardless of where we come from”. 

Romanian Minister of Environment, EU Conference from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

In response to questions by MEP Martin Häusling, the Romanian Water and Forests Minister, Ioan Denes, said that “what media is referring to is illegal logging”. He added that this “is not a generalized phenomenon. We are talking about illegal logging in private Forests where there was no proper sercives for guarding these forests. We have kicked off thematic specific and inter-institutional controls carried out by the gendarmerie, the police and other institutions in order to ensure a proper observance of the law and a proper circulation of wood materials.” 
He avoided saying anything about the large volume of (partly illegal) logging in state owned and state managed forests which occur in protected areas. He also did not react to the severe allegations by NGOs and the media regarding widespread corruption within the Romanian forestry sector.

Romanian Minister of Forests and Water, EU Conference from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

EuroNatur Foundation and Agent Green reacted strongly to the misleading statements by the Romanian government officials as much hard proof of the unfavourable conservation status of forests in Romanian protected areas have been comprehensively published.

EU must take urgent action

Romania hosts the largest remains of virgin forests within the EU, an estimated area of 100,000 to 200,000 hectares. These unique forests are progressively falling victim to greed, corruption and the negligence of nature conservation laws.

Gabriel Schwaderer, CEO of EuroNatur said: “Europe’s most valuable virgin and natural forests in Romania are being logged at a frightening speed. Even national parks and buffer zones of UNESCO World Heritage sites are not safe from the chainsaws. That the responsible ministers are downplaying and veiling this problem in front of the European Parliament is truly unsettling. We call on the EU institutions to take urgent action to preserve this unique natural heritage in Romania.”

EuroNatur and Agent Green invite EU officials to do bear witness to the logging

The NGOs have invited the European Commission and Members of the European Parliament to take the opportunity around the upcoming events and meetings in Romania to personally witness the devastation on the ground – in the national parks and Natura 2000 sites. Thus, they provide recommendations for eye-opening field excursions. The devastation can be even easily spotted, including through desktop analysis (eg. with Google maps).

Domogled – Valea National Park, Natura 2000 site and UNESCO World Heritage Site (buffer zone): Less than 50% of the forests there are under sufficient protection. In particular in the upper Cerna valley, logging has been approved by the state and is moving further into high nature value and virgin forests.
GPS data of damaging logging areas: 45°06’04.8″N 22°36’39.6″E (close to the UNESCO World Heritage site component part Iauna Craiova).

Rodna National Park and Natura 2000 site: Large clearcuts in ecologically highly sensitive mountain forests. 
GPS data of a significant logging area: 47°32’58.4″N 24°32’15.0″E

Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site: This is probably one of the biggest clusters of virgin forests in temperate part of EU. However, only a small fraction of these forests are under proper protection. Logging is even ravaging permanent study plots of scientists. GPS data of logging areas: 45°38’57.6″N 24°42’51.7″E or 45°32’57.6″N 24°47’01.7″E or 45°25’46.1″N 24°45’08.9″E or 45°26’57.2″N 24°34’02.8″E.

Maramures Natura 2000 site and Nature Park: This is certainly the worst site in the whole of Romania. Since the EU accession of Romania, entire valleys have been ravaged and devastated by aggressive deforestation.
GPS data of Romania’s largest logging areas: 47°42’17.5″N 24°55’40.0″E

Apuseni Mountains Natura 2000 site and Nature Park: Large scale clearcuts of huge forest areas.
GPS-Data of giant clearcuts: 46°30’55.5″N 23°01’06.5″E

Inventory: Romania is running out of mature and high value forests due to overlogging

Romanian EU-Presidency 2019: Peaceful protest by environmental activists in front of the EU climate experts meeting in Timisoara stopped by police

Romania’s second forest inventory (NFI) reveals an alarming loss of mature and high value forests due to massive logging pressure. According to the nationwide inventory, the average annual wood harvest between 2013 and 2018 was about 38.6 million cubic meters. But only 18 million cubic meters have been approved with forest management pans. The remaining 20.6 million cubic meters of timber exploited per year „disappeared“ outside the legal framework.
A closer look at the statistics published by the Ministry of Water and Forests shows that the massive forest exploitation in Romania increasingly results in young forests, which is of low value for both, economy and nature capital.

In order to draw international attention to escalating forest crisis in Romania Agent Green activists welcomed EU-climate experts attending an EGA (Environmental Goods Agreement) conference in Timisoara on January 30 with an image of forest destruction. Police removed them immediately…

Romania’s forests turned into a „kindergarten“?

Almost 60% of the forest cover is younger than the legal minimum age limit for logging of 80 years and thus not able to be exploited. 85% is younger than 100 years. Only 1% of the forests have an average age of more than 160 years, and not more than another 2% have reached an average age between 140 and 160 years. Only 8% are older than 120 years, which includes more high nature values (with aged trees and a higher volume of dead wood).

Virgin and „quasi-virgin“-forests could be represented by the 1% figure (older than 160 years). The 2% figure (141/160 years forest) most likely includes most of the other old growth forests in Romania, including precious stands in National Parks and Natura 2000 sites. These two categories together sum up to approximately 207.00 hectares of forests. Most of these forests are not strictly protected today and are subject of „progressive cutting“, which means a stepwise removal of all trees in a forest parcel.

This means: Due to the massive (over-) logging Romania’s forests have been largely turned into juvenile stands. Romania is running out of mature and high nature value forests, which cover less than 3% of the forest surface all together.

Average age distribution of Romanian forests: 85% are younger than 100 years.

These figures clearly indicate an alarming situation: this outstandingly important European natural heritage in Romania is vanishing – before the eyes of the EU and the public.

Industry lobbyists push for increase of legal wood harvest


Nevertheless, forest industry interest groups argue that the NFI data also indicates an annual growth of 58,6 million cubic meters (8,46 cubic meters per hectare) and thus the forest is healthy and the legal annual wood harvest should be even increased. There have been also attempts by lobbyists to decrease the legal minimum age of cutting from 80 to 70 years in order to boost revenue.

Agent Green rings the alarm bell – at EGA-Meeting in Timisoara

In the morning of Wednesday, January 30, Agent Green activists alerted the international experts attending a conference of the EGA (Environmental Goods Agreement) in Timisoara on the escalating forest crisis in Romania. Two activists expected the delegates at the entrance with an oversized T-shirt-banner with an image of a giant clearcut and saying „Welcome to Romania“. The EGA-event takes place on January 30th and 31st under the Romanian EU-Presidency within the framework of the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement and is hosted by the Timis County Council.

Police and the Gendarmerie immediately intervened and led the protesters away from the eyes of EU experts. “It’s not nice what you do, what will the foreigners say about our country? You make our country look ridiculous, “said Carmelia Dragomir Bălănică, vice-president of the National Agency for Natural Protected Areas, to the activists.

“We draw the attention of EGA experts who coordinate EU member states on the negative effects of the massive forest exploitation which affects both biodiversity and climate. The virgin and old growth forests play an essential role in combating climate change as they absorb greenhouse gases and stores them permanently in the form of carbon. Only 8% of Romania’s forests are still over 120 years old and in a natural state. At EU level, even less. Virgin and old growth forests must be strictly protected by a moratorium, “said Gabriel Paun, president of Agent Green.

(all images: © Minerva VINCZE / Agent Green)