Tag Archives: UNESCO

Europe’s Natural Heritage Disappearing Before Our Eyes – Romania

Paper submitted by EuroNatur Foundation and Agent Green to the “8th International NGO Forum on World Heritage at Risk” – World Heritage Watch

When one thinks of the natural wonders of Europe, Romania does not necessarily spring to mind as a country home to some of the largest areas of forests of outstanding universal value. However, hosting at least 500,000 hectares of potential primary and old-growth forests (Schickhofer and Schwarz 2019), Romania is easily home to the lion’s share of intact forests in the European Union outside of Scandinavia. Few would appreciate that Romania is home to some of the largest and healthiest populations of large carnivores – bears, wolves and lynx – in all of Europe. However, these ancient forests are being logged before the eyes of the European Union (EU), even at a time when the European Commission has communicated its intent to step up action to protect and restore the world’s forests. Logging, both legal and illegal, is occurring in Natura 2000 sites, national parks and in the buffer zones of UNESCO World Heritage areas, immediately adjacent to the core inscribed properties. The impacts on the integrity of the World Heritage property are undeniable.

In 2007, Europe’s ancient beech forests were first inscribed in the World Heritage List, with sites in Slovakia and the Ukraine forming a cross-border property Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians. This site was extended to Germany in 2011, and then 10 countries successfully added further forest sites to the property – now known as Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe – in 2017. This uniquely complex serial site now covers 92,023 ha across more than 40 protected areas located in 12 European countries. The Romanian component of this 2017 extension (23,983 ha) disproportionately comprised almost 40% of the 10-country addition (61,660 ha) to the existing site. In total, Romanian forests make up 26% of the entire 12- country World Heritage listing, making it by far the largest contribution from a country in the EU.

These component areas were added to the World Heritage List under criteria (ix) of the World Heritage Convention as they are “outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals”. The Romanian components are described, amongst other rich ecological and biodiversity values, as including important refuges of virgin forests, being of a high degree of naturalness, and supporting a vast array of plants and animals including endemic, rare and threatened species (Kirchmeir and Kovarovics 2016).

However, the Romanian forest sites included in the list certainly do not represent all forests of outstanding universal value. Many forests sites of equal natural value as those included in the property are being logged and under threat from future logging activities.

Timeline of significant related World Heritage events

2017 Romania’s forest areas added to Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe World Heritage Listing (Decision 41 COM 8B.7)

2018 Informal IUCN Field Trip to Domogled – Valea Cernei and Semenic – Cheile Carasului National Parks – visits to logging sites adjacent to World Heritage areas

July 2019 Noting with concern, the World Heritage Committee puts Romania on notice for allowing logging within buffer zones of the Romanian components of the World Heritage property. World Heritage Committee requests a Reactive Mission to Romania to assess the situation (Decision 43 COM 7B.13)

Nov. 2019 World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Mission to Romania. Further forest parcels adjacent to the World Heritage auctioned by Romsilva, Romania’s state forest agency only 10 days after the mission is due in Romania.

For decades, scientists and conservationists have been raising the alarm about the scale and intensity of logging in Romania and the government’s abject lack of serious commitment to protecting natural values. The situation today, where ancient forests of outstanding universal value continue to be logged, is the consequence of years of terrible forest governance – over-logging, illegal logging, corruption, mismanagement and a ubiquitous defiance of the rule of law. Even in 2017, when the Romanian sites were nominated to be listed, IUCN and World Heritage Centre specialists raised concern over the Romanian government’s lack of commitment to the World Heritage Convention and the protection of outstanding universal values of natural sites.

As a result, commercial logging which threatens the integrity of the UNESCO site through habitat fragmentation and loss continues. At the time of writing, it has been revealed that more forest areas within the UNESCO buffer zone and adjacent the UNESCO listed site – forests containing values equivalent to those within the UNESCO site – will be auctioned at the end of November 2019 and logged in 2020.

Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park – a case of worse practice

Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park in south-west Romania harbours towering limestone mountain peaks, natural thermal springs, deep gorges, spectacular waterfalls, impressive cave systems, large tracts of ancient, pristine forests and critical habitat for a plethora of protected plants and animals. It contains three component parts of the Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe World Heritage site: Coronini – Bedina, Iauna Craiovei and Ciucevele Cernei. The entire national park outside of the core UNESCO site constitutes the formal buffer zone of the site. The situation in Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park is probably the best understood and also the most serious in regards to commercial logging adjacent the World Heritage site and within the site’s formal buffer zone.

Brutal road construction and logging in old growth forest in Radoteasa valley in Romania’s Domogled National Park (buffer zone of the World Heritage site).

Park management staff openly talk about commercial logging within the park as if it is completely normal. Forest management is intense and commercially driven. It is mainly based upon “progressive cutting” (stepwise removal of all trees of a forest parcel over a period of 10 years) or “conservation logging” (cutting of openings in the forest to stimulate growth of young trees). This “progressive cutting” simply means that rather than an area being completely cut in one go, it is cut over a period of about 10 to 15 years. According to the World Heritage Centre, “a buffer zone is an area surrounding the nominated property which has complementary legal and / or customary restrictions placed on its use and development to give an added layer of protection to the property” (UNESCO WHC, 2017).

In many parts of the park, virgin forests that are supposed to be protected under Romanian law but have not yet gone through the difficult bureaucratic process of listing them, are illegally logged without effective criminal prosecution. Even in the strict non-intervention zones of the park, illegal logging has taken place.
In 2017, logging and road cutting was identified in virgin forests in the upper catchment of the pristine Cerna River. More recently, excursions to the park – including with members of the European Parliament, and during an informal visit with the European director of IUCN – have revealed firsthand the devastating commercial logging within the park. Logging progresses into the remotest areas of the park where the last strongholds of ancient beech forests are found. Only in the spring of 2017, a new logging road was cut in the Radoteasa valley, in the middle of a large untouched forest landscape, which is located between two UNESCO World Heritage site component parts.

As has been previously communicated to IUCN and the World Heritage Centre, logging is happening at the immediate border of the UNESCO World Heritage site. In November 2019 Romanian conservationists witnessed recent logging activity at the border of the Iauna-Craiova component part of the UNESCO World Heritage property. The beech forests neighbouring the property – and earmarked for logging – are similar to the forest inside the World Heritage component part and share the same outstanding universal value. Even though they exist within the national park, they are not protected from logging.

Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park is also a designated EU Natura 2000 site. Nevertheless, irreplaceable primary and old-growth forests are continuously being degraded and deteriorated with approval of the national park administration and Romsilva, Romania’s state forestry agency.

These future logging plans, supported by the previous Romanian government, represent a clear disregard for UNESCO values and for the World Heritage Convention. It is not clear yet how the new government will deal with the progressing logging issue in Romania’s protected areas. Any deliberate damage to a component part in one of the participating countries threatens the 12 country property as a whole and the Romanian government’s ongoing logging plans, which undermine the entire property, could lead to the property being listed “In Danger” in the future.

Romania’s ancient forests are a true treasure of European natural and world heritage. Urgent intervention is required to ensure that as much of what remains of them is protected for all time.

In addition, the issue of logging in buffer zones of World Heritage Areas is not isolated to the Romanian World Heritage component sites.

We therefore request the World Heritage Committee to urge the World Heritage Centre and advisory bodies to set standards for buffer zone management that clearly prohibit industrial exploitation use of recourses – such as commercial logging – within buffer zones of World Heritage properties. Natural habitats deserve reliable protection also in buffer zones, in particular when they are of similar value like the ones included in the UNESCO properties itself.

We encourage the World Heritage Committee to support the protection of Romania’s ancient beech forests of outstanding universal value.
We respectfully urge the WHC to request the Romanian government to uphold the values of the World Heritage Convention through the following actions:

· All logging permits in old-growth and primary forests in national parks and UNESCO World Heritage site buffer zones to be cancelled and logging activities to be stopped immediately;
· All old-growth and primary forests in the national park and UNESCO World Heritage site buffer zones be preserved as designated non-intervention areas (eg. core zones enlarged, UNESCO sites expanded, National Catalogue of Virgin Forests properly implemented). As almost all forests within the UNESCO buffer zones are under the management and ownership of the Romanian state, this should be achievable without the need for financial compensation for private land owners;
· National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage sites be promoted as places where nature conservation is paramount and adequately funded and world’s best practice management prioritises the protection, promotion and restoration of natural ecosystems, not the exploitation of natural resources.

Fact finding trip in November 2018 with IUCN into threatened Radoteasa valley in Cernisoara Forest in buffer zone of Domogled National Park. According to documents issued by State Forstry Romsilva, also the remaining old growth forest should be logged stepwise in the next years.
The old growth and primary beech forest in the buffer zone of Domogled National Park / UNESCO Natural Heritage is identical with the protected beech forest in the core zone / UNESCO site. But these precious ecosytems lack any protection.

References

European Commission (2019). EU Communication (2019) on Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests, 23 July 2019, viewed 6 November 2019,
https://ec.europa.eu/environment/forests/eu_comm_2019.htm

Kirchmeir, H. and Kovarovics, A. (eds.) (2016). Nomination Dossier “Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe” as extension to the existing Natural World Heritage Site “Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany” (1133bis). Klagenfurt, 409p

Schickhofer, M. and Schwarz, U. (2019). PRIMOFARO. Inventory of Potential Primary and Old-Growth Forest Areas in Romania. Report for EuroNatur.

UNESCO World Heritage Centre (2017). Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention

 

 

UNESCO and IUCN visit Romania’s paradise forests

++ UNESCO and IUCN representatives in the forest of the Carpathians ++ Forest conservationists have already referred to clear cuts in UNESCO buffer zones and national parks ++ Tactics of concealment by the state forestry company Romsilva prevented ++

A delegation of representatives of UNESCO and IUCN visited the paradise forests in the Romanian Carpathians. The reason was a so-called “reactive mission”, which serves to report on the conditions of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. At least at the meeting on 18.11.2019 in the Baile Herculane forest in Domogled – Valea Cernei national park, two activists of Agent Green were present. From the Romanian side, among others, the
head of Romsilva, Mihailescu, as well as numerous foresters and two delegates of the Ministry of Environment were present at the meetings.

The four main topics of discussion on Monday were the construction of the national road DN66A, the forest areas in the UNESCO World Heritage buffer zones as well as pasture management in these and planned hydropower plants in Romania.

EuroNatur and Agent Green were not invited for an excursion to the forests. Probably, so that Romsilva could only show intact forests to the representatives of the international institutions to underline their lies that in Romania’s forests everything is in order. To prevent this, however, EuroNatur and Agent Green had previously sent a letter to the delegation informing them with background information and information on nearby clear cuts, so that they could demand a visit to these areas as well. Thus, the representatives could also see the fatal reality in Romania’s forests. They visited, for example, the clear cuts in the Craiova valley and the Oplesata mountain peak, which border the UNESCO core zones. The delegates also visited the Arjana and Dobraia areas, where they could vitness the consequences of the recent forest fires in the Domogled national park. The days before, they had visited the area in Ciucevele Cernei, where in July 2019 EuroNatur and Agent Green protested together with Robin Wood against the construction of the national road DN66A. The construction of the road would cause massive destruction of valuable forests. The UNESCO and IUCN delegation also reiterated the need for a comprehensive environmental impact assessment of the impact on forests in these areas before construction continues.

In the discussion, Agent Green activists were able to highlight the numerous other deforestations in UNESCO World Heritage buffer zones as well as the lack of implementation of the IUCN criteria for at least 75% core zones in national parks. Already in July, Romania was criticised by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for the handling of its parts of the World Heritage sites. EuroNatur executive director Gabriel Schwaderer already expressed his concerns about the World Heritage Site at that time: “We have to fear that this extraordinary World Heritage site will soon be classified as ‘endangered’ – and this would include the German parts. The management of the Romanian areas has not improved in recent years, and now there’s a pressing need to take remedial action. The World Heritage Committee is already entering escalation level 1 by announcing to carry out a re-assessment of the World Heritage areas. We hope that this pressure will finally make the Romanian government rethink. Romania is hosting an ancient forest treasure that has long been lost almost everywhere else in Europe”.

All in all, the visit showed that both UNESCO and IUCN are keeping an eye on what is happening in Romania’s forests. Representatives of both institutions urge both a more comprehensive assessment of the impact of infrastructure projects on forests and a better management of this natural resource. They call on Romania to step up its protection efforts. A detailed report by the delegation, which will hopefully contain these points with clear statements, will follow shortly.

forest in Domogled national park © Matthias Schickhofer

Romania: Justice suspends logging permits in natural forest in Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park

Agent Green succeeds to stop Romsilva from cutting down 20 parcels with intact natural beech forest in Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park / UNESCO World Heritage buffer zone and Mehedinti Natural Park

Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park contains very precious nature with „outstanding universal value“. So precious, that some of the park’s primary and old growth beech forests have been inscribed as UNESCO World Natural Heritage site.

Unfortunately, only a fraction of the highly valuable old growth beech forests in Cerna valley is protected from logging yet and has been included in the UNESCO site or in the strictly protected zone of the national park or designated as forest reserve (under the Romanian „Catalogue of Virgin Forests“).

Apparently, State Forestry Romsilva (they control the park management) kept more than 50% of the park’s forests outside the protection zone because of logging interests. Thus, logging proceeds and cuts are moving more and more into the natural beech forests. Centuries old trees fall, not far from the UNESCO World Heritage site, where the same type of forest is under protection, because of its „outstanding universal value“.

In 2018, Romsilva issued logging permits for 20 parcels in some of the parks most precious wild forest landscapes, such as pristine Radoteasa valley in Cernisoara production unit (2B, 25, 27C, 45B, 45C). This gorgeous valley was largely untouched until 2017. Then, a new forest road was brutally dug into its western slopes and logging started.

Five parcels in Mehedinti Nature Park (bordering Domogled Valea Cerni national park to the south) were also planned for logging. A forest road was built there to give access to old growth beech forest on a unique limestone plateau. 10.000 cubic meters (over 6000 beech trees) are planned for cutting only in the first phase of „progressive logging“.

Under Romanian law, „virgin and quasi-virgin forests“ are theoretically under protection and forest authorities must issue logging allowances only if the forests have been degraded already and do not meet (very strict) criteria for identification of „virgin and quasi-virgin“ forests.

Agent Green informed judiciary authorities about the high conservation value forest parcels and urged them to suspend the logging permits in order to allow (field) verification the ecological status of these potential „virgin and quasi-virgin“ forests. If their ecological integrity is confirmed, these forests have to be included in the „Catalogue of Virgin Forests“.

15 of the disputed forest parcels are located in Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park and five in Mehedinti Natural Park. Yesterday (November 12), the judiciary authorities followed the complaint by Agent Green and obliged the Forest Guard of Valcea to verify all parcels and to post them for studies on their webpage, as it is stated in the law (OM 2525/2016).

Catalina Radulescu, the environmental lawyer representing Agent Green in this subject, says: “This is an important success regarding nature conservation and implementation of forest protection legislation in Romania. However, this is not the final decision yet, as the concerned local forest administrations could make an appeal.”

Forest Guard of Valcea: No protection for pure beech forests because they do not have “enough biodiversity”

Furthermore, Agent Green has informed the Forest Guard of Valcea about the existence of large areas of potential „virgin and quasi-virgin“ forests in 708 forest parcels in Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park and in Mehedinti Natural Park.

In the reply to Agent Green the Forest Guard (signed by Mr. Zarnescu) said that they disqualified all 708 parcels, because they have do not show „enough biodiversity“, as they have the „composition of 100% beech trees“.

Beech dominated or pure beech forests are the natural forest types in most of the Domogled – Mehedinti region. The European beech (fagus sylvatica) is endemic in Europe and their protection is the main aim of the transnational UNESCO World Heritage site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe“, which also includes parts of the old beech forests in Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park.

For Agent Green the statement by the Forest Guard is a „huge abuse“ and strongly indicates a severe lack of qualification of this officer. It is certainly not possible to judge about biodiversity of a forest parcel from an office desk. Old growth and primary forests deserve secure and comprehensive protection, in particular when they are located within a national park, a UNESCO World Heritage buffer zone and a Natura 2000 site, Agent Green argues.

Natural beech forests with old trees are key habitats for numerous theratened and red listed species. World nature conservation organisation IUCN has been expressing strong concern about the decline of dead wood depending species such as saproxylic beetles. These highly specialized creatures need old growth and primary forests with large veteran trees. As these kind of forests are almost extinct in Europe, it is even more important to preserve all intact remains.

Demands by Agent Green and EuroNatur Foundation:

– All logging permits in old-growth and primary forests in national parks and UNESCO World Heritage site buffer zones to be cancelled and logging activities to be stopped immediately;

– All old-growth and primary forests in the national park and UNESCO World Heritage site buffer zones be preserved as designated non-intervention areas (eg. core zones enlarged, UNESCO sites expanded, National Catalogue of Virgin Forests properly implemented). As almost all forests within the UNESCO buffer zones are under the management and ownership of the Romanian state, this should be achievable without the need for financial compensation for private land owners;

– National Parks and UNESCO World Heritage Sites be promoted as places where nature conservation is paramount and adequately funded, world’s best practice management to prioritise the protection, promotion and restoration of natural ecosystems, not the exploitation of natural resources.

 

Domogled -Valea Cernei National Park and UNESCO World Heritage. The planned logging of the old growth and primary forests would severly damage the ecologcal integrity of the whole protected area.
Huge potential of old growth and primary forests in Domogled – Valea National Park (dark green polygons). In order to sustain the ecological integrity and connectivity of the UNESCO World Heritage site all intact natural forest remains in the buffer zone urgently need protection.

Very old and biodiversity rich beech trees in parcel 45B in Radoteasa valley. This forest lacks any protection and Romsilva intends to log it, although it is located in the middle of a national park…
Unprotected wild nature in Radoteasa valley in Domogled National Park. The Forest Guard of Valcea argues that pure beech forests do not deserve protection because the do not show “enough biodiversity” …
The UNESCO World Heritage site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe“ protects the most precious European beech forests – including three forest complexes in Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park. Image: UNESCO component part “Iauna Craiove”, a pure beech forest with tremendous biodiversity …