Tag Archives: UNESCO

Success: Cernișoara primary forest in Romania’s Domogled National Park finally strictly protected

After three years of protests and legal proceedings by Agent Green, the national park’s strictly protected natural forests were expanded. However, several very valuable forests are still without a protective shield …

Several important primary forests in the Cernisoara basin in the de facto unprotected buffer zone Domogled – Cerna Valley National Park and UNESCO world heritage site have now become strictly protected, three years after the Agent Green protests and after a series of investigations and trials at the supreme courts of Romania.

These forests of outstanding natural value, including most of the Radoteasa and Cărbunele valleys (except the plots degraded by aggressive logging until the date of the protest) are now listed with the new edition of the „National Catalog of Virgin Forests“.  This means that they are under a strict non intervention regime, equal to the neighboring UNESCO World Heritage site components parts and the core zone and the national park.

This success, unique in Romania comes both as a result of Agent Green’s protest in May 2018, and several lawsuits won by the organization in November 2019 against Romsilva and the Ministry of Environment at the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Cassation and Justice.

In the spectacular case of Agent Green against the Ministry of Environment and Romsilva, Baia de Aramă Forest District, the organization had suspended the cuts on an area of almost 20,000 hectares that overlap with Domogled National Park – Valea Cernei and Natura 2000 site North of Gorj West. The defendants appealed, which they lost and subsequently made an extraordinary appeal which they also lost by the final decision of the ICCJ.

In the meantime, Romsilva continued to extract secular trees from these areas until Agent Green repeatedly called on the Forest Guard to intervene. Shortly afterwards, the cuttings from Padeș, the neighboring state forest district on an area of 14,612.36 hectares, were also suspended by a decision of the Bucharest Court of Appeal (in the case of Agent Green against Romsilva and the Ministry of Environment).

Unfortunately there are still important but unprotected old growth forest patches in Ivanu, Olanu, Balmosu valleys and Cerna Sat area, adjacent to the areas which came under the shield of the „Catalogue“ recently. Also in Baile Herculane and Mehadia forest district the situation is still unsatisfying, especially in Mehedinti Mts, where only very small little „islands“ of old growth forest were included in the „Catalog“ so far. Same accounts with the UNESCO World Heritage Component Part Coronini-Bedina, which is is a very wild and beautiful area with old-growth beech forests grown on limestone.

In a „Mission Report“ (following a field trip in 2019) published in March 2021 UNESCO and IUCN called for strict protection of all old growth / primary forests in the national park: “The mission concludes that the current management of the component parts’ buffer zones does not meet the requirements of the Operational Guidelines (OG) in a satisfactory way and may have negative effects on the integrity of the transboundary property. The current forest management should seek to better support the natural processes and be based on strengthening and expanding ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems over time.“

In this report, UNESCO and IUCN urged Romania to “strictly protect all ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems that have not been included in the property, in order to foster the long-term preservation of those exceptional ecosystems; priority should be given to those located in proximity of the components visited by the mission, to enhance connectivity.“

The whole national park is also designated as a EU Natura 2000 site, where protected habitats and species must not be „significantly deteriorated“. Removal of rare pristine ecosystems like primary and old growth forests by logging undoubtedly needs to be classified as a „significant deterioration“ of the important natural heritage of the EU.

In 2021, the park’s new management plan will be done. Agent Green and its partner organisation EuroNatur Foundation call on the Romanian government to ensure that the strictly protected core zone of this unique national park area will be extended to ensure safe conservation of all intact natural ecosystems (including all high biodiversity value forest stands) and to meet international IUCN standards (of at least 75% strict protection zone).

Since the new EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030, which was endorsed by all EU member states in 2020, aims to strictly protect all “primary and old-growth forests”, Romania is anyway obliged to map and protect these forests safely and comprehensively.

The enlargement of the strictly protected zone also needs to ensure that all three UNESCO World Heritage component parts sites, which are located within the boundaries of the national park, are connected to suffiently guarantee the ecological integrity. This needs to include initially degraded old growth forests as well and put them under non intervention management, as reommended by UNESCO / IUCN.

Protests against logging plans of Romsilva in Cernisoara area in 2018.
The wild Radoteasa valley in the forest district of Cernisoara was not included in the strict protection system of the national park until recently, and logging plans threatened these forests, identical to the forests of “outstanding universal value” on the adjacent UNESCO site.

 

Romania fails to properly manage World Heritage buffer zones – UNESCO/IUCN

Report about Reactive Monitoring Mission in 2019 published only recently: Romania does “not meet” international guidelines
EuroNatur and Agent Green call on Romania to immediately remove state forestry enterprise Romsilva from all protected area management duties and adopt site management according to international UNESCO/IUCN guidelines and EU legislation.

A few days ahead of the International Day of Forests on (March 21) a “Report on the joint World Heritage Centre / IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Reactive Monitoring Mission to Albanian and Romanian component parts of the transnational World Heritage Property ‘Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other Regions of Europe’“ was made available to the public.
The mission, visiting Domogled-Valea Cernei and Cheile Nerei-Besnita National Parks/UNESCO properties, took place in November 2019.

However, the report was only just made publicly accessible. It is not clear what the reasons for this massive delay are. Could it be that the critical conclusions of the UNESCO/IUCN experts with regard to the intensive logging operations in the buffer zones of Romanian UNESCO component parts caused controversy?

The document states: “The mission concludes that the current management of the component parts’ buffer zones does not meet the requirements of the Operational Guidelines (OG) in a satisfactory way and may have negative effects on the integrity of the transboundary property. The current forest management should seek to better support the natural processes and be based on strengthening and expanding ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems over time.“

UNESCO and IUCN also urge Romania to “strictly protect all ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems that have not been included in the property, in order to foster the long-term preservation of those exceptional ecosystems; priority should be given to those located in proximity of the components visited by the mission, to enhance connectivity.“

This mission was triggered by numerous media reports and formal complaints from EuroNatur Foundation, Agent Green and many other conservationists concerning destructive logging of old growth and primary forests in UNESCO buffer zones, even in close vicinity to the UNESCO core protected areas. Commercial wood exploitation authorized by the Romanian state in the buffer areas affects biodiversity rich and mature forests with an equal “universal value” to the beech forests included in the UNESCO site (core area).

The joint UNESCO/IUCN Mission in 2019 was preceded by an informal IUCN Europe field visit in November 2018, where intensive logging operations in highly valuable old growth beech forests in Domogled-Valea Cernei and Semenic National Parks/UNESCO site component parts, including in buffer zones, were confirmed.

On top of the EU infringement proceedings against the Romanian state (launched by the European Commission in February 2020 due to deterioration of EU protected areas by logging), the clear findings of UNESCO and the IUCN are just another indicator that protection of high biodiversity value forests in Romania is in a catastrophically bad state.

The intensive logging operations in the Romanian World Heritage buffer areas ultimately endanger the existence of the entire transnational World Heritage site for the protection of the European primeval and ancient beech forests, which consists of 67 component parts in 12 countries …

EuroNatur Foundation and environmental organisation Agent Green interpret the findings of the report as “crystal clear evidence” that Romanian state forestry enterprise, Romsilva – the agency in charge of both logging in Romania and management of almost all Romanian national and nature parks – is “not capable” of managing protected areas for conservation of highly valuable ecosystems appropriately. The long record of controversies and the poor state of many protected areas under custody of Romsilva shows that the company is “obviously driven by commercial interests and fundamentally lacks ambition and expertise regarding nature conservation”.

Therefore, Romsilva needs to be immediately removed from all duties for protected area management. Management of Romania’s protected areas should be taken over by official national bodies (such as National Agency for Protected Areas) and equipped with adequate funding to ensure conservation objectives are met. Logging in buffer zones on state property needs to be halted until new management plans  in line with UNESCO/IUCN guidelines are developed. Management plans of all UNESCO World Natural Heritage properties, as well as national parks need to be revised following the recommendations by the UNESCO/IUCN report.

“The World is celebrating the International Day of the Forests on March 21. Romania’s outstanding natural forest heritage is one of the most valuable ecological treasures of Europe. Romania must act accordingly and stop logging primary and old growth forests. And the EU needs support Romania with adequate means for compensation of private land owners,” EuroNatur and Agent Green conclude.

In detail, the final report by World Heritage Centre and IUCN concludes with the following recommendations:

    • Define a forest management regime specific to the buffer zones that would be in keeping with the aim to ensure consistency and coordination across all buffer zones within the property, and that would promote the natural and unimpeded, progressive aging of the beech forest ecosystems present in the buffer zones. This regime should ensure an ecological transition between the component parts and the surrounding forest ecosystems of high ecological value, including those located in the buffer zones and, in case of Romania, the virgin and quasi-virgin forests listed in the ‘National Catalogue of Virgin Forests’.
    • This regime should prioritize natural processes and be based on ‘pro-forestation’ efforts and clear guidelines on appropriate intervention activities and limits, in the sense of Decision 43 COM 7B.13 of the World Heritage Committee (remark: “ensure appropriate buffer zone management in order to support undisturbed natural processes”)
    • It could include the establishment of a functional network of ‘aging’ and ‘senescence’ patches of forest, in the buffer zones, aiming to contribute to strengthening and extending the ancient and primeval beech forest ecosystems, and supporting the natural processes leading to their conservation and naturalness over time:
      • “pro-forestation” efforts should be interpreted as all forest management activities seeking to promote natural tree reproduction and development;
      • “aging patches”should be interpreted as forest areas managed in such a way as leaving the trees growing beyond their usual rotation age, up to twice this duration (200-240 years in case of Romania);
      • “senescence patches” should be interpreted as forest areas deliberately abandoned to a spontaneous evolution of natural processes, until the complete collapse of the trees and resumption of the silvigenetic cycle (forest cycle);

UNESCO/IUCN also call on the Romanian State Party, to “combat and prosecute any illegal logging activities in the two national parks“, “abandon plans to upgrade the national road 66A, due to the potential impact of this project on the property’s integrity” and “inform the World heritage Centre of any proposal to extend or upgrade hydropower facilities within the property’s components and their buffer zones, before any decision is taken“.

Logging of ancient beech (300-400 years) in the buffer zone of Domogled – Valea Cernei UNESCO component part (Iauna Craiova)
Informal IUCN field mission (2018) into forest wilderness of Domogled National Park / UNESCO World Heritage (buffer zone).
Cemetery of old growth beech trees in the middle of Domogled National Park / UNESCO World Heritage buffer zone.
No proper protection: Pristine wilderness of Cernisoara forest wilderness in the middle of Domogled National Park / UNESCO World Heritage buffer zone.

Romania: Protection of some primary forests announced – shortly before national elections

After years of bureaucratic burdens some iconic primary forest – such as Boia Mica valley in Fagaras Mountains – are finally protected. However, studies about 13.000 ha of precious forest are still blocked by the government – and hundreds of thousands of hectares of high nature value forests are still under threat from destructive logging …

The Romanian Ministry for the Environment recently announced a new version of the „National Catalog of Virgin Forests“ on its website. The new version now includes 43.823,36 ha of forests. The „Catalogue“ has been growing by 14.000 ha since the year 2019. This includes 9.500 ha of forests, which were protected strictly already before as UNESCO World Heritage site component parts. Thus, the real enlargement of strictly protected primary forest area in Romania melts down to 4.500 ha.

The environmental organisations EuroNatur Foundation and Agent Green welcome this „long overdue“ last minute step by the government, two weeks ahead of the national elections. Nevertheless, the conservation organizations make clear that 43.000 ha is far below the real number of primary and old-growth forest in Romania. Thus, they conclude that this instrument has obviously failed largely.

Among the newly inscribed primary forest areas there is also the outstanding natural heritage of Boia Mica valley in the Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site. This pathless, steep valley harbors 960 ha of untouched primary forest. Boia Mica is one of the wildest and most pristine mountain forests of the EU. However, Romanian forest experts, in partnership with the German Forest University HFR Rottenburg, had been burdeend by a years long bureaucratic back and forth driven forward by provincial forest authorities and the „Technical Commission“ in the Forest Ministry. Luckily, Boia Mica was now finally accepted without further complications.

At the same time, logging of primary and old-growth forests in national parks and UNESCO sites (buffer zones) as well as Natura 2000 sites all over Romania continues at a catastrophic level and without any counter action by the Romanian government.

On November 16, Agent Green succeeded at the Appellation Court in Bucharest in suspending forest management plans in parts of Domogled -Valea national park (and Natura 2000 site) and a neighboring Natura 2000 site. Agent Green has filed a lawsuit against logging pursued by state forestry Romsilva. The court confirmed that the forest management plans are finally suspended. So, logging in state forests in the area concerned is stopped. Conservationists now hope that the precious beech forests – especially in wild upper Cerna valley – will be included in non intervention management zones.

However, despite the High Court decision and the currently running EU infringement procedure against the Romanian state, Romsilva managers started to auction logging permits in 32 plots in the south-western section of Domogled National Park, where logging plans have not been suspended.

EuroNatur and Agent Green call on the EU Commission not to be lulled by this minimal expansion of the “Virgin Forest Catalog”. Clear cuts in protected, natural coniferous forests and the multi-phase clearing of the biodiversity-rich mixed beech forests is continuing unabated. The ‚Catalog‘ currently does not even protect 10% of the 500.000 ha of natural forests that identified in the Primofaro study.  

Especially with the new EU Biodiversity Strategy – adopted unanimously by the EU environmental ministers including Romania – requesting the strict protection of all primary and old-growth forests in the EU, Romania has to make sure that these forests are safe from logging.

Fantastic Boia Mica Valley in Fagaras Natura 2000: after years of struggle with bureaucracy, the valley is finally included in the “National Catalog of Virgin Forests”.
Boia Mica is (hopefully) safe now and the ancient creatures living there (numerous 400 – 500 years old beech trees) will be there for a longer while. However, in the rest of Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 site forest destruction continues. It has even accelerated.
Natura 2000 areas in Romania are hot spots of forest destrcution. And it is not just large clear cuts in spruce forests that wipe out the unique wealth of primary forests. Also stepwise shelterwood cuttings ultimately lead to the complete removal of ancient habitats and all the rare creatures that have lived there undisturbed for thousands of years. Here: Logging road crossing the UNESCO protected forest “Codrii seculari de la Sinca”.