Tag Archives: UNESCO

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”.

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