Tag Archives: virgin

Romania: How „woodchippers“ threaten natural forests and help with laundering of illegal logging

 

EU forests increasingly threatened by “bioenergy” – Fern report

Agent Green” investigator Andrei Ciurcanu could hardly believe what he found  in the middle of Romania’s Rodna National Park: A fully automatic wood chipper machine, cutting trees and instantly chopping them into little wood chips to be sold to „bioenergy“ industry. I’ts not logs any more leaving the national park, but many many unmarked (and therefore uncontrollable) pieces of wood. This makes it even more easy to launder illegal logging. Wood chips mainly end up being burned in the bioenergy sector – entering the atmosphere as carbon emissions and intensifying the climate crisis.

According to the new report „EU Forests in Danger“ by the NGO Fern bioenergy industry is becoming the number one threat to Europe´s natural forest remains. The EU wood processing industry is heavily pushing for the increased use of wood (also directly from forests, not just from wood waste) for energy purposes. They claim this is good for „climate protection“.

However, numerous scientists and environmentalists counter this by arguing that burning trees leads to increased carbon emissions and thus adds to the climate crisis. Regrowth of forests happens too slow to compensate the emissions in time. Therefore they call for improved protection of intact forests and expansion of woodlands – rather than logging and replacing natural forests with plantations.

Woodchipper in Romania’s Rodna National Park

Back to Rodna National Park. Agent Green Investigator Andrei Ciurcanu says, the use of this wood chipping device proves it being likely that illegal practices still happen on large scale, even in the forests of a national park. The wood thieves just use the official system of traceability (SUMAL) and its weaknesses: Romania still doesn’t have an online registry of logging depots, thus it is very easy to use the depots as a laundering places for getting illegal Wood out. In this case not only the depots are used to launder the illegal wood, but also to transform illegally cut trees into unrecognizable wood chips. Then the wood could be sold to wood processing or trading companies with official papers, giving the appearance of legality.

Woodchipper in an Romanian national park: illegally cut trees transformed into wood chips, right in the middle of the protected forest…

În Parcul Național Munții Rodnei lemnul tăiat ilegal este tocat și apoi vândut firmelor de procesare from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

Official investigations found illegal practices

The official investigations led by Romanian authorities (Forest Guard inspectors) in the area where the chipper was present revealed that a Romanian logging company was authorised by a Private Forest District to enter the National Park and received legal permits for „accidental logging“ (trees affected by windstorms and landslides).

Thus, the timber quality is medium or low. However, the investigators discovered that the company employees logged not only damaged trees but cleared the whole area. They found 91 stumps without a the sign for legal logging approval (hammer). The overall loss was equivalent to more than 10.000 euros. The illegally harvested wood was afterwards mixed with other logs and sold or transformed into woodchips. They attached papers, as if the timber was sold from a depot.

But the Investigators not only discovered illegally cut stumps. They also found out that in the Lala region (where the chipper was filmed) not one legal depot was authorized by the Romanian institutions. So all the papers used for transporting and selling of the wood chips were obviously forged.

In brief: the woodchipper was obviously also used to transform illegally cut trees into wood chips. The growing market for „biomass“ could make fishy practices like this more attractive and lead to additional forest destruction.

Basically the logging and transport company apparently wanted to avoid registration of the woodchips with the Romanian SUMAL System. This requires a mandatory online registration of all transports of logged wood from the forest to a processing factory or a depot located outside the forest with a unique SUMAL online code. They used only accompanying documents pretending that the wood was transported from a depot to a factory, which does not require an online code according to SUMAL and the romanian legislation.

This trick was intentional to hide the origin of the wood. In case of a police control it would have been impossible to see whether the wood was legally cut or not. During routine control the police only sees that the transport appears to be legal because it is accompanied by official papers.

The illegal logging is investigated now by the prosecutor and there is an ongoing penal investigation. Romanian TV reported about this case.

Which companies appear to be involved?

The official investigation led by forest inspectors revealed that the woodchips were made by a chipper owned by a company named Austroforest and the transport by Frasinul Ltd, both owned by a businessman called Traian Larionesi, important partner for Holzindustrie Schweighofer. His name is connected to different corruption cases investigated by the Anti Corruption Department in Romania. The forest inspectors also found out that the woodchips were sold by Frasinul to the big Austrian timber processing company Egger. The company runs Romania’s largest biomass power plant (83 Megawatt) in Radauti , where Egger also operates a huge sawmill. 

We complain about forest destruction worldwide.
But what about protection of forests on our own doorstep?

The EU in general is supporting programs to protect forests globally, through development aid, innovative trade work such as the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan, and commitments to end EU consumption of goods that cause agricultural deforestation. Officials from all over the EU have been supporting calls on countries hosting large forest areas such as Brazil, Indonesia, DRC or Russia to halt excessive logging.

New report by Fern: EU Forests in Danger

But at the same time, less than one per cent or the EU’s forests are still in a primeval or very natural status. And many of these stands are not sufficiently protected. Even in the EU’s Natura 2000 sites old growth and virgin forests are being logged – legally and illegally. A substantial share of the harvested timber from EU’s last natural forest stands ends up in bioenergy industry. The NGO Fern published the report „EU Forests in Danger“ about the progressing loss of Europe´s last natural forests. Country reports from 11 EU member states (including Romania, Slovakia or Sweden) draw an alarming picture. Final conclusion: „we must also protect the natural and old-growth forests on our own doorstep“.

 

Save our Paradise Forests now! from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

See the full episode about the case of Rodna national park from the “Out of Control” series:

OUT OF CONTROL || Case #5 || Rodna Mountains National Park from AGENT GREEN on Vimeo.

Primary forest research in Romania’s Fagaras Mountains compromised by logging

Primary forest research project REMOTE calls for urgent protection of high nature and science value forests in Romania

In late December 2018, the REMOTE project  (REsearch on MOuntain TEmperate Primary Forests) published a worrying report highlighting immediate threats to their outstanding primary forest research program in the Fagaras Mountains in the Romanian Carpathians.

The Fagaras mountains, the highest in Romania, host the “largest areas of primary forests in the entire EU“, the report explains. Scientists from the Czech Republic and Slovakia estimate a total surface of primary forest of about 10,000 hectares in the region. In addition, further extensive areas are covered by other valuable natural forests, which “connect primary forest localities into larger complexes of high naturalness“. Therefore, the Fagaras Mountains deserve “special attention and conservation“.

REMOTE project: biggest primary forest research
The REMOTE research project is one of the biggest dendrochronological primary forest research programs in the world. It is a long-term international research collaboration, led by the Department of Forest Ecology (Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences at Czech University of Life Sciences) in Prague. This comprehensive scientific research program started in 2010. The project is based on a network of permanent sample plots (defined research areas) over a large range of primary forests in nine countries in central, eastern, and southeastern Europe.

The main research goals are to conduct “spatial and temporal analyses focusing on various aspects of disturbance regimes in primary forests” and to perform “dendrochronological studies”. In other words: the scientists measure impacts of disturbances (such as wind breaks, insect outbreaks etc.) on untouched forests over a long period of time and they collect data about past tree growth based on tree rings from individual trees.
Such studies have never been undertaken on this scale and over such a large geographic range and their database is one of the largest on this topic in the world.

Primary forest research to inform sustainable forest management
The REMOTE project aims to understand natural dynamics and then help to develop sustainable forest management practices – which will produce wood, but also sustain biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Several hundreds of permanent study plots have been established and are evaluated over a long period of time. Data is collected and compared periodically during exhausting field trips into the wild and remote forests. The project delivers a better scientific understanding of change dynamics of primary forests over a long period of time. The data includes measurements of changes in forests structure, habitats of rare species and measurements of individual tree growth. The project has established a database containing thousands of individual trees.

In the Fagaras mountains, approximatley 200 research plots have been established in eleven remote valleys. The scientists have identified several primary forest areas over 1000 hectares. Such primary forest valleys no longer exist anywhere else in the temperate climate zone of the EU. They are critical habitat for many protected species – including bears, lynx, wolves, capercaillie, owls, woodpeckers and saproxylic beetles.

Gallery: REMOTE project research works in Fagaras mountains

 

Europe’s wildest mountain valley: Boia Mică in southern Fagaras
One of the most outstanding primary forest valleys is Boia Mică which covers 1,145 ha with an altitudinal difference of 1,670m over a distance of 7.5 km. The valley is completely pristine: there isn’t even a path. “This is probably one of the oldest forests of Romania: We measured 37 trees older than 300 years, 10 trees older than 400 years, and 1 tree older than 500 years on only 14 randomly selected study plots in Boia Mică,“ REMOTE coordinator Martin Mikoláš reports.

REMOTE project researchers found an extraordinary concentration of very old trees in Boia Mica valley – with numerous beech trees older than 400 years.
Boia Mica: No path leads into the wilderness.

High science and nature value forests under immediate logging threat

The project findings highlight the value of this unique and huge complex of primary forests. Primary forests are not only of high value for scientists and biodiversity – they also help protect the climate by storing large amounts of carbon, they are important for water cycle regulation and stabilize mountain’s slopes. Once they are destroyed, it will take hundreds of years to regenerate, in particular in high mountains.

“Primary forests and natural forests are so rare, that we need to prevent any further loss. Not only in tropics, but also in Europe,” Martin Mikoláš explains.

In the past, these wild forests were protected by default through their inaccessibility. But this is changing rapidly: forest roads and logging are moving into the valleys, even into the heart of Natura 2000 sites. Some of their first plots have been destroyed together with the surrounding forest. Forest “management“ in Fagaras mountains so far has been including very large clear cuts destroying the entire landscape along with the complete loss of high conservation value habitats. The scientists therefore urge for stricter protection.

 

Logging in unmapped primary spruce forest in Ucea Mare valley.

Incomplete primary forest mapping, bureaucratic obstacles and inconsistent preservation 

WWF Romania had previously pursued some mapping of primary forests in Fagaras. They identified thousands of hectares of primary forests, in particular in some northern valleys. However, the REMOTE scientists detected more primary forests which have clearly not been included in the WWF mapping. One main problem is that the criteria for identification of primary forest are extremely strict and can easily exclude important forest.

Overview Arpaselu, Arpasul, Ucea Mare and Ucisoara valleys: not all primary forest stands have not been mapped yet. White polygons: mapped by WWF, red polygons: unmapped primary forest, green dots: permanent study plots.
Primary spruce stands in Sambata valley with permanent study plots: not mapped, not protected.

WWF Romania has been developing numerous studies about primary forests in order to include them in the “National Catalogue of Virgin Forests“ for strict protection. But there are several problems connected to this official Romanian “virgin forest“ protection program: forest management plans often underestimate the average age of forest parcels. As a consequence, authorities sometimes do not accept those forests than as a “virgin forest“. The management plans also often allow cutting in parts of forest parcels. Once these cuts are done, the forest parcel is compromised and authorities do reject the inclusion of the forest as a “virgin forest“, including remaining intact stands.

Even within already mapped polygons logging occurs, because owners did not accept protection. In Belia valley for instance, a large clearcut (20 hectares) and several kilometers of new forest roads cut now through primary forests.

Furthermore, it takes a long time until the submitted forest areas are included in the “Catalogue“ due in part to year-long bureaucratic approval procedures with authorities.

At this stage – according to WWF Romania, Greenpeace Romania and Foundation Conservation Carpathia – between 3 and 5 thousand hectares in Fagaras mountains have been inscribed in the „Catalogue“ (Link). But there are additionally between 6 and 7 thousand hectares of primary and virgin forest more and they are under serious threat as long as they are not included.

Gallery: Many primary forests in Fagaras mountains have been excluded from mapping (and protection) so far. Thus, REMOTE permanent study plots are under threat…

 

Offense against researchers during a regular hike
In the summer of 2018, the scientists spent several weeks in the wilderness of Fagaras mountains. As they returned from a hike to primary forests they found their car (parked outside a barrier) damaged with deliberately punctured tyres.
This is worrisome to the scientists – what will come next?
Their research work is based upon official permits.

According to media and NGO reports Illegal logging seems to be present in many areas in Romania. Attracting more international tourists are a key economic perspective of many remote areas in the Carpathians. Attacks against foreigner visitors will certainly hamper this option severely.

Comprehensive protection of larger forest areas is key
The REMOTE scientists conclude that action must be taken now to halt the loss of these internationally important primary forests. They  point out that it is crucial to avoid creating a fragmented system of protected forests – surrounded by heavy logging. In order to preserve the ecological integrity of these forest habitats (and their inhabiting species) the comprehensive protection of larger, connected forest ecosystems is needed. Therefore protection should also include natural forests which do not meet the strict legal definition of “virgin forests“ in Romania to create a better connected network of non intervention areas.

Only the protection of larger forest landscapes will prevent the Fagaras mountains from ending up like other degraded forests everywhere else in Europe: isolated, fragments of natural forests disconnected by large areas with industrial forestry – including clear cuts and even aged monocultures and non natural tree crops.

This kind of degraded landscape does not preserve our natural heritage but also damages the ecosystems so far that ecosystem services will no longer be provided.

To read the full Fagaras Rreport (by Martin Mikoláš and Ondrej Kameniar), please click here.

More reading?  Report “Where are Europe’s last primary forests?”

You can help to help to protect the largest complex of primary forests within the temperate zone of the EU- the Fagaras Mountains – and other natural forests in Romania: please sign our petition and forward this story to friends!

Destroyed permanent study plot in Ucisoara valley: help to save these unique forests and the important REMOTE research work!
Ancient world of Arpasul valley: wilderness of this quality has been almost extinct in Europe. Please help to preserve it!

 

Report: Joint IUCN – EuroNatur field mission to Romanian national parks and UNESCO sites

Informal field trip to disputed logging sites in Romanian national parks…

On November 14 and 15, 2018, an informal IUCN field visit to Romania’s Domogled – Valea Cernei and Semeneic – Cheile Carasului national parks took place upon invitation by IUCN member organisation EuroNatur. The background for this excursion is the growing concern among scientists and civil society organisations about the rapidly proceeding loss of virgin and natural forest areas in Romania due to proceeding industrial logging.

Here you can read the report by EuroNatur.
(Attention: this is a long read…)

Romania hosts the largest share of virgin forest remains the temperate zone of Europe.

However, conservationists and scientists are increasingly concerned about the progess of logging: NGO’s such as EuroNatur and Agent Green have been alerting the Romanian government, the EU institutions and the public about this major European environmental crisis. They especially criticized the destruction of virgin and other high nature value forests in protected areas such as Natura 2000 sites and the buffer zones of national parks and the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site to protect primary and old growth beech forests in Europe.

Romanian state forestry enterprise Romsilva, who is managing almost all Romanian national parks, have been countering critique regarding the logging operations with the argument, that this is legally backed and even required by forestry management plans. EuroNatur invited IUCN Europe Director Luc Bas to have a closer look at the very sites in Romanian national parks…

Day 1: Visit to Domogled national park

The field visit started in Domogled – Valea Cernei national park. Right in advance, before the trip the national park administration and Romsilva had been informed by a representative of the Romanian Wilderness Society that the IUCN Regional Director wants to visit Cernisoara natural forest (Radoteasa valley) and Iauna Craiova UNESCO World Heritage Site component part. In both sites, intense logging has been reported to impact natural beech forest stands.

Unfortunately, in the morning of November 14, neither a representative of the national park administration nor of Romsilva showed up at the agreed meeting point. This seems to have been a miscommunication but also the national park manager did not respond to phone calls to try to meet up either. So the excursion by IUCN and EuroNatur together with representatives of the NGOs Agent Green  and Altitudine had to be started without the officials.

On the way up the valley to Cernisoara forest the excursion participants passed the entrance of the valley leading up to Iauna Craiova UNESCO site. But the barrier was down and a forester guarding the gate refused to open it. 

Thus, the joint field mission by IUCN and EuroNatur could not visit logging sites in virgin and natural forests next to the UNESCO World Heritage core area…

Cernisoara production unit: lush natural forests and progressing logging

Later, also the road into Radoteasa valley in Cernisoara “production unit” was blocked by a barrier. Nobody was waiting there. So the group walked the logging road upstream. After a few kilometres they found a large, muddy logging depot polluted with diesel oil and huge piles with logs of old beech trees. A logging tractor was waiting for more timber to be teared downhill.

Romania / Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park: Fact finding trip with IUCN into wild Radoteasa valley in Cernisoara forest. In 2017, the remote valley in the middle of the national park was opened for logging by State forestry Romsilva. Today, the wild forest is partly damaged by roads and logging activities. According to the official management plan, most of  remaining natural forest in the lower section of the valley is to be logged stepwise in the years to come…

Radoteasa valley can be considered as an exceptional wild area, covered by natural beech forest of the same kind and structure like the forest included in the UNESCO site core zone a few kilometers away. Until 2017, no road led into the wild valley and its more than 1000 hectares of forest wilderness.

“Not enough dead wood”: exclusion of natural forests from protection in the national park. 

In discussion with Member of the EU Parliament Thomas Waitz (in May 2018 in Domogled national park) Romsilva representatives argued that the natural forest in Radoteasa area has been assessed by an (unnamned) expert who allegedly “did not find virgin forest there”. They said, there “is not enough dead wood”. Therefore the forest is not “virgin” and logging is justified.

However, neither IUCN guidelines nor Romanian law defines that only “virgin forests” should be protected in a national park. The excursion in November 2018 found large areas of natural beech forest with old tree individuals and dead wood. The still undisturbed and wild area is very large, a perfect situation for enlarging the non intervention zone of a national park. National parks are there to protect large natural ecosystems – regardless whether they are considered to be “virgin forest” (according to Romanian definition) or not.

Old growth forest in the national park auctioned for logging

Only a fraction of the  forest close to the tree line and a small fragment at the lower entrance are currently protected as part of the national park core zone. The rest is included in the buffer zone, which means that it will be logged sooner or later by „progressive cutting“ (=cutting all trees over a period of 10-15 years) or “conservation cutting” (= removal of trees to accelerate forest rejuvenation and increase income from wood harvest). At the end of the logging cycles, rarely any old tree will be left there. In autumn 2018, Romsilva published four forest parcels in forestry unit XI Cernisoara for logging in 2019 (2B, 25, 45B+C) on a website for auction. Two of them (45 B+C) have been put up for auction again in January 2019.

Progressive cutting threatens Radoteasa valley in Domogled – Valea Cernei national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site
Cernisoara forest wilderness in the middle of the national park. Green polygon: virgin forest mapped by WWF Romania; yellow polygons: forest parcels had been published on the website of Romsilva for auction (and logging) in autumn 2018 (from left to right: parcels nr. 25, 45 B + C and 2B).
Parcels 45 B and C have have been published by Romsilva for auction in January 2019.
Old growth beech forest with dead wood and ancient beech trees in parcel 45B: good for “conservation cutting” in 2019?
Historic CORONA-image (1968) proofs that the Radoteasa – Carbunele valley complex was covered by intact natural forest without any signs of previous logging.

Upstream of the logging depot Radoteasa valley is turning into a scenic, wild gorge with natural beech forest. The stream is leading up to forest parcel 25, which has been mapped by WWF Romania as “virgin forest”. The beech forest at the slopes appeared to be of natural structure and composition – with dead wood and large and old tree individuals. A member of the NGO Altitudine presented a map showing plans for a new logging road through the remote gorge to get access to parcel 25.

“Not enough dead wood”? Forest wilderness in Radoteasa valleyt. In autumn 2018, state forstry Romsilva published forest parcel 25 (in the wilderness upstream form this view) on their website for logging auction.
Wild gorge in Radoteasa valley. According to documents published by Romsilva in autumn 2018 a logging road shall be built here…

During another field mission in May 2018 with MEP Thomas Waitz Mr Dragos Mihai (Conservation Director Romsilva) has announced that the forest in Radoteasa valley „could be protected“ – eg. by including it into the core zone of the park. However, a few months later, Romsilva published four parcels in this area for logging auction… At the same time there is no progress regarding the announced improvements of protection.

At the entrance of the Radoteasa valley (close to road 66a) a small fraction of beech forest has been included in the national park’s core zone. This natural forest does not differ much from the forest upstream. It appears likely that the decision what to include in the core zone was not based upon strict scientific criteria.

Beech forest under strict protection in a core zone fragment at the entrance of Radoteasa valley – not differing from forest stands upstream which are planned to be logged. Obviously, the park’s zoning is not sufficiently based upon scientific criteria…
Domogled national park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The core zone of the national park in the upper Cerna valley (northern section of the park) almost entirely consists of alpine meadows and pastures. Most of the forest in this part of the national park is considered to be production forest by Romsilva.

Two UNESCO World Heritage Site component parts – Iauna Craiova and Ciucevele Cernei – are located there, but lack any stringent connection by other protected areas or corridors. Romsilva pursues „progressive” cutting and “conservation” cutting there  which could lead to the complete liquidation of all natural forests stands in the buffer zone, if the management plan stays as it is now.

Logging of natural beech forests is already very close to the boundaries of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage component parts Iauna Craiova and Ciucevele Cernei (see images below).

Logging of old growth beech forest at the boundary of Iauna Craiova UNESCO World Heritage Site component part. The whole Domogled national park is designated as UNESCO site, but most of it is just considered as “buffer zone”. All old growth forests in the “buffer” will be logged progressively, according to the management plan.
Logging close to the UNESCO World Heritage Site component part “Iauna Craiova”.
Logging close to the UNESCO World Heritage Site component part “Ciucevele Cernei”.

20 years ago most of the side valleys of Cerna river were covered by large tracks of natural beech forest. Today, there is logging in all those valleys and large virgin and natural  forest areas have been compromised by intensive cutting.

The inclusion of Cernisoara (and neighboring Iovan) natural forest complexes into the national park’s core zone (and / or into the UNESCO core zone) would ensure protection of the remaining high nature value beech forest and safeguard proper biodiversity connectivity.

On the way back the barrier at the entrance of Iauna Craiova valley was still down and the forester was still guarding it. Unfortunately, Mr Dragos Mihai announced on the phone that a visit is not possible…

Cultural and natural heritage of Prisacina peasant land

In late afternoon, the next destination was the small and remote village Prisacina, which is located in the “buffer zone” of Domogled National Park. They villagers mainly live on subsistence: livestock and small scale farming. Some of the forests surrounding the hamlets – Prisacina, Inlet, Scacisoara and others – have been modestly used as a source for firewood (coppicing), others remained largely untouched until today due to the steepness of the slopes and gorges. In early 2018 Romsilva intended to build roads in this remote part of the national park and to start industrial logging.
Residents opposed these plans and civil society organisations collected more than 10.000 signatures. Finally, Romsilva decided to suspend the logging temporarily.

The landscape around these villages is an extraordinary example of an ancient peasant land with rich biodiversity and exceptional beauty. NGOs Altitude and Agent Green argue that the landscape should be protected as it is – including the traditional, small scale substistance agriculture by local peasants and wild forests patches out of use. Any industrial exploitation of resources should be banned permanently in the national park’s management plan. Development of modest nature tourism (such as hiking / trekking) could support  the local communities of the hamlets.

The hamlet of Prisacina in Domogled national park (image from May 2018). The ancient mixed cultural and nature landscape is of outstanding beauty and conservation value.
Day 2: Semenic – Cheile Carasului National Park

The second day was mainly spent within the Nature Reserve Cheile Carasului, which is embedded into the national park. Its conservation status and its boundaries are under dispute between Romsilva and Romanian conservationists. On this day, Romsilva did lead the excursion into the park.

Parcel 46 in production unit 10 is a mixed stand of beech forest including also patches of old growth beech forest with dead wood and different ages incl. ancient individuals. Here, Romsilva applies „conservation cutting“ which implies an average extraction of 5 cubic meters each year. Romsilva officials explained that they extract groups of old trees including „ugly trees“ to stimulate regeneration. On the long run all old trees will be removed and no habitat for dead wood bound species will be left in this part of the national park.

Old growth beech forest residual in forest parcel 46 in production unit 10. “Conservation cutting” will progressively result in removal of the old trees in the forest parcel.

A few kilometers away, in Toplita valley, Romsilva and park officials guided into an area with „progressive cutting“. This method results in a complete removal of all old trees over a period of 10 to 15 years. Usually three consecutive cuttings are pursued. At the end, the forest age will be minor and all „habitat trees” will be gone.

River crossing of a tractor road in Semenic national park. The improvised “bridge” seems recent and the tractor tracks through the bed of the forest stream are still visible. Crossing rivers with logging tractors is not legal.

However, in Toplita valley some old growth beech forest remnants and aged individuals are still in place. All of them were already marked for logging. During the field visit, workers were cutting large trees just a few 100 meters away.

Gabriel Schwaderer (CEO of EuroNatur Foundation) pointing at markings for logging on a very old beech tree in Toplita valley. The whole area is under manegement regime of “progressive cutting”, which means that all trees will be removed stepwise,  including old growth trees.
Semenic and Domogled National Park have been also designated as European Natura 2000 sites.

Under the provisions of the EU Habitat and Bird Directives degradation and deterioration of habitats have to be avoided and environmental checks have to be conducted before any „plan or project“ in implied, such as logging.

Mr Mihai explained that in those national parks no explicit Natura 2000 „appropriate assessments“ (environmental risk assessment under Natura 2000) were done. All environmental asseessments have been  included in the management plans of the national parks. He also admitted that in the (large) areas under „progressive cutting“ regime no further regulations to protect habitats or species are applied. In these parcels all forest is being cut step by step in the logging cycle as determined by the forest management plans, which is “legally binding”.

Conclusions

1. It seems that the state program to protect virgin and old-growth forests from logging („National Catalogue of Virgin Forests“) is not reaching desirable results: Mapping of forest stands is left almost exclusively left with volunteers such as NGOs. There are reports by NGOs that the Technical Commission in the Ministry for Water and Forests in charge of checking expert studies about virgin forests and including them into the „Catalogue“ has not followed up timely and thus leaving indicated areas for too long out of the catalogue.

Many studies seem to have been rejected, also because of procedural bureaucratic reasons. At the moment only 21.000 hectares are included in the Virgin Forest Catalogue. Expert studies about several 10.000 hectares have been submitted, but it is not clear what will happen to these in the near future. Thus, more immediate follow up by the government is necessary to secure protection of very valuable sites.

2. Romanian National Parks are largely not following IUCN guidelines with regard to the zoning concept. If management plans are in place, core zones in almost all cases are smaller than 75%, in many cases even smaller than 50 % of the total surface of national parks. There is no road map existing how to reach the 75 %-recommendation for non-intervention areas. As in almost all national parks high nature value sites are under immediate threat of deterioration or degradation (e.g. by intense logging), the enlargement of non-intervention zones, in particular to include old growth forests, should be considered as a matter of urgency.

3. In the large buffer zones of the Romanian national parks high nature value forests obviously clearly suffer from progressive and conservation cutting. The forestry practices in the buffer zones do not seem to differ from industrial logging sites outside the parks. These forms of industrial forest management do not comply with the primary conservation objectives of national parks, which have been established to preserve (among other objectives) large scale forest ecosystems.

4. The management of the national parks is with the state forestry enterprise Romsilva. In conversations during the fact finding mission managers showed a strong orientation towards conventional forest use and management principles.

5. Progressive and conservation cutting is also taking place in old growth forest stands in close vicinity of the core areas of the UNESCO World Heritage Site „Primeval and old growth beech forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe“. Romsilva seems not yet to have considered specific forest protection measures within buffer zones of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

6. According to the Operational guidelines of the World Heritage Convention (§ 180) logging could degrade the integrity of a World Heritage property: „Severe deterioration of the natural beauty or scientific value of the property, as by human settlement, construction of reservoirs which flood important parts of the property, industrial and agricultural development including use of pesticides and fertilizers, major public works, mining, pollution, logging, firewood collection, etc.“ – and : „Human encroachment on boundaries or in upstream areas which threaten the integrity of the property.“

7. The core zone component parts of the UNESCO World Heritage Site „Primeval and old growth beech forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe“ are increasingly isolated due to progressive logging and thus impair biodiversity connectivity and the ecological integrity of the site. Much of the forest located within the „buffer“ between the World Heritage core areas appears to be planned for logging in near to middle future if the management plans of Romsilva will be further implemented.

8. In the other valleys between the component parts „Iauna Craiova“ and „Ciucevele Cernei“ numerous old growth forest stands are still intact or only initially degraded (by first phase of thinning). The enlargement of the national parks core zone including all these high nature value forest stands in the several side valleys would ensure proper connectivity.

Huge pile of recently cut beech logs in Toplita valley, Semenic national park.
 
Notes for readers: background facts about Romania’s national parks

The national parks of Romania cover 317,000 hectares, which is the equivalent of 1.3% of the Romanian territory. Romania hosts approximately 7 Mio. hectares of forests (according to the latest National Forest Inventory).

All forests included into National Parks representing approximately 240,000 hectares, equivalent to 1 % of Romanian territory and about 3.5 % of Romanian forests. In the core zones of Romanian national parks approx. 120,000 ha are under strict protection including large areas of alpine grass- und rockland.

12 out of 13 National Parks are administered and financed (and therefore determined) by the state owned forestry enterprise Romsilva. The majority of the National Parks has been established after the year 1990 and all of them have been legally „declared“ in the years 2000 (Law Number 5 of March 6, 2000), 2004 (Government Decision No 2151) and 2005 (Government Decision Number 1581).

Zoning does not comply with IUCN guidelines: In the majority of national parks, core zones („special conservation zones“ which usually comprise: “zona de protectie stricta” and “zona de protectie integrale”) and „buffer zones“ (so called „sustainable use zones“, comprising: “zona de conservare durabila” and “zona de conservare durabila parcele limitrofa”) have been defined. Only one national park (Jiu Gorge) meets the IUCN target of 75% strict protection without interventions. All other national parks have „core zones“ with smaller perimeters, many even less than 50%.

IUCN definition of national parks (protected areas “Category II”): “Large natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities.” The “primary objective” is: “To protect natural biodiversity along with its underlying ecological structure and supporting environmental processes, and to promote education and recreation.” Economic activities should be limited to tourism and “subsistence resource use” by local communities, “in so far as these will not adversely affect the primary management objective”. 

IUCN  rule for 75% strict protection in place since 25 years: IUCN defined already back in 1992 (World Congress, Caracas) and published in “Guidelines for Protected Areas Management” (IUCN Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas with assistance of the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 1994): ” At least three-quartes and preferebly more of the area (= national park; annotation) have to be managed for the primary purpose; and the management of the remaining area must not be in conflict with the primary purpose.“ This guideline is also applicable for national parks which have been developed earlier.

Facsimile of the IUCN “Guidelines for Protected Areas Management”, published in 1994.

Intensive resource extraction, such as large scale logging and removal of old growth forests, is obviously in conflict with the “primary objective” of protecting “natural biodiversity along with its underlying ecological structure and supporting environmental processes.”

However, Romsilva repeatedly claims, that the “75% rule” by IUCN was not known when the Romanian national parks were planned. At the moment, 25 years after the IUCN “Guidelines” were published, there is still no roadmap in place in Romania to comply the IUCN guidelines.

The Romanian national law on nature protection (O.U.G. 57/2007) states (not an official translation):
„The management of national parks ensures the maintenance of the physico-geographic framework in the natural state, the protection of ecosystems, the conservation of genetic resources and biological diversity under conditions of ecological stability, the prevention and exclusion of any form of exploitation of natural resources and land use incompatible with the assigned purpose. (…) Within the perimeter of national parks only traditional activities are practiced only by the communities in the area of the national park, traditional activities that will be regulated by the management plan. National parks correspond to IUCN category II ‚National park: protected area managed especially for the protection of ecosystems and recreation’.“

Buffer zones are logging zones: In the so called „buffer zones“ intense logging (with heavy machinery,  large scale logging infrastructure, big openings of the canopy, removal of large amounts of timber and stepwise complete liquidation of old growth tree stands) is frequently present on huge surfaces, as various reports of NGOs such as Agent Green and also scientists reveal.

The current exploitation of natural resources in Romania’s national parks is largely not „traditional activities” by local communities. Intense forest management is obviously mainly not persued by the „communities in the area of the national park“, but by commercial logging companies which are ususally based outside the national parks who also bring along their workers.

Radoteasa valley in Domogled – Valea Cernei national park (October 2017): A huge area of forest wilderness with an outstanding nature value which deserves comprehensive protection..