Tag Archives: wood

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.

Lawsuit seeks to remove forest biomass from EU’s renewable energy directive

On March 4 2019, a landmark lawsuit against the European Union was launched in Brussels to challenge the new EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED 2). Plaintiffs from the five European Member States Romania, Ireland, Slovakia, France and Estonia are charge that the EU’s 2018 Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) will devastate forests and increase greenhouse gas emissions by promoting burning forest wood as renewable and carbon neutral. 

The legal case, which will be filed in the European General Court in Luxembourg, cites scientific evidence that wood-burning power plants pump more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere per unit of energy than coal plants. The EU policy does not count the CO2 emissions from burning biomass fuels for heat or energy, making it appear that These methodas are more climate-friendly than fossil fuels. The plaintiffs are asking the court to annul the forest biomass provisions of RED II in order to render the burning of forest wood ineligible for EU Member State as they try to meet the renewable energy targets and subsidies. 

Burning wood in power plants pumps more CO2 into the atmosphere
(per unit of energy) than coal…

“The EU’s policy relies on the false and reckless assumption that burning forest wood is carbon neutral,” said Dr. Mary S. Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, and lead science advisor on the case. “However, scientists from around the world, including the EU’s own science advisors, warned that burning forest wood actually increases emissions relative to fossil fuels.”    

EU renewable energy directive in contradiction to Treaty of the Functioning of the EU

“The lawsuit we are filing today alleges the EU’s policy fails to comply with nearly all of the principles for environmental policy that are laid out in the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU, including that policy should be based on science, address climate change and embrace the principle that polluters pay,” said Raul Cazan, from 2Celsius in Romania, one of the NGO plaintiffs. “It’s hard to imagine a more counter-productive policy than burning forests for fuel.”   

Romanian environmentalist Gabriel Paun from  the NGO Agent Green supports the case as witness.

An overview about the details of the case can be read here.

“We’re in a climate emergency that the EU is exacerbating by treating forests, virtually our only carbon sink, as fuel,” said Peter Lockley, legal counsel for the plaintiffs. “This favored treatment is expanding forest cutting, which in turn is impacting peoples’ property, rights, and livelihoods. It’s vital that people affected by this damaging law are allowed to come before the EU court to challenge it.” 

Subsidies for wood biomass will increase logging, Europe’s last natural and virgin forests will have to pay the price… Image: logging in the heart of Romania’s Domogled – Valea Cernei national park based upon approvals by the state.

In accordance with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommendations for maintaining a livable climate, the European Commission has called for a climate-neutral EU by 2050, requiring the balancing of greenhouse gas emissions and uptake into carbon sinks, mostly forests by that point. Under RED II, the EU is required to generate at least 32 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 to help reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent in comparison to 1990 levels.  

However, biomass energy is a large and growing part of EU’s renewable energy mix. In 2016, nearly half the renewable energy produced in the EU came from burning woody biomass and the demand is expected to increase with RED II.  

EU subsidies for wood biomass will increase logging of primeval forests

The case argues that not only the uncounted CO2 emissions from this biomass are undermining efforts to address climate change, but subsidies for biomass are increasing the demand and therefore the logging of forests in Europe and North America. The plaintiffs represent areas that have been hit particularly hard, such as the US Southeast, Estonia, and the Carpathian Mountain forests in eastern Europe where some of Europe’s last remaining primeval forests are being logged. 

The suit is being filed by plaintiffs from Estonia, France, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia and the USA. The plaintiffs are bringing the case based on the detrimental impacts from logging and biomass burning they have already experienced and anticipation of future impacts if financial support for bioenergy continues to soar.

“The transformation of the Renewable Energy Directive was the EU’s chance to deal with some of the most egregious problems associated with biomass bioenergy, such as increasing forest harvests and burning whole trees and stumps. On this they largely failed, so it is now up to citizens to take the EU to court and get this disastrous decision turned around” said Hannah Mowat, campaign coordinator at Fern, a Brussels-based NGO working on forests and rights. 

For more information about the case and a background on each of the plaintiffs, go to www.eubiomasscase.org.

The giant clearcuts in the Romanian and Slovak Carpathians are not only a disaster for biodiversity. They also threaten humans by increasing risk of flooding, landslides and avalanches. The large openings also degrade the forest soil and hamper forest growth.


Data kept secret from Romanian forest inventory reveals a catastrophic level of illegal logging

Agent Green published shocking data from second forest inventory, which has been kept secret so far. According to official logging allowances in forest management plans, not more than 18 Mio cubic meters of timber can be cut legally per year.  But in reality more than 38 Mio cubic meters are being logged down, as the forest inventory shows. Every year. 
20.6 Mio cubic meters / year of timber exploited above the maximum allowed is “a shocking value of catastrophic size and an attack on both safety of the citizens of Romania and on biodiversity. Authorities have totally lost control of sustainable forest management”, Agent Green says.

This enormous amount of illegal cutting is also an acute threat to the most precious virgin forest heritage within the EU. If the level of logging is not being decreased immediately, many  of these outstanding forests will be liquidated soon…

Open Letter on the National Forestry Inventory and the level of illegal logging: Agent Green calls Romania’s President and Prime Minister to take action…

To: The Presidential Administration and the Government of Romania
To the attention of: Mr. Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania
To: The Government of Romania
To the attention of: Mrs. Viorica Dăncilă, Prime Minister of Romania

Toward: Mr. John Deneş, Minister of Waters and Forests
Mr. Augustin Lazar, Prosecutor General, Public Ministry, PICCJ
Victor Ciorbea, People’s Advocate
Angela Cristea, Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Romania

Bucharest, November 28, 2018

Dear Mr. President, Madam Prime Minister,

Agent Green, an Environmental NGO, is concerned about the results of the second cycle of the National Forestry Inventory (IFN), designed to analyze the entire forest vegetation in Romania (the national forest fund and forest vegetation outside the national forest fund) results that without any justification were delayed to be made public.

The results of the 2nd IFN, regarding the total volume of wood that was extracted annualy in Romania, have not been published, but the information that Agent Green obtained shows that illegal cuts have not diminished in recent years, but have increased significantly compared to the results of the first cycle of IFN and shows that the size of illegal logging has reached enormous, unprecedented industrial values.
Central, regional and local authorities have totally lost control of sustainable forest management.
According to Agent Green, the verifications made by specialists for the second IFN cycle, drawn up between 2013 and 2018, show that approximately 38.6 million cubic meters of wood were harvested annually.

Mr. President, according to the forest management plans, the maximum volume that can be harvested from Romania’s national forest fund is 18 million cubic meters per year. This means that an additional 20.6 million cubic meters per year  have been illegally exploited, and not 0.4 million cubic meters as publicly announced by the Ministry of Waters and Forests less than a year ago.

For 4  full years of IFN cycle II (2014-2017), 82.4 million m3 of wood (20.6 per year) would have been illegally cut. This volume of wood represents the equivalent of 242,352 hectares of completely razed hectares. In other words, a forest area equivalent to nearly half of the whole Brasov County, disappeared during 2013-2018.

20.6 million cubic meters of timber exploited above the maximum allowance is a shocking value of catastrophic size and an attack on the safety of the citizens of Romania and an attack on biodiversity. These numbers show vulnerability of both the state institutions with the right to control and law enforcement and the wood industry (superior exploitation and processing), an industrial branch that participates in the construction of Romania’s GDP. But especially this value (considering that much of the 20.6 million “disappeared” from the national forest fund and not outside of it) questions the national security and the Romanians’ right to a clean environment.

The selling of this illicit timber, on the black market without any documents , has caused immense damage, both financially and environmentally. A calculation, which took as reference the lowest price of 50 euros / cubic meter of firewood, Shows that the value of these illegal cuts is at least 4 billion euros in the last 4 years. This value is far from being the real one, as part of the extracted wood has been processed  and sold at much higher prices in the country and abroad.

From the data obtained by Agent Green investigators, IFN results show that the most affected region of these cuts is Moldova (over 8 million cubic meters), followed by Transylvania (about 6 million), Muntenia (over 4.5 million cubic meters) and other 2.1 in the rest of the regions.

The specialists who talked with Agent Green investigators and who participated in the data processing explained that according to the type of property, the 20.6 million cubic meters above the maximum allowable volume, affected the private entities forests, followed by the Territorial Administrative Units (city councils), followed by Historical Associations (Obsti, Composesorate) and the public property fund managed by Romsilva National Forestry Company. According to our information, the last two “entities” were almost equal in IFN reports, a dramatic reality, as the state property administrator Romsilva has always reported downward figures on illegal cuts.

Mr President, Prime Minister, we are particularly worried about the results of the IFN, which must be made public as soon as possible for specialists to be able to analyze this catastrophic figure of 38.6 million cubic meters harvested annually.
There are officials from state institutions who want these values ​​to never be made available to citizens, or the figures to be modified so that the disaster in the forests of the country is diminished by reducing or re-interpreting these data.
The results of the second IFN cycle are even more dramatic because the first cycle results of the National Forest Inventory has highlighted that annual illegal exploitation in 2008-2012 was 8.8 million cubic meters, a value 234% lower than the results of the 2nd IFN cycle.

The current situation proves that both national legislation and European legislation (EUTR and FLEGT) have been flagrantly violated.
We consider that the lack of a long-term strategy of the Romanian state regarding the sustainable management of this renewable resource, the weakness of state institutions with the right to control and law enforcement, but especially the level of corruption in key institutions are the main reasons for this disasters and huge damages to Romania’s forests and biodiversity.

We are addressing your Excellencies and the Supreme Council of Defense hoping that the necessary steps will be taken to stop the scourge that has systematically covered the country’s forests.
That is why we ask you to take the official steps necessary for the forthcoming publication of the results of the National Forestry Inventory regarding the disappearance of tens of millions of cubic meters of wood.

We also ask you to support the launch of an investigation by the Romanian General Prosecutor’s Office, in order to identify and sanction those responsible for this catastrophe – representatives of the Romanian state who have allowed our country to come to this unprecedented situation and those who have actually participated in the destruction of the forest fund and forests outside it.

We also advocate for strengthened legislation to tighten up punishments, enforce the law on forestry compliance and develop a medium and long-term strategy for sustainable forest resource management at national level. A strategy that strikes a balance between social and environmental principles.
Agent Green embraces the Romanian Academy’s vision for sustainable forest management in Romania and considers it imperative that future strategic objectives and actions take into account:

  • adapting forest management to the impacts of climate change and natural hazards
    increase the contribution of forests to the impacts of climate change and to different natural hazards
  • conserving biodiversity, aware of the truth that Romania is the owner of the most valuable natural forest patrimony in temperate Europe, including virgin and quasi-forest forests
  • compliance with the provisions of the forestry arrangements and limiting the volume of forest exploitation to the level of maximum 17 million cubic meters
  • emergency resolution of the major discordance between the present coverage of the country’s territory with forests (27%) and the optimal afforestation percentage (35-40%)

We urge the Ministry of Waters and Forests, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture and Romsilva to start a large refforestation process at national level, in areas where illegal cuts have irreparably affected the environment and the quality of community life.

The development of the „Forest Inspector“ online system must be urgently unlocked. Functions that have been deleted or canceled must be reopened and active (exploring data older than 72 hours).

Control should also be extended to timber deposits, where the absence of an electronic register leads to the mixing of legal timber with the illegally exploited timber. The boundaries of all protected natural areas (Natura 2000 sites, national parks, nature reserves and natural monuments) should also be added.
We call for the development and operation of the SUMAL system, which is currently blocked at a rudimentary stage, the use of state-of-the-art technologies for the rapid calculation of wood volumes (scanners) and satellites that allow an analysis of the evolution of the forest fund.

We urgently call for the prohibition of forest exploitation in national parks (1,3% of the country’s surface) and the establishment of the new Ciucas, Făgăraş, Giumalău and Ţarcu national parks as a minimum concrete and applicable compensatory measure against illegally exploited forest areas.

We call for a restructuring of the entire forestry system in terms of establishing total forestry transparency, the way in which the traceability of the exploited timber is planned, approved, verified, exploited and ensured and the forestry employees are responsible protect and manage this resource irrespective of the type of property (state / private).
Romanian’s forests are not only a raw material resource for industry but, above all, they play an extremely important role in providing the environmental services that depend on the security and safety of the citizens of this country.

Mr. President, Prime Minister, Romania suffers the worst environmental crisis at European level, a situation that urgently requires your intervention and the CSAT.

With great esteem,
Chairman Agent Green
Gabriel Paun
Agent Green Investigation Director
Andrei Ciurcanu

Romania will take over the EU-Presidency on January 1st, 2019. The eyes will be on Romania. Here you can sign our urgent call to take action now.

Romania / Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park: Logging of centuries old trees in Radoteasa valley in Cernisoara Virgin Forest – in the middle of the national park.
Giant clearcut in old growth forest in Fagaras Mountains Natura 2000 Site: Devastation follows greed. Officially, this clearcut was needed to fight “bark beetles”. Unofficially, insiders say that this enormous size was not justified, and everybody involved knew that…