By Thomas Waitz, MEP and European Green Party Committee member
In the Carpathians, the largest remaining primeval forests in the EU are in danger. A unique natural heritage is disappearing inexorably, and only small parts remain protected. Unclear rules set by Romanian authorities and the suspicion of corruption in the forest management authorities have promoted ruthless deforestation. In addition, there are international timber companies that happily help themselves to illegally cut wood in Romania.
I visited Romania to investigate these allegations. I met with all stakeholder across the sector. You will not believe what kind of fake facts and stories were presented to me in order to justify the illegal logging. I am a farmer and forest owner myself, so I cannot be fooled as easily as the National Park authorities thought. But let’s start at the beginning.
Big companies profiting
“Do you know exactly where this wood comes from?”, “Do you think you have illegally chopped wood in your storing?” and "Can you tell me why a 350-year-old tree is being cut down - in a national park?" I spent the first day asking uncomfortable questions to the wood processing companies in the area. Especially the Austrian companies Schweighofer and Kronospan were on my list to visit. The wood processor Schweighofer made the headlines a few years ago when environmentalists taced back the provenance of wood from the primeval forests to its sawmills in Romania. Today, efforts are being made to check all timber deliveries coming directly from the forests as closely as possible. I was informed in detail about new control and tracing procedures at the factory. I must admit I was impressed - at least by their efforts to improve the system. A big slice of the wood they buy comes from wood depots. There are still loopholes, such as the possibility of mixing legal and illegal wood. At least they talked to me which cannot be said about the neighbouring pressboard manufacturer Kronospan. They refused to talk to me. We made it inside, though, but we did not receive any further information. Just today I received a letter explaining their position.
Additionally, the citizens of the town in Sebes approached me and told a horrendous story about Kronospan’s daily air pollution around their manufacturing site. Data shows that 60% of the cancer in the Alba Lulia area occurs in the vicinity of 20km of Kronospan. Back in 2015 the government installed an air measuring system. The numbers on ozone measurements were through the roof to a point that the government should have called out a state of emergency. Instead, the government decided to deinstall the air measuring system explaining that the system was broken and the measurements are wrong. A new device was never installed. Kronospan who is measuring daily the air quality themselves claims that their measurements are in the green area. The people of Sebes protest against this. They held a referendum to buy from their commune’s money an air measurement system to prove Kronospan wrong.
The Forest authorities -Romsilva
Next on the agenda was to investigate whether the national park authorities and national forest management authorities are aware of the environmental and cultural theft that is happening in these protected areas. The forest authorities were really anxious about having the discussion and they insisted on accompanying me at every step of the way during the next day. There was not only the head of the forest management in Domogled who welcomed me but about 6 to 10 different officials around me during the entire remaining time.
Facts or “Facts” about the Domogled National Park
What you should know about the Domogled National Park: the law requires national parks to protect 75% of their areas, so far only 50% of the area is protected in Domogled, of these 50% around half is not forest, but cliffs and deep slopes above the forest line. Furthermore, the park authorities created so called buffer-zones; these are zones that can be economically exploited. However, instead of only covering the external borders of the forest they cover more than half of the area and are in the heart of the forest. Up to 400-year-old trees are cut down in a national park! Also, here the authorities readily come up with a questionable explanation: “They take away the light for the younger trees, this is to achieve sustainable forest management”, “This is a conservation cut” and “We are conserving the ability of the forest to deliver profit”. The list of questionable explanation continues and I am shocked by the way the law for protected areas and Natura 2000 can be twisted to make it fit to whatever the forest management needs.
The struggle of the Environmentalist
During the tour we encountered environmentalists and activists who were hanging up two huge banners and they blocked the path in order to underline the urgency of the situation. Especially the NGOs Agent Green and Euro Natur are trying to raise the issue on the national and European level. Gabriel Paun, founder of Agent Green remarks that “political talks have failed, so they have to raise our voices here at the site of destruction, in the wounded forests, to alert both the public and European institutions”.
The forthcoming drama of destruction of Cernisoara primeval forest highlights the systemic ineptitude of Romania’s national park management. Cernisoara was the last large valley that remained untouched till last year, when 1367 hectares of primeval forest in Romania were eliminated from the UNESCO World Heritage nomination list, only to be available for logging. Two plots of old forest in Cernisoara were degraded in 2017, two more are planned to be logged this summer.
I am not surprised anymore to find new forest roads into previously untouched areas in Domogled Park.
What I saw was intensive forest management carried out in a highly professional way. This would be a sustainable way of doing intensive forestry if we forget for a moment that what we are dealing with a national park! The so-called “conservation cut approach” of the National park management means that their goal is not to protect biodiversity or to protect the forest but to ensure that it is possible to continually make profit from the forest both now and in the future.
Therefore, I have the following demands:
1. The remaining area of the National Park --at least 75% - must be protected immediately.
2. All activities in the National Park must be adapted to European legislation and comply with the Natura 2000 guidelines.
3. Romsilva and the Ministry have to formulate and control clear guidelines for companies engaged in economic activities in the forest.
4. Severe penalties have to be imposed on those who do not abide by applicable law and exploit the forest.