Illegal Logging in the Carpathian Mountains
Illegal logging in the Carpathian forests destroys great parts of the last European primary and old-growth forests, habitats, and Natura 2000 sites. This is not only of concern for the countries holding these forests, it affects all Europeans: through altered water systems, increased biodiversity loss, and accelerated climate change. The EU could achieve a lot simply by enforcing its own regulations and directives – which the EU acknowledges are fully fit for purpose – but they still lack a clear roadmap for overcoming the main challenges.
If we exclude Scandinavia, two-thirds of Europe’s primary and old-growth forests are located in Romania. With more than half a million hectares of primary and old-growth forests, there is no other country in the temperate climate zone of the EU with so many large patches of mainly connected, uninterrupted forests. These forests are home to many important and threatened species of animals, plants, and fungi and they store enormous amounts of CO2.
Nevertheless, massive areas have been cut since 2007 when the country joined the EU, with Natura 2000 sites becoming hot-spots for logging. These logging activities often take the form of clear cuts, destroying complete areas of habitat types and putting many of the species in danger – even those for which the site has been designated. For instance, out of 11 habitats that were analysed in the Făgăraș Mountains, the majority are no longer in a good conservation status. In Maramures, over 10,000 hectares of clear cuts were documented, which is equivalent to approximately 2/3 of the area of Brussels.
Legal action in a similar case – the Bialowieża Forest Natura 2000 site in Poland – was brought before the European Court of Justice. In its ruling of 17 April 2018, the Court found that the Government of Poland had breached EU nature laws by accepting increased logging in Bialowieża forest. The Commission has already urged Romanian authorities to properly implement the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR). Still, Romanian law allows the systematic logging of natural forests on an area several times bigger than Bialowieża – without carrying out any impact assessment. The Habitat Directive is not correctly incorporated into the Romanian legislation and is largely disregarded by Romanian authorities Since EU legislation has been widely ignored by Romania, and the Commission must intervene urgently. It is the only real chance to save the remaining share of Europe’s last great primary and old-growth forests at the moment.
A neighbouring country of Romania and Poland, which is also located in the Carpathian Mountains, is Ukraine. Ukraine is also suffering from intensive illegal logging. The EU is by far the largest destination for Ukrainian wood exports, representing 70 per cent of the total. EU purchases have been rising rapidly, topping 1 billion Euro in 2017. The British NGO Earthsight suggests that at least 40 per cent of this wood was harvested or traded illegally, aided by corruption. They also indicate that Ukraine is the largest single supplier of such high-risk wood to the EU, exceeding all of the tropical countries of Latin America, Africa and South-East Asia combined. Meanwhile, Ukraine is not a member of the EU, but the EU policy in neighbouring countries has a big influence on its deforestation. If the situation in Romania and in Poland improves, the Ukrainian Carpathian forests will suffer more from illegal logging, in response to the European demand for cheap timber.
THE EU 2030 BIODIVERSITY STRATEGY
One of the key commitments in the EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy is to “strictly protect at least a third of the EU’s protected areas, including all remaining EU primary and old-growth forests”. It also acknowledges that implementation of the EU’s solid legislative framework has lagged for the past 30 years, and therefore strives for the "full implementation and enforcement of EU environmental legislation". The Commission will work to "improve compliance assurance, working closely with Member States and European networks of environmental agencies, inspectors, auditors, police, prosecutors and judges", also by supporting civil society’s role as a compliance watchdog and improving their access to justice in national courts in environmental matters. Furthermore, The EU will advocate for the same level of ambition globally and ensure that EU actions "do not result in deforestation in other regions of the world" Finally, the strategy mentions that "political support and financial and human resources will need to be prioritised" in order to implement these actions.
These are great intentions which BAE strongly welcomes, in particular the concrete action for compliance assurance. Unfortunately, most formulations leave several questions open:
What instruments will be created by the EU to ensure that Member States (this time) really control and protect EU’s protected areas?
How can we be sure that in different EU member states, e.g. in France and in Romania, "protection" means the same thing?
How exactly will the EU push for stronger monitoring and sanctioning systems?
What concrete steps will the EU take to stop influencing deforestation in other regions due to spill-over?
What have been the main difficulties in enforcing EU directives the last decades and how are the institutions going to directly overcome them?
We believe a strategy should not state that something deserves higher priority, but should explain how, and at the cost of what, that priority will be given. We therefore fear that this strategy does not provide a real solution for ensuring the comprehensive protection of existing and future protected areas.
CALL FOR ACTION
In our Call For Action we have called the EU to create an efficient system of law enforcement and accountability by increasing knowledge of Member States’ needs to improve implementation and cooperation; the creation of an effective monitoring and sanctioning system; and the proactive responsibility of Member States.
In this context, we specifically urge the European Commission to:
Call member states to stop corruption, put under control the efficient implementation of the EU Timber Regulation and ensure management of Natura 2000 sites in strict accordance with EU environmental legislation.
Elaborate instruments of monitoring and sanctions of Member States for the protection of Natura 2000 sites.
Support non-EU countries in stopping deforestation through forestry reforms and fighting corruption.
Written by one of our baes at Biodiversity Action Europe in consultation with an expert from Romania.