Illegal road threat to Romanian National Park

Construction of the illegal 66A road has reached the core area of Domogled National Park in the Carpathians threatening a key area of old growth forest, designated as an Intact Forest Landscape.

A road to nowhere? Protesters against illegal constructionA road to nowhere? Protesters against illegal construction

Approval by the Romanian National Environmental Protection Agency has not been granted due to the reported deficiencies in the environmental impact assessment, including lack of review of the impact of the road itself.

Representatives from local organizations organized a protest camp at the construction site this summer and there is a growing movement against the road, with thousands signing an online petition and liaising through Facebook.

The second section of the road, from Campu lui Neag to Campusel in Hunedoara county, has already been built – without approval of the Environment Protection Agency or the Retezat National Park administration.

It is the third phase, also illegal, which now threatens the core area of Domogled’s ancient forests.

Protesters regard this issue as symptomatic of a wider disregard for safeguarding supposedly protected areas, particularly such a key example of wilderness heritage with its rich biodiversity.  On this latter point alone, the Environmental Impact Assessment for the road construction appears to significantly under-report the range of species present.

Local NGOs commissioned a biodiversity counter-study and asked the National Environment Protection Agency not to approve the project.

„The preliminary results of the counter-study already show that the biodiversity here is much higher than stated in the beneficiary’s study”, said Luminiţa Tănasie, WWF Programme Director in Romania. “For example, until now we have registered 109 distinct points where large and medium mammals cross the road. The assessment commissioned by the beneficiary discovered only one bear trace. We found 26 bat species, whereas the beneficiary said that there are no bats in the area. We found 34 breeding places for reptiles and amphibians, as opposed to only two in the beneficiary’s assessment. The differences are significant and they cannot be ignored by the National Environment Protection Agency”.

”But above all to us this road is symbolic of the disregard for protected areas in Romania. The European Commission has already instigated several penalty procedures against the country for not complying with the law when it comes to nature protection”, Tănasie added.

For further information, see this WWF article (external link): Romanian authorities ignore NGO invitation to discuss the 66A road

Malgorzata Gorska, Poland

Malgorzata Gorska winner of Goldman Prize for saving Rospuda Valley

Malgorzata GorskaMalgorzata Gorska

When plans were drafted in 1996 for a motorway linking Warsaw with Helsinki, the so-called ‘Via Baltica’, the proposed route threatened the wild Rospuda River Valley in North Eastern Poland.

With its extensive network of peat bogs and undisturbed forests, Rospuda is home to a rich biodiversity of species including wolf, bear, lynx, beaver, eagle and orchids.

Notwithstanding its classification as a Natura 2000 site, the route would not only devastate Rospuda, but also despoil three other key Natura sites: Augustow and Knyszyn Primeval Forests along with the internationally acclaimed Biebrza Marshes.

Malgorzata Gorska, an activist with the Polish Society for Protection of Birds, set to work collecting data to develop a case against the motorway route, forming a coalition of conservation NGOs, organizing legal representation and galvanizing public support.

When this failed to halt the motorway plans, she took her case to the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament, arranging a visit for MEPs and scientific advisors to the Rospuda Valley and convincing them of the need to change the route.

The European Court of Justice subsequently called for a halt to further construction under European law, whilst back in Poland the courts found the route to be in violation of national law.

In March 2009 the Polish government to its credit agreed to a change of route, preserving all four sites.

A landmark victory for wild areas

This decision not only represents a landmark in Polish environmental history – virtually the first time protection of a wild area has taken precedence over an important economic objective – but also provides an invaluable model for other groups across Europe on how planning, orchestration of collective support and careful targeting of pressure it is possible to win sensible compromise against even the most powerful vested interests.

Carpathian Convention

New protection measures announced for Carpathian forest

Primeval beech forests of UkrainePrimeval beech forests of Ukraine

The threat of logging is still widespreadThe threat of logging is still widespread

Old growth forest should receive greater protection following signature of a Protocol on ‘sustainable forest management’ by ministers from the 7 Carpathian Convention countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine

Clarification of how the Protocol will be implemented on the ground is still needed, but it does specify identification and protection of virgin forests.

This initiative comes at a time when old growth forest wilderness has, for the first time, been specifically cited in the EU Biodiversity Strategy. It also follows recent legislation on illegal logging – and coincides with the Wilderness Register which started being being developed for the EC during 2012.

Areas to be covered

Roughly 300,000 hectares of old growth forest still remain across the Carpathian mountains, generally in less accessible areas.

Much of this is still under threat of logging – both legal and illegal – particularly in Romania where only 18% of the estimated 250,000 hectares of virgin forest are in protected areas; with state held land being restituted to its former owners, the problem has accelerated in recent years – large scale felling has occurred even in national parks.

The first task involves identification of genuine old growth forest, replacing the looser terminology that applies the ‘virgin’ label across many conditions and age categories. An assessment conducted in 2009 in Slovakia for example found only 0.47% of forests were truly old growth as against 2% previously estimated. Similarly, a survey of a Biosphere Reserve in Bulgaria on the border with Greece, found that forest previously categorised as old growth was in fact substantially managed.

The Protocol is also aimed at over 10,000 hectares of beech forests in Eastern Slovakia and Ukraine

Opportunities for restoration

In addition to protection of forest, a key objective of the Protocol is also to promote substantial restoration – both enlarging this habitat and reinstating the full integrity of its natural processes: improving ecosystem services such as flood mitigation, general water cycle operation and carbon sequestration, and prevention of soil erosion and landslips.

This can be linked to a key goal of the EU Biodiversity Strategy – restoration of 15% of degraded habitat by 2020.

Wood energy schemes “a disaster” for climate change

A study published in London on 23rd February 2017 by the well respected Royal Institute of International Affairs warns that most schemes to generate “low carbon electricity” from wood burning are actually doing the opposite, with carbon emissions from wood pellets higher than coal and considerably higher than gas.

Calculations of net carbon savings have not been counting emissions from the actual wood burning, merely assuming that these are countered by the sequestration impact of new plantings – which effectively leaves a large gap.

Hot air for climate policy - logging for renewable energy in Poloniny National Park Photo Peter Sabo, WOLF Forest Protection MovementHot air for climate policy – logging for renewable energy in Poloniny National Park Photo Peter Sabo, WOLF Forest Protection Movement

The Study also casts further doubt on the feasibility of BECCS (Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage), aimed at removing carbon from the environment by large-scale tree felling together with use of energy crops and storage underground of resulting carbon emissions. “However, all of the studies that the IPCC surveyed assumed that the biomass was zero-carbon at the point of combustion, which … is not a valid assumption. In addition, the slow rate of deployment of carbon capture and storage technology, and the extremely large areas of land that would be required to supply the woody biomass feedstock needed in the BECCS scenarios render its future development at scale highly unlikely.

Urgent review of biomass policy

Written by Duncan Brack, a former Special Advisor to the UK Government, the Study calls for immediate review of subsidies for biomass, which now supplies 65% of renewable power in the EU on the back of generous subsidies.

With the EC currently proposing a new Directive on Renewable Energy (draft published 30th November), there are growing calls for reallocation of subsidy exclusively towards wood waste products where there is no extra harvesting and proven carbon savings.

Impacts on biodiversity and illegal logging

This urgency of this call is underlined by an investigation published in November 2016 by BirdLife International with Transport & Environment showing that bioenergy plants are burning whole trees from protected areas rather than using forest waste.

This includes biomass from logging in Poloniny National Park (Slovakia), and riverine forests around Emilia-Romagna (Italy) where tree removal was apparently disguised as flood mitigation.

In Slovakia alone, according to the investigation, there has been an increase in use of wood for bioenergy of over 70% in the last 10 years, impelled by EU Renewable Energy targets. Under current legislation, European bioenergy plants do not have to produce evidence that their wood products have been sustainably sourced.