We are running out of time! Callous self-interest, political ignorance and large-scale exploitation are endangering these European natural treasures. If immediate, persistent and palpable action is not taken, the remaining virgin forests will soon be gone forever. 300,000 hectares of forest were cut down in Romania between 2001 and 2016, according to an online platform called Global Forest Watch, which publishes interactive maps based on images provided by NASA satellites.
Europe has continuously damaged main fragments of its old-growth forest and most of what is left now is predominantly located in the Carpathian region of Romania, standing as one of the last virgin forests of the continent. Sadly, despite this accepted reality, the actions taken towards their preservation lack both in proportion and efficiency.
What is happening on the legal front?
Last year, the former Romanian Minister for the Environment has denounced one of the largest operations of illegal logging of the past five years. In the region of Maramures they have discovered that ‘on an area of 340 hectares, deep into the woods, 100,000 cubic meters were stolen, amounting to a damage of more than RON 12 million, and greater damages caused to the nature and most importantly to the environment.’
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has completed an incriminatory report titled ‘Stealing the Last Forest’, investigating the Austrian company Holzindustrie Schweigoferh. According to them, the wood processing company has continuously supplied timber from Romanian national parks, customarily protected by law.
Astonishingly, in just a few months, the company’s timber suppliers have transported more than 35,000 cubic meters of timber from two national parks. In addition, the report suggests that its main customers include Europe’s top biomass companies such as Austrian firms Genol and Drauholz, and some of Europe’s largest DIY (“Do-It-Yourself” home improvement) stores, including Hornbach (Germany), Baumax (Austria/Germany), and Bricostore (owned by UK-based Kingfisher). The article also sheds light over the company’s hypothetical lack of effective measures to avoid sourcing illegal wood. This is a major concern, as Schweighofer was one of the main drivers of illegal logging in the country in the past decade, holding the buyer monopoly.
Alarmingly, the pandemic did not slow down the crisis. In March 2021 a new record level of forest exploitation has been reached, while back in 2019, on average, Romania lost at peak times around 3 hectares of forest per hour. This is the consequence of both an absence of adequate policies and regulations in place, but also of the indiscriminate power and influence of large multinationals interested in exploiting the wood.
Surprisingly yet understandably, the European Commission has formerly notified the Romanian authorities, restating their obligation to properly implement the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), aimed at preventing the access of illegally harvested wood onto the internal market.
In this context, we urge the Romanian authorities to investigate matters further, to implement the relevant EU legislation, to increase the monitoring of national parks and protected areas and to bring to the Courts the companies responsible for the continuous destruction of these natural treasures.
Greenpeace has put together a useful analysis of the situation in the area, starting from defining all relevant terms, to examining the historical periods of deforestation, what measures were and are put in place, but also the prospects concerning the protection of the Carpathian virgin forests.