Of the vast expanses that define our planet's green landscapes, 73.000 ha of Old Growth Forests and 24,000 ha in Romania have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites, renowned for their vast ancient and primeval beech forests of the Carpathians. Surrounding these are other High Conservation Value Forests encompassing over 600,000 ha and characterized by high degree of naturalness, concentrations of biological diversity that are significant at global, regional or national levels and basic ecosystem services in critical situations for local communities and beyond. By 2030, the network of Strictly Protected Areas is expected to include at least 10% of the country's territory or roughly 700,000 ha of forests. Concurrently, there is a strategic aim to also include the maintenance and improvement of environmental services provided by an additional 500,000 ha of forests that are currently outside the National Forestry Fund. It is an essential objective for Romania as only 27% of its territory is included in the National Forestry fund to which the forestry regime applies.
WWF is a formidable ally, working to stop illegal logging, to strengthen and apply FSC timber certification standards as well as to evaluate, monitor, debate and recommend sustainable solutions which will positively impact the wellbeing of this biome. GIven the exceptional nature of Romania’s forest treasures, the ongoing efforts to reform the country’s Forestry Code are of significance not only for Romania but also for Europe and beyond.
The Progression of Romania's Forestry Policy Vision
Over the past four years, there have been a number of efforts to redefine Romania’s forestry policies. In 2020, following a participatory process, all interested stakeholders were called to get involved for the identification of the strategic options that should pave the way for a transformative phase in forest management and get in line also with the EU Green Deal. In the following year, the Romanian Government endorsed a reform plan outlined in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP). In 2022,after 6 months of intense working groups and debates, the government approved the National Strategy for Forests (SNP30). This comprehensive strategy embodies clearly defined action plans, outcome-oriented goals, and meticulous monitoring frameworks, that are finally reflecting all WWF's major requirements (e.g. the new policy vision for combating illegal logging; the 10% strict protection target for forest ecosystems; climate smart solution to increase resilience of forest ecosystems; payments for ecosystem services; fair transition for vulnerable and forest-dependent communities; promoting high value added bio-base solutions; combating energy poverty of vulnerable communities; sustainable criteria for biomass use; professionalization and depoliticization of forestry management.). This does not, however, mean the process is without its challenges.
Embracing Open Dialogue
The Environment Ministry's approach to shaping and creating the New Forestry Code (RO) has been noteworthy, willing to demonstrate a strong inclination towards openness and collaboration. Their decision to use the parliamentary procedure for this important project is indicative of the ministry’s commitment to transparency and democracy. By involving civil society in policy formulation, diverse perspectives could contribute to enhancing the eventual outcome. WWF-Romania, as a leading advocate for environmental conservation, has actively participated in discussions with the ministry and other stakeholders. However, concerns have arisen among non-governmental stakeholders involved in later stages of the process, including WWF.
Divergences and Concerns
In spite of the progress made during the preliminary stages of the reform process for elaborating the SNP30, the current draft version of the New Forestry Code appears to deviate significantly from the strategic objectives outlined by the SNP30. WWF-Romania has made a careful assessment of the documents and submitted a series of technical comments (RO) that would significantly improve the Code and its implementation. The lack of essential administrative reforms paints a fairly disconcerting picture. Proper forestry administration, reduced bureaucratic obstacles, and a focus on value-added wood processing activities are crucial elements that seem neglected or untouched in comparison to the new strategic objectives within SNP30. They are even carrying new risks compared to the provisions of the former forestry code — an unacceptable oversight when viewed in terms of sustainability and the broader issue of climate change.
Perhaps even more alarming are the looming threats of which the draft seemingly portends. The unassessed increase in logging activities without recourse to adequate sustainable logging conditions, the potential reduction in overall forest cover on a permanent basis, and the prospective unsanctioned claims on state-owned forests are issues of grave concern. Such an approach threatens not only the ecological balance but also the socio-economic fabric of the communities intricately connected to these forests. The rights and interests of forest-dependent communities, who often bear the brunt of administrative decisions without much recourse, are also inadequately addressed in the draft. Their voices, aspirations, and legitimate rights deserve acknowledgment and protection.
Forestry policy formulation in Romania is much more than just a bureaucratic exercise. It is an undertaking with significant implications for the future of the country and beyond. Romania’s forests are not just swaths of trees; they are repositories of biodiversity, livelihoods, history, and culture. The New Forestry Code will define not just the fate of the trees, but also the legacy of a nation.
WWF-Romania's Resolute Stand
Recognizing this urgent and critical juncture at which Romanian forestry stands, WWF-Romania has consistently offered constructive feedback to shape the New Forestry Code. Their comprehensive technical comments and proposals, submitted to the Environment Ministry, reflect a holistic and sustainable approach to forest conservation. Beyond the ecological imperative, these recommendations also underscore socio-economic dynamics, emphasizing the sustainable development of local communities and the broader Romanian society.
As the discussions and deliberations continue, WWF-Romania remains committed to ensuring that the foundational principles of the National Strategy for Forests are not just written somewhere but are translated into tangible actions.
For more information, contact Rossitsa Rousseva, Regional Marketing Manager, WWF Central and Eastern Europe, firstname.lastname@example.org