Romania to cut road through precious Carpathian forests
The Romanian National Environment Agency has granted permission to build Road 66A through the Retezat mountains and Domogled National Park, part of the Carpathian mountains, in a breach of environmental legislation.
The areas are two of Romania’s flagship protected areas, and home to Europe’s last intact forest landscape outside of Russia and Finland.
The Romanian National Environment Protection Agency has ignored the fact that the road would cross a strictly protected area and that the environmental impact assessment study was deemed to be of poor quality and did not mention the potential devastating effects of the road’s construction.
Fighting against the destruction
A series of protests led by NGO Agent Green and supported by WWF and other partner organizations to stop the road’s construction have taken place over the past two years, culminating with a protest in front of the Romanian Ministry of Environment and Forests in early July.
“We have to defend our invaluable natural resources”, said Magor Csibi, Programme Manager of the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme in Romania. “We are talking about the protection of 100,000 hectares of forest in which man's footprint has been sufficiently light to leave the landscape close to its original state. The building of this road is symbolic of the total disregard for protected areas in Romania”, he said.
Intact forest landscapes are areas mostly untouched by humans, and which have a surface of at least 50,000 hectares. Preserving intact forest landscapes in Romania is important for safeguarding biodiversity, as only sufficiently large areas can conserve populations of large animals such as bears, wolves, and other large carnivores in their natural state, and to help them survive natural disturbances such as fires and storms. These areas can also serve as references to better understand and manage already degraded or fragmented forest, and can alleviate some of the negative impact of climate change by acting as sinks for carbon emissions.
Agent Green supported by WWF and other partner organizations are planning to take the Romanian government to court and make a complaint to the European Commission because the decision is in breach of environmental legislation.
"The European Commission has already instigated several penalty procedures against the country for not complying with the law when it comes to nature protection”, Csibi said. “This would be another sad case to consider”.
A long fight
In March this year, Agent Green revealed that the company which was hired to prepare the environmental impact assessment study committed fraud. The university professor whose signature appears on the study has said that he never signed an environmental impact assessment study, only a preliminary research study. Moreover, an environmental impact assessment study for an area rich in biodiversity such as Retezat mountains and Domogled National Park should take no less than 3 years, while the study presented by the authorities took five days to complete.
An alternative environmental impact assessment study was carried out by experts from the Babes Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, with the contribution of experts from several conservation organizations. The study revealed that the biodiversity in the areas was much higher than stated in the previous study and that the third section of the national road, which is planned to be 19 km long, would dramatically affect the protected areas and their biodiversity.
The controversy over national road 66A began five years ago. At the time, two stretches of the road were illegally constructed before any approval of the Environment Protection Agency or of the Retezat National Park Administration. For the past four years, environmentalists have successfully stopped the construction of the third section of the road which, if built, would pass through the core zone of Domogled National Park and thus destroy the intact forest landscape.
Year of the Forests
Romania’s road plan come as the United Nations has designated 2011 as the International Year of the Forests.
Simultaneously throughout this year, WWF is running a Living Forests Campaign that combines cutting edge science, new perspectives from partners and decades of on-the-ground experience to help address the challenge of saving the world's forests.
In particular this year, WWF will be asking the public, policymakers, and businesses to support the goal of Zero Net Deforestation by 2020. The second chapter of the campaign’s groundbreaking Living Forest Report will be released in September.