Conservation is first of all about people
Meet Costel Bucur, the Head of Forestry & Protected Areas at WWF Central and Eastern EuropeDuring his last summer vacation before leaving high school in Romania, Costel needed to decide what path to take. His pragmatic friends all wanted to be IT specialists, economists, lawyers and, occasionally, doctors, but he was determined to go against the flow. Being good at maths, made Forestry and Biology a suitable major and he went for it. Once a student, he found that most of his colleagues were already very knowledgeable about forestry, coming from Romania’s Forestry High School. “At that time I could only distinguish between two types of trees - fir trees and non fir trees”, Costel jokes.
Being a forester in Romania today is not exactly glamorous according to Costel. “20 years ago the forester was part of the core team of any community, along with the priest, the teacher, the mayor and the police officer. Nowadays you are just meant to take care of trees according to the standards set by whoever is in power. Nobody asks your opinion on how forests should be run.”
And still Costel thinks that being a forester is one of the most beautiful and useful jobs on earth. “It might sound like a cliché but conservation is - like many other things – first of all about people.”
Costel’s first job is as forest engineer for Romsilva, Romania’s state forestry company. “I learnt something crucial at that time. If you want to raise your voice and express an opinion, you have to know what you are talking about. This is especially important at WWF. Because we are a science-based organization, we cannot afford to just sound the alarm when something is wrong. We have to come up with viable solutions and this is really challenging. We need well-trained, serious people talking and doing serious things.”
But what is it like being a forester in Romania today? “Nowadays there is always a danger of becoming a “desktop forester”, but I’d rather use a GPS in the woods than a laptop. I try to limit the desktop work I do. During my eleven years as a forester, I learnt that you cannot picture a forest based on what you read about it. Most of the time it will be different. And much more beautiful! I try to find as many opportunities as possible to go out in the field, because this is what mandates you to talk about the real issues. Also, a day out is like a holyday. When my workload gets too heavy, I dream of becoming a ranger!”
For Costel, keeping his connection with nature alive is extremely important. And nature usually rewards him for this. “I once witnessed a very rare thing, a dance by capercaillies (Tetrao urogallus) on top of a ridge right before sunrise. This is where and when capercaillies feel safe enough to perform their mating fights. Usually you can see two or three males in one place at a time, but I was rewarded with an awesome site – seven lovely capercaillies started dancing, singing and drawing circles on the ground. Hiking to the site I had seen a young stag, which ran gracefully in the evening mist, and a huge wild boar which took a long hard look at me before disappearing in the forest. What a feast! Instead of staying at home to watch the UEFA Cup semi-final in which a Romanian club was playing (I love soccer!), I had grabbed my last chance for the season to see a dancing suite of capercaillies and had been rewarded."
According to Costel, education is the most important thing that would help his profession today. “People have to be taught and then to discover that we are part of nature and we live from it and through it. Any other recipe for life on Earth will fail sooner or later.”
He is concerned that the need for development (especially of transport infrastructure) and the increased pressure on natural resources are very big threats to what we call “sustainable development”. WWF in the region is addressing these threats at all levels. “Starting with pilot projects on specific topics and our engagement in various planning processes, to a great deal of work on policy and advocacy. But the most challenging part actually is to convince people that you are working for their benefit and by supporting you, they are supporting a better and safer future.”
The WWF DCP Forestry and Protected Areas team which Costel leads works across Central and Eastern Europe. He sees a lot of similarities between Romania and Bulgaria – unspoiled nature and stage of development for example, but also some differences. “Bulgarians are more active in terms of civil society and public attitudes. This means that WWF there has to play a catalyzing role, to provide solutions and to add its support to this great effort. In Romania, on the other hand, WWF has to do more on specific environmental issues, but also in terms of creating capacity for local NGOs in order to strengthen civil society in the country. In the case of Serbia and Ukraine, we have to lead by example. To use trans-boundary projects and tangible actions is the most effective way we can convince our partners in these countries and also their decision-makers at different levels. Creating capacity through staff training, supporting different actions for sensitive issues, using the formal international agreements (e.g. Carpathian Convention) for communication and knowledge-sharing are also important tools."
When he is not taking care of the forests and protected areas of Central and Eastern Europe, Costel can be found looking after his two daughters, watching movies, reading philosophy books, walking around and observing people. “And talking to them. I like to learn from people!”
This text was published in Panda Magazine issued by WWF Austria.