Deforestation Threatens Europe’s Last Forests
By Mathew Day, The Scotsman
Forests across Europe have been under siege for centuries. Romania is trying to outrun illegal loggers in a bid to save some of Europe’s largest surviving tracts of virgin forests.
Using donated funds, Conservation Carpathia plans to purchase about 100,000 hectares of Romanian forests and meadows in order to establish one of Europe’s largest wilderness reserves that would be a haven to large predators such as wolves and bears.
Sweeping through the country in a huge green arc, Romania’s Carpathian Mountains bisect the country and have become one of the last significant footholds of the great woodlands that once covered much of Europe.
Up to half of Europe’s population of wolves and lynx are found in Romania, while the country also boasts the largest population of the European brown bear outside the vastness of Russia.
Along with large carnivores the forested mountains and hills host a dazzling wealth of flora and fauna.
“The Romanian Carpathians are one of the wildest places in Europe. There are large carnivores there and they have a great biodiversity,” Christoph Promberger, Conservation Carpathia’s executive director, told The Scotsman. “But they are now under tremendous pressure from logging so we are just trying to protect them for future generations.”
With their eyes fixed on the rich prize Romania’s forests offer, international logging firms have piled into the country since the fall of communism in 1989, bringing with them promises of jobs and investment. They have also profited from the state returning land stolen during the communist years to families who have lost any connection with the forests their ancestors once called home. Having no bond to the land they happily sold up to the loggers for a quick profit.
Illegal logging has also flourished in Romania’s state-owned forests, stripping the country of 366,000 hectares of woodlands between 1990 and 2011, according to estimates by Agent Green, an environmental group.
To try and stop the loss Conservation Carpathia has started to buy land with money donated by foreign donors from a number of countries. Founded in 2009 the organisation already has 16,000 hectares and aims to hit 100,000 in the next few years.
The forest conservation project has won the backing of Prince Charles. The prince, who has a keen interest in Romania and owns two properties in the Transylvanian hills, meets members of Conservation Carpathia each year to learn about their work.
Romania’s dwindling forests have also become part of national debate. In May the government considered introducing a temporary ban on the export of wood in order to give it time to block loopholes in the country’s forestry law that loggers exploit.