We have an unique opportunity to save and to restore one of the last true wilderness areas on the European continent. The Carpathians, located in Romania, are indeed the largest tracts of unfragmented forests left in Central Europe. A good deal of this area is untouched wilderness, housing the largest surviving population of great carnivores in Europe : 3 000 wolves, 5 600 bears and 1 500 lynxes. It’s a site of an exceptional range of biodiversity : large European mammals, hundreds of different types of birds (including some emblematic ones such as the black stork and the western capercaillie), thousands of insects specific to dead trees, and rare flora (many species are endemic to the region). Primary forests conserve 10 000 years of continuous biological history (since the last glacial age). By way of comparison a regular forest elsewhere in Europe will provide a home for 100 species whereas a primary forest has ten times the biodiversity with 10 000.
However, with Romania’s accession to the European Union and the changing economic and political situation, the ancient forests and ecosystem in the Carpathians are at great risk. The restitution process in Romania has created a tremendous change in land ownership. Just ten years ago, all forests were still state owned. As a result of a restitution process, the Romanian government began handing back all the forests that were nationalized during communism. Unfortunately, this process continued irrespective of whether the forests were inside or outside protected areas and the result has been disastrous. Most of the old and new landowners have no relationship whatsoever with their area of the forest, since they live far away and almost all are in urgent need of cash. Clear-cuts for fast cash logging companies have been quick to move in, to capitalize on the situation, buying the standing timber and clear-felling any area they could access. In ancient virgin forests, the wood is too old to be sold except for illegal logging. Many thousands of hectares have already been logged. We now face a very serious challenge : if nothing is done soon, intense exploitation will continue to escalate and the wild virgin forests will be gone forever.
At the present time, Romania does not have the means to administer and protect virgin forests. In October 2011, the Romanian minister of environment assumed there was evidence of illegal logging in one of the most famous national parks of Romania, the Retezat park. Besides, according to Romanian environmental group Agent Green, the Ministry of Environment has recently authorized the felling of some 5 000 cubic meters of wood from the Retezat national park, claiming it had been damaged by insects. A current national project involves even the construction of national road 66A through the Retezat Park (despite its classification as strict protection zone).
While grave, this dramatic situation also offers a unique opportunity to purchase large tracts of unspoiled forests and safeguard them forever. Already some NGOs have bought forests by using private, corporate and public finance : acquisition of a mountain range of at least 200 hectares of primary forests by French foundation Vita Sylvae, acquisition of 5 000 ha of forests in the area around Piatra Craiului by American Conservation Carpathia Foundation (based in Romania) with an average price of 2 500 € per hectare, etc... Yet this is not enough, and we only have a short time to safeguard these wonderful forests and the magnificent wildlife living there. The dream of an European National Park spanning the North Carpathians in Romania, right down to the Danube at the “Iron Gates” to the south is not for now. In the meantime, there are huge areas of the Carpathians under immediate risk. If we act soon, we can grasp the opportunity to buy much of this land and stop the logging that poses the greatest threat to the area. It's urgent to define a new European Organization to create a lot of new National Parks in the Carpathians of Romania by using European fund. This organization will contribute to the conservation and the administration of the reserves. It will not only be of benefit to biodiversity, but also to the individuals and communities living in the local area.
In Europe a lot of original ecosystems have been altered and destroyed over the centuries. Much of the continent is, today, an ecological desert. There can be no doubt : we have a moral obligation to save what is left and to restore what we can. The wide world doesn't know that primary forests in Romania are unique in Europe. These are one of the last truly wild places in Europe and without our intervention they risk being lost forever. Now, it is the responsibility of us all to make sure that they are protected for future generations.
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