The challenges of Retezat Wilderness in Romania

Retezat is the most famous protected area in Romania with huge contigous piece of Wilderness. Currently the park has 380.47 km² and ranks among the largest protected area in the Carpathian! The area shelters one of Europe’s last remaining intact old-growth forest, the highest peak of the Retezat Mountains, Vf. Peleaga, 2,509 metres and about 80 glacier lakes.

Within the Retezat National Park lies the most spectacular Wilderness in the Carpathians. Already in 1935 the Government of Romania set aside this area and created the country’s first national park – But only on paper!

Only at the beginning of 1990´s the protection of this area was taken more seriously and the newly established young management team started to work with the ambition to make this park well known all over the Europe.

However, not only that. A small team led at the beginning by Mrs. Erika Stanciu and later on by Mr. Zoran Acimov brought this area also to the family of well managed European Wilderness in 2005. The reason for that was, that the management team very soon recognised that Retezat is not only a unique protected area but an excellent example of the Carpathian Wilderness!

In 2004 a significant part of the Retezat National Park was subject of an international Wilderness audit carried out by current team of the European Wilderness Society  and after long and demanding process the area was included to the European Wilderness Network as a PAN Park. Since then the area was several times the subject of international audits which always confirmed the high quality and Wilderness value!

This year a representative of the European Wilderness Society is carrying out a 3-5 day European Wilderness Standard Quick-Audit and will meet representatives of the management team and clarify several issues which have been brought to our attention in the last years.

Legal and illegal logging operation massively expanded all over the Carpathian and reports by local NGOs are indicating that these logging operations are getting conspicuously close to the Retezat Wilderness. Reports also indicate that the improvement of the old gravel road at the southern part of the park not only touched but also penetrated the certified and audited Wilderness territory.

The meeting on the 8 May with the Director of Retezat National Park, Romania Mr. Zoran Acimov helped to clarify several issues link to the protection of the Retezat Wilderness.

Both partners welcomed this meeting and agreed that Wilderness is an extremely important subject in Romania but currently not reflected in the Romanian legislation. Consequence of this is that the current Retezat National Park internal zonation reflects only the zones listed in the national legislation. Because of this Retezat National Park has currently the following zones: Strictly Protected Zone, Totally Protected Zone, Sustainable Conservation Zone and Sustainable Development Zone. For the purpose of Wilderness, part of the Retezat Core Zone (SPZ + TPZ) was internally designated as a Wilderness already in 2004. Also because of this, we need 2-3 days to discuss possible solutions to this  internally and with the National Forest Administration to make a final decision,

Mr. Zoran Acimov
Director of Retezat National Park

Retezat is a very rare example of a well protected Wilderness in Romania since 2004! Research carried out in the last few days confirmed the opportunity to identify a Wilderness transitional zone beyond the current limit and to potentially enlarge Retezat Wilderness in the coming years!

Retezat Wilderness - © All rights reserved
Retezat Wilderness – © All rights reserved

The unique Retezat Wilderness is one of the oldest members in the European Wilderness Network and has been an inspiration for many other Wilderness managers to designate their areas as Wilderness as well. We are glad that they are at the forefront and a best practice example of the European movement for more Wilderness.

Max A E Rossberg
Director of the European Wilderness Society

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Sign the Open Letter to the German Ministry

Join more than 70 forest experts demanding a radical change in the German forest management system.

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


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