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BUDAPEST, May 30 2011 (IPS) - Seven countries from the Carpathian Region in Eastern Europe have signed a protocol to prevent one of Europe’s last natural and virgin forests from disappearing at the hands of illegal logging.
Old-growth, virgin or primeval forests all denote particularly ancient forests of unique ecological value, such as large trees, standing dead trees and an unusual biodiversity which may include several rare or threatened species.
These forests provide invaluable ecosystem services such as pure water, clean air, carbon storage, nutrient regeneration and maintenance of soils, among others.
The ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine signed a Protocol on Sustainable Forest Management in Bratislava, Slovakia last Friday with the stated goal of contributing to the sustainable management and protection of the Carpathian forests.
The Carpathian forests, and particularly the parts falling in Romanian territory, represent one of the few traces of what once were Europe’s large primeval forests.
With the protocol Europe’s biggest remaining area of old growth and natural forests outside Russia will benefit from official protection, and efforts will be made to maintain and extend forest cover.
Estimates point to 300,000 hectares of primeval forest within the Carpathian Mountains, and portions of it in Eastern Slovakia, Western Ukraine and Romania are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The southern Carpathian Mountains of Romania constitute Europe’s largest unfragmented forest area. However, according to the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) only 18 percent of the 250,000 hectares of Romanian primeval forest had benefited from protection.
In other countries like Slovakia the situation had worsened to the extent that only 0.5 percent of forests can be considered old growth by now.
Excessive logging in natural and old-growth forests affects not only the virgin forest itself, but threatens also its biodiversity and particularly the indigenous species that require the forest’s habitat for their survival.
“The Carpathian convention protocol is a good sign, a step in right direction and an example for the rest of the world and Europe, but at the same time this problem comes down to one of implementation, and in the region there is a great deal of things in paper that are not put into practice,” Andreas Beckmann, director of the WWF’s Danube-Carpathian programme office told IPS.
“However, in this protocol there is an attempt to put the spotlight on this issue of implementation,” Beckmann says.
Illegal logging is common in the Carpathian region where the various countries are trying to address problems regarding the drafting and enforcement of legislation.
There is also a lack of data regarding the myriad of small wood harvesting and processing companies that would allow the monitoring of wood volumes and origin.
While the Carpathians had remained remarkably preserved until recently, the last two decades that followed the collapse of state socialism in the region have exposed this natural area to unprecedented pressures for development.
Besides illegal logging, infrastructure development in the form of highways, roads, ski resorts and holiday homes is advancing often illegally and within formally protected areas.
However, not all is bad news. The signing of the latest protocol is just one of the increasing legal mechanisms available for the protection of forests in Europe.
The EU has recently approved new legislation against illegal logging and directives which will help address the loss of forest treasures.
“Recent EU legislation puts very specific demands on EU countries in terms of implementation and in terms of sourcing of the timber for the European market. This is directly relevant for EU member states,” Beckmann told IPS.
“While countries such as Ukraine Serbia are not governed by such legislation, they will also be affected to the extent that they export to the EU market,” he added.
Positive examples of fighting illegal logging are, however, also coming from countries in the region, even before the protocol was signed.
The Romanian Forest Agency Romsilva has been in the spotlight since it developed an online timber tracking tool which will help with monitoring illegal logging, a highly progressive solution that may set an example to the rest of the world.
But besides national, regional and EU-level efforts, the inclusion of the protection of forests into the global political agenda was also given a push by the United Nations, which declared the year 2011 to be the International Year of Forests.
The U.N. is campaigning for the recognition of forests as integral to sustainable development. World Bank studies point to over 1.6 billion people depending on forests for their livelihood, with 300 million of them living inside them.
Deforestation, which advances at a yearly rate of 130,000 square km of lost forest, accounts for as much as 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and leads to the disappearance of up to one hundred species a day.
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