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Cablegate: Deforestation Continues in Romania

Published: Thu 3 Aug 2006 04:15 PM
VZCZCXRO9649
RR RUEHAST
DE RUEHBM #1233/01 2151615
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 031615Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4912
INFO RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHRC/USDA FAS WASHDC 0379
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEAWJA/DOJ WASHDC
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BUCHAREST 001233
SIPDIS
STATE PASS TO USAID
FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH
FOR OES/PCI - ELLEN SHAW
FOR ECA/PE/V/M - SUSAN LOCKWOOD/TAI DICKERSON
SIPDIS
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR SENV ECON OIIP SOCI HU RO
SUBJECT: DEFORESTATION CONTINUES IN ROMANIA
BUCHAREST 00001233 001.2 OF 003
1. SUMMARY. Poverty, corruption, a mismanaged land restitution
process, and inadequate governmental resources and regulatory
oversight have contributed to widespread and rapid deforestation in
Romania since the 1989 revolution. Many Romanians experienced
firsthand the consequences of deforestation when some of the worst
flooding in years hit the country in 2005. Most experts agree that
clear-cutting contributed to the devastating flash floods that took
over 50 lives. Illegal logging will remain a significant problem as
the land restitution process continues and the GOR lacks the means
to protect and manage the country's forests. Romania is receiving
assistance from the World Bank, European Union, United States and
others to help combat the problem. Ultimately, however, societal
attitudes toward the environment must also change to ensure that the
forests of Romania survive. END SUMMARY.
2. In preparation for this cable, ECON staff interviewed officials
from the Romanian Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Rural
Development, the Ministry of Environment and Water Management, the
National Forest Administration ("Romsilva"), The World Bank, World
Wildlife Fund and Regional Environmental Center-Bucharest. EconOff
and Embassy Budapest's ESTH Hub Officer also visited Piatra Craiului
National Park to witness the deforestation firsthand.
FOREST STATISTICS
-----------------
3. Romania's 6.4 million hectares of forests cover less than 27
percent of its territory (the European average is 32 percent).
During communist times, the state owned all the forests. Since
then, about two million hectares of forest have been returned to
their original owners, another 2 million are currently in the
restitution process, and the final 2 million will remain under state
ownership. Official figures estimate that 125,000 hectares of
forestland were illegally cut since 1991. Of this amount, about
30,000 hectares were completely clear-cut and 95,000 partially cut.
MULTIPLE FACTORS DRIVE ILLEGAL LOGGING
--------------------------------------
4. Many factors contribute to deforestation and illegal logging,
including poverty, corruption, the poorly-implemented forest
restitution process, a lack of governmental resources and oversight,
and the low price of Romanian wood (thus making it more attractive
to foreign buyers). Unfortunately, the problem shows no sign of
abating, at least not in the near term.
5. The Romanian government returned forestlands to their rightful
owners in three waves (1991, 2000 and 2005). Poorly managed, the
restitution process itself has contributed greatly to the
deforestation problem. The first wave targeted only individuals and
capped the amount at one hectare per person. The second wave
returned forests to both individuals and local communities, with a
maximum of 10 hectares for individuals. The final wave -- which is
still ongoing -- has no restriction on size or type of recipient.
During the first two stages of restitution, the government did not
require the new owners to establish a forest management plan and a
viable control authority did not exist. In addition, many new
landowners, worried that the government might change its mind and
take back the land, quickly cut and sold their trees. With a per
capita income of only 30 percent of the EU-15 average, poverty also
contributes to deforestation, since access to trees means ready
cash.
6. The current (2005) restitution law now requires management plans,
but the regulatory framework, although strengthened, is still
lacking in key areas. For example, there is no compensation
mechanism for individuals who receive land that is located in a
protected area where logging is prohibited. Without compensation,
the owner has little incentive to keep the forest in its original
state. Overall, critics claim that the restitution process was
politically driven with the successive governments (both left and
right) more interested in returning land to voters and supporters
than establishing a well-balanced, environmentally sustainable
process.
7. Corruption plays a role in many of Romania's economic, political
and social problems, and deforestation is no exception. Forest
inspectors and members of the Environmental Guard are poorly paid
and vulnerable to bribery. Although direct evidence is hard to come
by, many observers argue that high-level corruption also contributes
to the problem. Not surprisingly, Romania's poorly functioning
justice system is no protector of the forests. Those who cut
illegally know the chances of getting caught and punished are slim.
According to one Ministry of Agriculture official, few if any cases
brought to court resulted in a final sentence. An official with the
National Forest Administration opined that judges do not recognize
BUCHAREST 00001233 002.2 OF 003
the concept of "ecological value" and thus give out light
punishments, such as small fines.
8. Finally, as a relatively poor country, Romania lacks the means to
properly manage and protect both private and state-owned forests.
For example, this same official with the National Forest
Administration complained that the country's 1,000 forest inspectors
are not enough to do the job.
HELPING ROMANIA FIGHT DEFORESTATION
-----------------------------------
9. The international community is well aware of Romania's
deforestation problem and has offered assistance through a variety
of programs. Close donor coordination is essential in helping the
government do a better job at protecting and managing the country's
natural resources. In addition, bilateral and multilateral efforts
to support the fight against corruption, reform Romania's judicial
system and develop its civil society all contribute to environmental
protection, at least indirectly. As poverty is a major factor in
deforestation, programs aimed at developing Romania's economy in an
environmentally and socially sustainable manner will also help
combat the problem.
10. Regarding specific forestry-related programs, the World Bank's
$32 million Forest Development Project seeks to strengthen the
administrative capacity of the regulatory authorities, develop
national and local associations of private forest owners,
rehabilitate the forest road network, increase the competitiveness
of the forest industries, and build public support for sustainable
forest management. But protests from the NGO community have slowed
and altered the World Bank effort. Critics were concerned about
corruption in the forestry sector, non-transparency, and the Bank's
original plan to build new forest roads (the project will now only
rehabilitate existing roads). The $14 million Forestation of
Degraded Agricultural Land Proto-Carbon Project is another Bank
program. This project envisions planting trees on almost 7,000
hectares of state-owned degraded agricultural lowlands and then
paying for the corresponding carbon emission reductions. Finally,
the World Bank and Global Environment Facility completed a $7
million program focused on biodiversity and protected area
management. Forest protection was an integral part of this project,
although a Ministry of Environment official criticized the project
for its lackluster results.
11. Although the European Union does not have a specific forest
policy, its biodiversity programs naturally include forest
protection measures. Romania boasts large populations of European
brown bears, wolves and lynx, among other noteworthy species.
Preserving its virgin and natural forests is critical to supporting
a variety of plant and animal populations. The Ministry of
Environment hopes future EU funds will be available to compensate
owners for preserving their forestland or to buy back forests of
particular ecological importance. However, it is unclear at this
time if EU funds will be available for such activities.
12. Embassy Bucharest, through its Foreign Agricultural Service and
USAID offices, has worked with local NGOs on forest protection
programs over the last several years. Post is currently awaiting
delivery of a comprehensive report on deforestation and the
restitution of forestlands to their original owners from the Center
for Institutional Reform and the Informal Sector (IRIS) at the
University of Maryland. USAID, through its agribusiness program, is
working with local communities to implement sustainable eco-tourism
through the promotion of an "eco-tourism" certification that
encourages sustainable forestry practices and environmental
protection. Post will continue to look for ways to collaborate with
the local NGO community, including the Regional Environmental Center
(REC), on forestry protection measures.
COMMENT
-------
13. Unfortunately, Romania's deforestation problem shows no sign of
abating. Forests continue to be restituted without an institutional
framework for proper protection and management. Romania's many
other social, economic and political challenges also contribute to
the problem. As one environmentalist noted, Romania has yet to
develop a civil society that can effectively fight for the
environment. The outside world can help Romania protect and
conserve its forests, but this is ultimately a job for Romanians
themselves. After forty years of communism, societal attitudes
toward the environment cannot be expected to change overnight.
14. As a next step in promoting awareness of environmental issues in
this context, Embassy Bucharest is eager to work with EUR and G/OES
BUCHAREST 00001233 003.2 OF 003
in their efforts to present a regional environmental crime workshop
at the International Law Enforcement Academy in Budapest. Post also
encourages inclusion of environmental crime in future "International
Crime Issues" multiregional programs for international visitors.
15. Embassy Bucharest's reporting telegrams are available on the
Bucharest SIPRNet website: www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest.
TAUBMAN
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