Last week, representatives of the Romanian Association of the Wood Industry – Prolemn and the Federation of Forest and Pastures Owners – Nostra Silva presented to Mr. Tánczos Barna, Minister of the Environment, Waters and Forests a common position paper regarding the ongoing environmental assessment of forest management plans.

Currently, the wood market faces an acute crisis of resource, both on the firewood segment and the roundwood for industrial use. Firewood is sold in the mountain areas at prices about 450-500 lei/m3, in the plains at 5-700 lei/m3, and city retailers of firewood pallets charge even 8-900 lei/m3.

The very high prices led to diverting the industrial wood resource toward firewood, without sorting, which in turn caused major difficulties in supplying resource for the wood processing industry. Most of the companies now work at 25-50% capacity, and cases were spotted of mills stopping production and unable to honour their contracts.

Under the circumstances, the causes which produced the situation, as well as the urgent measures to be taken, need to undergo a serious analysis.

In our opinion, the main causes are as follows:

  • The difficulty in tree marking on small forest properties and vegetation outside the forestry fund. As we warned ever since this spring, SUMAL 2.0 hampered the valorisation of wood mass on these kinds of properties. For a lawful harvest of 5 m3 of wood materials by a forest owner who is lawfully entitled to do so, she must go to the FMU, submit a marking request, pay for security services (up to 260 lei/ha), and the forestry personnel must travel at least four times – for the marking per se, for producing the authorisation of the forest parquet and ramp, for issuing the transport documents – all these, incurring further costs. The procedure is ponderous, and the forest administration manages to provide the services only partially. As a result, legal harvesting of wood mass is blocked on at least 700,000 ha small properties and more than 500,000 ha vegetation outside the forestry fund. From these lands, at least 5,000,000 m3 wood materials could be legally harvested, yet right now only 1,000,000 m3 is actually harvested. This leads to an artificial resource deficit. Modifying GO 497/2020 is a good opportunity to simplify this procedure.
  • The environmental assessment of forest management plans, which blocked almost all FMPs that should have been in effect in 2021. The effect is a block of 10% of Romania’s forests – the second cause of the artificial resource deficit.
  • Decapitalisation of the wood harvesting sector and the workforce deficit. The situation is made even worse by the administrative costs imposed by the over-regulation of the sector.

Considering all these, we believe that the procedures to revise forest management plans (MO 1946/2021) and to apply environmental assessments to the FMPs (MO 1947/2021) will induce further blocks in the sector.

Therefore, we consider an analysis of three different situations is overdue:

1. FMPs applied following the 2nd Conference – CTAS notice

This is precisely the claim in the infringement procedure from the CE. We were dismayed to find out the Ministry did nothing in this respect since the infringement procedure was raised, despite the fact that two years have passed since (not even notifying the holders of the FMPs with a compliance deadline).

Prolonging this situation will lead to an inadequate implementation of the directive regarding environmental assessments, with a possible continuation of the infringement procedure.

2. FMPs which posses an environment regulation act, have environmental approval and are approved by an order of the minister.

We believe these FMPs are lawfully approved, and retroactively revising them has no legal standing. This point of view has been submitted to the Ministry in several position papers of the sector organisations and was delivered in all public consultations organised by the Ministry.

We quote from the point of view submitted by professional associations in the sector in September 2021:

The forest management plans for which an administrative environmental notice has been obtained and were approved by order of the minister are in good standing with regards to all national laws.

The Civil Code states at art. 22 that “Dispositions of a new law are applied to all acts which are being concluded after the law comes into force.”

Therefore, the FMPs already soundly adopted according to the laws in effect at the respective date, for which there is notice from the environmental authorities, have the CTAS approval from the Ministry and were approved by order of the minister cannot be subjected to changes as a result of new legislation being passed.

The obligation to notify the competent authorities with respect to environmental protection to revise the FMPs in such a short timespan (3-9 months from the approval of the technical norms), without a thorough analysis of the authorities’ capabilities as well as all factors involved, will lead to extremely long terms of finalising the procedures, with grave consequences on the forest sector.

3. New forest management plans

We note that most of the FMPs that should have been in effect in 2021 are blocked in the environmental assessment procedures, which leads to a pessimistic outlook for realistic deadlines of the procedures for new FMPs.

Moreover, in MO 1946/2021 new requirements are introduced, such as presenting in the first conference a GIS map of all species and habitats, information which is not available to owners and FM planning companies. Not even the authorities have this information – only about half of the Natura 200 sites have management plans, and even those lack them. The information isn’t public and is only provided with great difficulties by the National Agency for Protected Natural Areas (NAPNA). We know of cases in which the correspondence for obtaining this information took nine months!

Therefore, we consider that the obligation to go through the “long” procedure, with adequate environmental assessment and report for all FMPs which overlap even partly with Natura 2000 Sites is over-regulation, since FMPs automatically include the functional zoning mandated by the management plans of the Sites. The impact assessment should be performed at the level of Natura 2000 Sites, on types of works, and not at the forest body level, with the obvious conclusion that forestry works according to forestry laws have no significant environmental impact.

The current practice of assessing FMPs leads to the conclusion that this is only a formal procedure, which does not change the foundations of forestry works. It takes at least eight months, but it can also take years, because of the lack of experience of the involved public institutions. In almost all cases, the management norms are more restrictive than the management plans of the protected areas.

We also need to mention the discrimination against forest owners, who took efforts to produce forest management plans. The Ministry’s measures will lead to a decrease of the total areas possessing FMPs and may even lead to dissolving existing owners’ associations!

Considering all this, we propose:

  1. Simplifying the procedures of valorisation on small properties and for vegetation outside the forestry fund – modification of GO 497/2021.
  2. Supporting by the Ministry of adequate financial measures of the forest-wood sector through the National Strategic Plan 2023-2027, together with compensation measures for those forests introduced in Natura 200 sites, as well as financing forestry fund access, new technology for low impact forestry, and infrastructure for the valorisation of wood materials as shaped wood.
  3. Notifying the holders of FMPs which didn’t go through the environmental assessment procedure and providing a compliance deadline.
  4. Modifying MO 1947/2021 and removing the obligation for revising the FMPs for those holders who already went through an environmental assessment procedure.
  5. The publication by the NAPNA of a GIS map for all Natura 2000 sites, with the protected species and their habitats, as well as unitary conservation measures at the national level for each species and habitat.
  6. General identification at the national level of forestry works that can have a significant negative impact on the environment and for the new FMPs that include such works to be established a procedure with adequate environmental assessment and report (can be done as an internal regulation).
  7. Initiating urgent administrative measures for training and increasing the workforce of environmental evaluators specialized on FMPs.
  8. Training the NAPNA and Environment Protection Agency (EPA) personnel with respect to FMPs environmental assessment. Permanent commissions should be established with regular meetings, not for each FMP.
  9. Assessing the causes for the blocks in environmental assessments of FMPs who started the procedure in 2020 and taking immediate release measures.
  10. Establishing an operative group at the Ministry level, together with all stakeholders – representatives of forest owners’ associations, forestry management, wood industry, planning companies, EPA, NAPNA, Forest Guards – which should monitor the implementation of a coherent action plan for streamlining the environmental assessment of forest management plans.