4 Threats to Romania's Biodiversity

4.1 Overview

Although Romania is rich in biodiversity (particularly the large size and quality of valuable ecosystems and the quantity of some species) the country has suffered a progressive loss of biodiversity as a result of human activity. In particular, agriculture, industrial development, transportation and the expansion of cities have profoundly affected the biological diversity, both generally and locally. Pollution, alteration to river courses and hydrotechnical works, resource extraction and overexploitation of natural resources have been the principle factors involved.

In total it has been estimated, that in the last fifty years, there has been a permanent loss of 250,000 ha of forest and grassland ecosystems and that an additional 280,000 ha have been temporarily or only partially lost. A total of about 400,000 ha of wetland habitat (much of it along the Danube River) has been permanently or partially lost as well. It is important that this controllable loss of biodiversity is stopped and reversed.

4.2 Pollution

Air, water and soil pollution have been and continue to be major threats to biodiversity in Romania. Industrial pollution decreased in the first years of the economic transition process due to significant reductions in industrial output. However, it can be expected that as the Romanian economy begins to grow, industrial pollution of air, water and soil will begin to rise again unless changes are undertaken by instituting new manufacturing processes or by installing pollution control equipment. Agriculture runoff is also a major pollutant factor in some areas.

Part of the interior waters which could sustain a rich biological diversity is polluted and Danube brings from the upstream countries a pollution level with negative impact upon the river’s biological diversity, as well as delta and Black Sea. The high nutrient load of the Danube River has caused eutrophication in the Danube Delta lakes where macrophyte, molluscs, benthic and fish species have consequently been reduced. This is particularly damaging to fish population but also to marine mammals.

4.3 Changes to the Hydrological Regime

Among the most significant ecological changes that have taken place in Romania has been the alterations to the course of rivers and the building of hydotechnical works. In most instances these actions have had major negative consequences for aquatic biocoenoses and caused the loss of natural ecosystems and terrestrial habitats, as well as the loss of ecological equilibrium of these ecosystems on a large scale. The loss of groundwater as a result of hydrotechnical works has, for example, produced the partial or total drying out of about 20,000 ha of forests.

The draining of wetlands was promoted by the previous government in order to create arable land for agriculture. This practice led to the loss of approximately 400,000 ha of floodplains, particularly along the Danube river and in the Danube Delta (80,000 ha). The embanking of the Danube and the building of the Portile de Fier dam has also had a major impact in destroying spawning areas and the breeding success of many fish species. Together with pollution this factor has led to a reduction of sturgeon harvest (50 times lower than previously reported) and carp (10 times lower than previously reported).

Building of dams on the Danube catchement area have reduced the sediment load to the Black Sea coast and caused the partial loss of some psamophyllous habitats. Reservoirs associated with dams in other areas have also reduced forest and grasslands surfaces by about 140,000 ha.

4.4 Resource Extraction and Use and Changes in the Land Use

Since 1989, given the economic difficulties experienced by many Romanians, the tendency has been to exploit as much as possible the natural resources available in order to generate quick incomes. There has therefore been considerable illegal extraction and gathering of forest resources, including the cutting of small fir trees, mushroom collection, medicinal herbs, aquatic animals, poaching and others.

Chamois in the Rodna mountains are now threatened with disappearance as a result of poaching and the impact of poaching on sturgeon species is considered significant in causing major population declines. In grasslands there has been a continuous deterioration due to the number of grazing animals without a consideration of carrying capacity or organisation of grazing cycles and rotations. Similarly there has been considerable overexploitation of fish resources and exploitation of peat in some boreal habitats.

Forest management practices in Romania have not always been highly sensitive to protection and sustainable use of biological resources. In particular the overexploitation of wood in some areas, the selective extraction of economical (and ecologically) important trees, and the introduction of non--native species or non autochthonous (Douglas fir and Austrian pine) have negatively impacted biodiversity. It is generally accepted that these practices have reduced the quality of biodiversity on about 1,000,000 ha of land.

Although Romania is well known for its Black Sea coast and as a major Danube River country it can be said to be relatively poor in the availability of useable water resources. There are 37 billion cubic metres of water available annually on inland rivers of which only about 5 billion can be used. From the 8 billion cubic metres of underground waters only about 4 billion can be used. One of the major problems of water use in Romania is the inefficient distribution networks which have considerable leakage and reduce the quantity of useable waters.
Surface mining operations (brown coal in the north of Oltenia, sulphur in the Calimani Mountains, and bituminous shale in Banat) have caused the loss of some important forest and grassland habitat. Soil resources have also been diminished historically in Romania as a consequence of erosion from poor farming and agriculture practices.

Estimates are that about 40% of the agricultural area is affected by erosion with an average rate of 16.5 t/ha/yr. The total area of agriculture in Romania is 14,797,500 ha, silviculture utilises 6,680,200 ha - out of which 6,245,800 ha are forests and the grassland surfaces are of 4,872,100 ha, from which 3,378,400 are pastures and 1,493,700 ha are hay fields. Of major significance for biodiversity richness and usefull natural resources is the total surface of water bodies of 888,300 ha. Irrigation of agricultural land (about 3,200,000 ha in 1989) has also brought about increased salination on large areas. Overgrazing in some areas is also reducing soil resources (e.g. contribution to erosion, especially on slopes).

4.5 Future Directions of Resource Use

Although, as it has been noted, there are a considerable number of damaging practices and activities affecting biodiversity in Romania the possibilities for reducing damage to biodiversity are large. Within the country there is a highly developed sense of the connection of people to the land and following the political changes of 1989 there has been a net return of people to rural areas.

Traditional harvesting and grazing practices in Romania present an opportunity to support a sizeable rural population which lives within the limits of the available biological resources. Tourism could be developed to provide such communities with additional sources of revenue while offering incentives to retain or revive traditional practices that are sustainable or to develop new means for using natural resources sustainable.

There is a great potential to develop ecological tourism activities in many of Romania’s natural areas. A newly formed association of ecological tourist homes and farms is currently promoting this idea. Some small projects are already in place and other larger ones have been proposed.

Romania faces many changes as it moves towards a market economy. As the country’s economic wealth grows in the future, new environmental pressures and challenges will arise. The private ownership of land, rises in personal consumption and the manufacture of consumer goods, the privatisation and decentralisation of industry, will (if such changes come) bring both new threats as well as new opportunities for the protection of biodiversity. Although there has been considerable human modification to the Romanian environment the potential exists for Romanian development to proceed in a manner that protects the country's valuable biological resources and at the same time improves the country's economic well being.