Protecting and enhancing the environment is one of four main development challenges identified in the Romania CAS. Additional environmental goals identified in the CAS, which the project will address, include:
In support of this development challenge and in line with these priorities, the project will
The project will implement priority actions identified in the National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (1996). Its focus, specifically on in situ conservation, supports implementation of Article 8 of the Convention on Biological Diversity by strengthening support for protected areas and sustainable use in adjacent buffer zones. The project will conserve some of the last and largest natural and pristine old growth forest ecosystems in Europe. In addition, the project will foster international and trans-boundary cooperation in the Carpathian mountains and provide support to three important protected areas that are linked by forest corridors with other reserves in eastern Europe.
The project is consistent with Agenda 21 and guidance from the Conference of the Parties since it will promote conservation, management and sustainable use of forest and alpine ecosystems, which include endemic species; involve local communities and build partnerships at local, national and regional levels; and promote cost effective measures to conserve biodiversity. It responds to guidance from the Convention of the Parties by addressing capacity building, especially among local communities, encouraging inter-sectoral cooperation and providing support to activities that are consistent with, and supportive of, other international conventions (Bonn and Bern Conventions).
International and national conservation initiatives in Romania have targeted wetland ecosystems of the Danube Delta, with less attention to other areas including the extensive natural forests, which cover 27% (6.2 million hectares) of Romania's land area. Approximately two thirds of these forests occur in the Romanian portion of the Carpathian mountains, where more than half of all forests have been effectively managed for conservation objectives, such as watershed management, rather than wood production. These areas include some of the last and largest tracts of relatively undisturbed and virgin forests still remaining in Europe. The natural soil profile and ecology has been maintained through use of natural regeneration in more than 75% of Romania's production forests. The natural integrity and ecological viability of Romania's forest is indicated by the continued presence of the full range of European forest fauna, including approximately 60% and 40% of all European brown bears and wolves respectively.
Romania has some of the most biologically important temperate forests in the World. While the country has a long and distinguished history in conservative forest management, the country does not have a functioning system of protected areas, nor the institutional capacity for conservation and protected area planning and management. In view of this, recently proposed changes in forest land ownership and resource use (particularly wood and non-wood forest products, grazing and tourism) that are associated with the transition from State to a free market economy, could have a major negative impact on the biodiversity of forest ecosystems and their biodiversity.
Most of Romania's forests are owned by the State and managed by the State-owned NFA, which has a long and distinguished history in forestry. GDF and the Directorate for Strategies, Policy and Legislation, under MWFEP are responsible for forest policy development and for legislation governing operations on all forest lands. The NFA, which has a staff of 30,000, is responsible for managing State forest land under policy and legislative direction of the GDF, which has a staff of only 22 Bucharest based professionals. There is mounting political pressure to privatize and commercialize the NFA, and return as much as two thirds of forest lands to their former owners. Previous experience in Romania (1989/90) and elsewhere suggests that if restitution of forest land takes place in the absence of adequate legal and institutional mechanisms to safeguard public interest, the result would be immediate loss of forest cover, irreversible environmental degradation and significant economic losses for the country. The role of the State will, therefore, need to change rapidly from owner-manager of forests to safeguarder of the public interest in the new free market and land ownership systems (i.e., ensuring sustainable forest management practice; conservation of environmental services, and support to new private sector actors in forestry and related industries).
Government Strategy for biodiversity: Romania ratified the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Convention in 1990 (the Paris Convention), the Bern Convention for the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats in 1993, and the Convention on Biological Diversity in August 1994. With GEF support and World Bank assistance, Romania is implementing the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve project, and in 1995 - 1996, prepared the National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Plan. The Danube Delta Project, which is implementing the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Authority's conservation management plan, is progressing well, and lessons learned from this experience have contributed to the design of the current project. The top three priorities of the National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy are: (i) development of the legal framework and strengthening the institutional capacity for conservation of biological diversity; (ii) organization of the national systems of protected areas, and (iii) in-situ and ex-situ conservation of threatened, endemic and/or rare species, and those with a high economic value.
Government Strategy for Forestry: A World Bank/FAO forestry sector review was completed in 1993. The Bank is currently responding to a Government request to update this study with additional sector-specific analysis targeting the possible implications of the proposed forest land restitution program and identification of priority needs to support reform of the forestry reform in a manner that would safeguard environmental services while contributing optimally to the national economy. In readiness for project implementation, NFA has established new protected area management compartments, which report directly to the NFA County Directors, at the three project sites.
The project will implement the National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy priorities, specifically through reviewing the legal and regulatory framework for Protected Area Management, and building capacity for protected area and conservation management at both the field and central levels. This will be achieved through preparing and implementing management plans for three priority conservation sites, all in forested areas of the Carpathian mountain chain, and developing mechanisms and priorities for replication of this best practice to establish a national network of protected areas in Romania.
The project will develop new skills in participatory protected area and conservation planning that NFA will need to address its future role of safeguarding the public interest in both State and private forest lands. It will also strengthen the capacity of the DNBC to regulate and coordinate biodiversity conservation issues at the national level.
Although the project will not address the issue of forest land restitution, it will demonstrate how biodiversity conservation can be incorporated in forest management planning at the level of forest production units, and at how these efforts should be coordinated to maintain viability of Carpathian ecosystems. It will also raise awareness of stakeholder groups, including prospective new owners of forest lands in the vicinity of the project sites, of the needs and opportunities for biodiversity conservation.