- Natural temperate forest ecosystems (broad leaf, conifer and mixed) cover 27% of Romania's land area. Two thirds of this (approximately 4.5 million hectares) 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. Furthermore, the natural soil profile and ecology is maintained through the use of natural regeneration in more than 75% of production forests. The natural integrity and ecological viability of Romanian 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. In addition, the largely forested Carpathian range includes meadow and wetland ecosystems, and higher elevation lands above the tree line contain alpine ecosystems that support many indigenous species of flora.
- Following land nationalization after world war two, production farmland in non-hilly areas was developed for large scale intensive agriculture. Hedgerows, wetlands and other ecological islands were destroyed and much of the biodiversity lost. State owned forests and alpine pasture lands were, however, relatively conservatively utilized and well managed. Since the beginning of the transition and breakdown of former regulatory systems, Romanian ecosystems have been exposed to new threats, including the appearance of unsustainable land use practices such as over-grazing of common lands, including alpine meadows, and clear cutting of private forest. Uncontrolled and unsustainable forms of tourism, and infrastructure developments that are incompatible with biodiversity and landscape conservation, also particularly threaten highly sensitive mountain ecosystems.
- Most of Romania's forests are currently State owned and managed by the National Forest Authority (NFA), which has a long and distinguished history in forestry. However, there is mounting political pressure to:
- privatize and commercialize NFA,
- return as much as two thirds of forest land to its former owners.
The role of the State will, therefore, need to change rapidly from one of owning and managing forests to a focus on safeguarding the public interest under the new free market and land ownership systems (e.g., ensuring sustainable forest management practice; conserving environmental services, and supporting new private sector actors in the forestry and related industries). Previous experience in Romania (1990/91) and elsewhere suggests that if restitution of forest land takes place in the absence of adequate legal and institutional mechanisms to safeguard public interest (including an effective system of protected areas), it will result in immediate loss of forest cover, irreversible environmental degradation and significant economic losses for the country.
- Romania does not have a functioning system of protected areas, or the institutional capacity for conservation and protected area planning and management. In view of this, changes in land ownership and resource use (particularly forest products, grazing and tourism) associated with the transition from State to a free market economy could have a major negative impact on the biodiversity of forest ecosystems and associated landscapes.
- The Romania Biodiversity Conservation Management Project will be a first step towards establishing an effective national system of protected areas and ensuring that biodiversity concerns are incorporated in the planning and management of Carpathian forest resources. The rationale developed by Romanian counterpart staff to design the project is summarized in Table A of Annex 2. The project will build and demonstrate the decentralized capacity for protected area and conservation management at three separate forested sites, and will establish mechanisms for replication of best practice at other priority conservation sites throughout Romania and the Carpathian chain. In addition the project will build on and strengthen ongoing regional initiatives for conservation of Carpathian ecosystems, including: the Trans-Carpathian Biodiversity Project (Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine), the Carpathian Biosphere Reserve Project (Zakarpatska Oblast, Ukraine), and projects initiated by the Regional Association for the Protection of Carpathian Mountains (ACNAP).
Description of Project Sites
- Project sites, which were selected by the Romanian Biodiversity Steering Committee, provide opportunities to develop and establish several different conservation management strategies, including national park, natural park (protected landscape), and biodiversity friendly sustainable forest management (Forest Park). Consequently, the project will demonstrate three different models to address priority conservation planning and management problems that are common to many important and threatened biodiversity sites throughout Romania. This will provide experience to support replication of the project models at priority conservation sites in other parts of the country and the Carpathian region. The three project sites include:
- National Park Model: Retezat National Park Biosphere Reserve (approximately 55,000 ha), in the South Western Carpathians, includes pristine mountain forest and alpine ecosystems. It has a core area of roughly 13,000 ha of relatively undisturbed and pristine mixed and coniferous forest and alpine meadows that are under increasing threat from the impacts of tourism, unsustainable use of natural resources, and uncoordinated developments in adjacent buffer zone areas. The Retezat massif includes 42 endemic plant species; it is also the European center of genetic diversity for two ecologically and economically important groups of grasses, i.e., Hieracium and Poa spp.
In addition, Retezat includes a designated "Important Bird Area" (IBA), which is important habitat for 5 bird species listed under appendix II of the Bonn Convention on migratory species of wild animals.
- Natural Park Model: The proposed Piatra Craiului-Bucegi Natural Park (approximately 100,000 ha) in the South Central Carpathians, includes roughly 3,400 ha of pristine mixed and coniferous forests and alpine ecosystems, surrounded by production landscapes that together support viable populations of large carnivores. Application of the European Ecological Network (EECONET) concept will provide guidance for the sustainable development of eco-tourism, grazing and agriculture, while controlling further fragmentation of natural forests that currently support one of Europe's greatest concentrations of brown bear, wolf and lynx. Bucegi IBA provides important habitat for 4 bird species listed under appendix II of the Bonn Convention, and 33 listed under appendix II of the Bern Convention (Convention on the
Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats).
- Sustainable Forest Management Model: The proposed Vanatori-Neamt Forest Park, in the North East Carpathians includes natural mixed hill-forest and meadows, and provides an opportunity to establish and show-case biodiversity conservation through sustainable forest management. The proposed reintroduction of European bison in production/conservation mixed forest would provide an ecological mechanism, and a focus for public awareness and popular support, for maintenance of the natural ecological diversity of 200,000 hectares of hill forest and meadows. The natural fauna of the area formerly included bison, until they were hunted to extinction at the end of the last century. The site includes virgin, natural and managed mixed forest (predominantly oak, beech, fir and spruce), some of which has been maintained as a hunting reserve since 1475. There are 86 endemic plant species, 16 of which are endemic to the site. The two IBAs that occur in this demonstration site provide important habitat for 7 bird species listed under appendix II of the Bonn Convention, and 30 species listed under appendix II of the Bern Convention.
Project Component 1: Strengthen the National Framework for Biodiversity Conservation (US$1.1 million)
- This project outcome will be achieved through:
- participatory review and revision of the legal and regulatory framework for protected area management;
- building the capacity of the Directorate for Nature and Biodiversity Conservation (DNBC), within the Ministry of Waters, Forests and Environmental Protection (MWFEP), to plan and lead biodiversity conservation at the national level;
- strengthening the National Forest Authority to replicate protected area and conservation management in forest areas,
- developing a strategy to incorporate biodiversity considerations into forest management planning at an ecosystem level, rather than the level of the forest "production unit". All activities undertaken under this component will require establishing and maintaining collaborative mechanisms between the DNBC and the Service for Protected Areas at NFA, which will work in partnership to strengthen the national framework for biodiversity conservation. Collaborative mechanisms will include combined working groups, workshops and shared development of the two national level strategies.
- Review and revision of the legal framework will entail: (a) the participatory review of existing and draft legislation that has potential influence on biodiversity conservation. This will include workshops, media coverage, establishment of an inter-agency working group and dissemination of draft legislation to key stakeholders, and a national public consultation workshop; (b) development of a new law for protected areas and biodiversity conservation that will define the basic principles for establishment of protected areas, together with the different categories of protected area and conservation sites that will be established in Romania, and the institutional arrangements for their management; and (c) preparation of a strategy to rationalize existing laws with the new protected area law. The review process will be lead by DNBC and will include the participation of other
Directorates within MWFEP, including the Department of Forests; the Romanian Academy; the National Commission for UNESCO; the Ministries of Finance, Agriculture, Transport, Tourism, and Public Works and Territorial Planning; and the Parliamentary Commission for Health Ecology and Sport. In addition, site specific regulations for planning and operation of conservation management areas will be developed and adopted.
- Building the capacity of DNBC of MWFEP will be undertaken following a detailed institutional and training needs assessment of all institutions involved in project implementation, specifically including DNBC. The needs assessment will confirm and define institutional mandates, identify restructuring, staffing and training needs, and will develop a time-bound action plan for implementation of all recommendations and project activities. The project will provide equipment, training and services, to enable DNBC to address its mandate, which will include:
- facilitating review and revision of the legal framework for biodiversity conservation (described under paragraph 8);
- developing and implementing a national strategy to increase public awareness and support for biodiversity conservation (described under component 3);
- developing and operationalizing a prioritized policy and strategy for establishing an effective national system of protected areas, which will include:
- GAP analysis to identify geographical priorities,
- developing the rationale and mechanisms for financing protected area management, and
- preparing a program to support replication of protected area management at priority conservation sites;
- developing an international strategy for establishing collaborative mechanisms for conservation of Carpathian ecosystems. This will include assessing ongoing conservation initiatives in Carpathian countries and identifying needs, study tours, international workshop and establishing a Carpathian conservation network, and
- establishing and maintaining a national biodiversity monitoring system in collaboration with other concerned institutions.
- Strengthening the National Forest Authority to replicate protected area and conservation management in forest areas will be undertaken through provision of equipment, training and services, to enable the Service for Protected Areas (SPA) to develop and operationalize a prioritized national strategy to establish a network of protected areas and conservation management of Romania's forests. Capacity building in both SPA and the DNBC will be preceded by institutional needs and training assessment and development of work programs, which will be reviewed and updated on a quarterly basis.
- A strategy to incorporate biodiversity considerations into forest management planning will be developed by the General Directorate of Forests within MWFEP. This will entail review and update of the existing national forest strategy, with the objective of identifying effective mechanisms to incorporate biodiversity conservation into the forest management planning process. Since forest management planning is currently undertaken at the level of the forest "production unit" (approximately 3-5,000 ha), the strategy will propose a new system for ensuring that forest planning and management recognizes and maintains the viability of Carpathian ecosystems. Experience gained in incorporating biodiversity issues in forest management plans at the Neamt Forest Park project demonstration site, together with the development of standards for independently certifiable forest products, will feed into the national strategy for forest biodiversity conservation.
Project Component 2: Develop Models for Protected Area and Forest Park Management (US$6.2 million)
- This project outcome will be achieved by:
- establishing systems for participatory planning and management of biodiversity at the three demonstration sites;
- establishing participatory mechanisms to reduce unsustainable resource use through introduction of systems for management of shared resources such as grazing and forest products, and the demonstration of links between conservation and economic benefits for the local population;
- developing a strategy for eco-tourism, which produces benefits for local communities;
- establishing a program for reintroduction of the European bison at Vanatori-Neamt;
- demonstrating models for forest management practices that address biodiversity concerns, including incorporation of biodiversity in forest management planning and establishment of guidelines and the economic rationale for independent certification of forest products.
- Establishment of conservation planning and management systems will be undertaken at the three project demonstration sites: Retezat National Park; Piatra Craiului- Bucegi Natural Park, and Vanatori-Neamt Forest Park. This will entail: (i) establishment of administrative structures, including the construction of visitor centers and provision of office and field equipment; (ii) transfer of international park management skills; (iii) further development of staff skills through exchange programs, study tours and training in park ranger skills and GIS/information management; (iv) establishment of park planning and management systems using baseline ecological surveys to form the basis of the three conservation area management plans, develop biodiversity monitoring systems, and create park identity (see Table B for a Summary of Technical Interventions); and (v) hosting a conference to share experiences with international partners and seek funds to expand the biodiversity conservation program.
- Mechanisms to reduce non sustainable resource use will be established through:
- integration of biodiversity concerns in land use planning for areas adjacent to parks, through stakeholder consultation workshops and incorporation of workshop agreements into land use plans;
- establishment of participatory mechanisms to enable sustainable grazing in parks through clarification of land use rights, establishment of commune committees for grazing, provision of planning advice from NGOs, facilitated workshops for commune grazing committees, regular meetings of an inter-commune commission for grazing, study tours for livestock owners and shepherds, and provision of funds for reciprocal agreements;
- establishment of mechanisms to support economic development activities that are compatible with the conservation objectives of the park, through development of decision making mechanisms and criteria for selection of appropriate business opportunities, and provision of funds to support acceptable development activities, including eco-tourism, and other forms of sustainable resource use.
- Develop and implement eco-tourism strategies for each park will entail:
- assessment of potential eco-tourism opportunities that support park objectives,
- stakeholder workshops to disseminate results and identify capacity and interest in participation in eco-tourism activities,
- identifying and developing walking trails and camping facilities, and (iv) and developing visitor packages, promotional and interpretation materials.
- The European bison reintroduction program will be implemented at Vanatori-Neamt Forest Park, which is part of the former natural range of this native animal. The bison will be a flagship for public awareness and also provide an ecological mechanism for maintenance of the natural diversity of the areas mixed forest and meadow ecosystems.
Habitat viability assessments and development of a proposal for this component were undertaken by the London Zoological Society during project preparation. Implementation will benefit from experience gained in bison reintroduction programs in other European countries, and selection of appropriate blood stock will be guided by the European Endangered Species Program. The project will build facilities and provide equipment, training and transport to support establishment of a breeding herd.
- Development of models for sustainable forest management that reflect biodiversity concerns will be undertaken primarily at the Vanatori-Neamt project site. After undertaking baseline ecological surveys, the project will:
- identify the needs and means for incorporating biodiversity concerns in the existing forest management planning and management systems, and develop appropriate standards to be used in independent certification of forest management;
- assess the economic viability and technical requirements associated with establishing independent certification of forest products derived from Tirgu Neamt forest management unit;
- provide feedback and input to the review of the national forest strategy undertaken under component one,
- showcase the forest ecosystem and sustainable forest management practice as part of visitor interpretation.
Project Component 3: Build Public Support for Biodiversity Conservation (US$0.7 million)
- This project outcome will be achieved through preparation and implementation of both national and park level strategies and targeted action plans for raising the awareness of specific stakeholders and the general public about the importance of, and opportunities for, biodiversity conservation.
- Preparation of the National public awareness program will entail:
- review of:
- the status, trends and historical context of Romanian ecosystems and their management; together with their ecological, economic and cultural significance;
- the existing and potential impacts and influence of key stakeholder groups on Romanian natural resource management and biodiversity. Stakeholder groups should include: urban and rural residents, local and national Government (including key policy makers), private sector interests, NGOs and advocacy groups, media, the academic community, the Romanian public, and the international conservation and donor communities;
- identification and prioritization of:
- key constraints to conservation and sustainable management of biodiversity resources caused by lack of awareness on the part of identified stakeholder groups;
- the information needs of each identified group;
- cost effective delivery mechanisms to address these information needs.
- Possible delivery mechanisms for the public awareness program include mass media, formal and informal education, networking, and the development of linkages with related conservation initiatives in Romania and elsewhere. The public awareness program will incorporate and encourage commercially sustainable options, such as private sector development of publications, eco-tourism, and the use of eco-labeling in marketing products that are linked to conservation needs and opportunities.
- Park public awareness programs will be developed and implemented by each park management unit. While visitor centers will provide interpretation of ecosystem functions and other important features of the parks to visitors, the public awareness programs will be designed to enhance the impact of this experience and carry understanding of key conservation issues to a wider audience. Park public awareness programs will target local schools and communities and other stakeholder groups that are of particular significance to each park. Activities under this sub-component include provision of regular press and media releases and newsletters, annual meetings of concerned NGOs and other groups, development of educational packages for primary schools, and park related publicity campaigns that are integrated with the national public awareness program implemented under component 3.
Project Component 4: Project Management and Monitoring (US$0.8 million)
- The project will establish a Project Coordination Team (PCT) at the national level, composed of a project manager, a procurement specialist and a financial management specialist. The PCT will oversee and support implementation of all project activities in accordance with agreed monitorable indicators. It will work closely with the county level PMA staff at the three sites and with national project staff, to develop and monitor workplans on a biannual basis. The project will provide the PCT with office equipment, transport facilities and training.