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States unite to protect primeval European forests

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Bratislava, Slovakia: Europe’s largest areas of old growth forests outside Russia are to be protected across the seven country span of the Carpathian Mountains.

The commitment comes in the form of a Protocol on Sustainable Forest Management, signed today in Bratislava, Slovakia, by ministers of all the Carpathian Convention countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine.

“The Forestry Protocol under the Carpathian Convention joins a growing number of legislative tools and political commitments, including new EU legislation on illegal logging as well as the EU Habitats and Birds Directives for addressing the loss of these forest treasures – it is essential that these commitments are now put into practice”, said Andreas Beckmann, Director of the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.

Early tasks under the protocol include the identification and protection of natural, especially virgin forests.

Many areas being felled

Some 300,000 hectares of old growth or primeval forest are thought to exist in the Carpathian Mountains, a small remnant of the vast forests that covered Europe. They include over 10,000 ha of magnificent beech forests in eastern Slovakia and western Ukraine that have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as well as areas in the southern Carpathians of Romania that make up Europe’s greatest unfragmented forest area.

Unfortunately, many of these areas are being felled. Only 18% of the 250,000 ha of Romanian old growth forests are inside protected areas. In Slovakia, only 0.47% of forests could be considered old growth, as demonstrated by a thorough field study undertaken in 2010. Prior to the study, it had been thought that at least 2% of forest area could be considered old growth.

The Protocol also aims to maintain or enlarge forest cover as well as improve protective forest functions such as preventing floods, landslides and in general water cycle regulation.

“In the International Year of the Forest, the governments of the seven Carpathian countries have committed themselves to protecting and preserving Europe’s greatest remaining forest treasures, including the continent’s largest remaining areas of natural and virgin forests outside of Russia, which are in urgent need of protection,”  Beckmann said.

New EU legislation on addressing illegal logging requires EU member states to take specific measures to address the problem of illegal logging, which has been a major problem in the Carpathian region.

An online timber tracking tool developed by the Romanian Forest Agency Romsilva can support implementation of the Forestry Protocol and EU legislation and provides a good example for other countries. Romania has also been one of the pioneers in the Carpathian region in promoting responsible forest management, with some 2 million hectares of forest on track for certification under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

See the WWF’s website here