The big robbery in the forests, encouraged by the Government. Custodians administering the protected areas have been left without power and the theft of wood has already begun. The state took over their work with institutions which are non-functioning and without budget
End of August. At dusk. Márk Nagy János runs along with several colleagues in a hilly area next to the forest in the Tur River protected area of Satu Mare County. They suddenly saw coming out of the woods three carts loaded with illegally cut timber. They sat in front of them and called 112. One of the villagers recognized them and passed the wagon speedily past them. They jumped out of his way, otherwise he would have hurt them. The police arrived in two hours, although it was only 20 kilometers away.
„We no longer have the right to have our rangers in the woods. We do not have any ID cards anymore. We no longer have the right to control and sanction, and the effects of that can already be seen” János, custodian of the Tur River Natural Reservation, and director of the Transylvanian Carpathian Society, told G4Media.ro.
Villagers clearly knew the rule of the area, set up by the custodians two years ago and approved by order of the minister, whereby any cutting is illegal from 1 March to 31 August because it is a season for breeding birds.
„The “clever guys” take advantage of the situation and are starting to do all sorts of illegal things now,” warns János.
Context. By an Emergency Decree (75/2018) adopted in July, the government removed the notion of custodian from environmental law, and therefore NGOs are no longer allowed to manage protected areas in Romania. They are to be subordinated to the state and administered by the National Agency for Natural Protected Areas (ANANP). Until the advent of the law, the 166 custodians ensured the management of about half of the nearly 1000 natural areas, which account for 25% of the country’s surface. The rest of the areas were not administered at all.
What happens now. The decree generated uncertainty and led to an administrative blockage. On the one hand, the old custodians interrupted their activities because, legally, they ceased to exist. At the request of the authorities, they only issue opinions. On the other hand, ANANP, which was created in 2016 (Government decision 997/2017), is not operational until it establishes the territorial structures in each county in order to effectively take over the management of the protected areas. In other words, the government completely abandoned custody and asked ANANP to immediately take over the management of all protected areas in Romania, without ensuring that it is functional and has the necessary budget.
“A government reorganization decision is to be signed within a maximum of two weeks, allowing us to set up territorial structures” said Adi Croitoru, ANANP President, former director of the Biodiversity Directorate at the Ministry of Environment and appointed to ANANP three days after the issuance of the July Ordinance.
The Law of Chaos. The Tur River, protected area in Satu Mare County. Three brothers who went to work in Italy decided to build their houses outside the river, on the bank of the river, illegally, without authorization. The custodians of the area, Márk Nagy János of the Carpatina Ardeleana Society, filed a petition to the Prosecutor’s Office and halted the work.
Eight years later. August. The three resumed the work without any official approval. Custodians can do nothing. „We can now just file a referral to the Environmental Guard, which does not do much work. Before, I was part of the criminal action, I filed a new referral to the Prosecutor’s Office, ” says János.
Environmental organizations, universities and research centers, which teh emergency decree 75 removed from protected areas management, are in full alert. The Decree was sent to Parliament for approval. It was discussed in the Senate and received its approval last week and entered the specialized commissions of the Chamber of Deputies, which is due to give its opinion by November 8. It will then be discussed in the plenum of the Chamber, which is a decisional forum.
„I sued the Government and notified the People’s Advocate. We ask for the annulment of Emergency Decree 75, because we consider it profoundly disruptive of non-governmental organizations, „says Liviu Cioineag, Executive Director of Natura 2000 Romania Coalition.
According to him, ANANP does not know what real budget it needs, which will lead to syncope. „If it does not have resources, that agency will only exist on paper and it will be just another bureaucratic device. We think there will be no money for protected areas. The whole operation was meant to remove the custodians, who were alerting authorities when environmentally negative projects were put into practice, „says Cioineag.
The Federation intends to act in the committees of the Chamber of Deputies.
What are ANANP’s plans. The ANANP head is optimistic. Within a maximum of two weeks, he hopes to receive the government decision in order to set up the 41 territorial structures in the counties throughout the country. In December he wants to start hiring 400 specialists in the territory who will go on the field. „We will make local partnerships. Priority is given to those who were already custodians, ” says Adi Croitoru.
With the stated purpose of lowering bureaucracy, territorial structures will not have legal personality. They will include only specialists like environmental engineers, biologists, geologists, and ecologists. „I do not think I would go to ANANP. I am firmly convinced that we will receive orders to whom we should give authorization for logging or not. We need to have co-management contracts, to keep our independence, „says Márk Nagy János of the Transylvanian Carpathian Society. He says he has suffered great pressure from the political area. Only between May and September last year, for example, he was “visited” by eight controls from the Environmental Guard.
The head of the protected areas does not seem disturbed by the grievances surrounding her. She has met with Carsten Rasmussen, Head of Unit for Romania at DG Regio of the European Commission, with whom he discussed the projects ANANP is supposed to develop. The aim is for the agency to become an intermediary body to be able to access European funds directly for biodiversity. The plan is to discuss with European commissioners in early November to have a clear schedule by the end of the year.
„We are talking about a budget. We own large incomes generated by all activities in protected natural areas, such as authorizations, film shooting or cave visits. We know exactly what money we need in order to manage the system, but we will then announce and we will determine whether other funds are needed, „says Croitoru.
In addition, Croitoru considers two other sources of income. Starting next year, ANANP will sell to the European Union some green certificates, i.e offsetting measures to counterbalance restrictions imposed on protected areas. Then it will release the brand certificates, which are trademarks of the protected areas. All products made in a protected area should be branded and thus be sold.
Fears. Field specialists reacted negatively when they heard of ANANP boss’ plans. „To make the statement that you will manage your own people from your own income is an absurdity. It is clear she does not know what she is talking about. I wonder whether the Ministry of Finance is aware of the fact that the financial foundation of the „system” proposed by ANANP is unrealistic and that, after all, once the territorial structures have been established, the state budget is the one that will have to take over this new structure ” declared for G4Media.ro Erika Stanciu, Executive Director at ProPark Foundation for Protected Areas, who has training programs for people who manage protected areas.
Fears are spreading in the area of future ANANP specialists. Until now, in a county with two or three protected areas there were about 20-30 employees who were barely enough to take on the situation on the ground. Now, the authority wants to employ less than half that number, and manage a double amount of protected areas.
A possible scenario is that ANANP will do some hirings, enough to set up territorial structures. Then the custodian authority will be automatically abolished. Newcomers will be totally overwhelmed by requests and, therefore, authorizations for works that destroy nature may be much easier to obtain.
„It will be a very difficult time and our fear is that many valuable areas of the country will be destroyed. We will have another role, that of guards. There will be an attrition war, and nobody will benefit, „Stanciu warns.
The Decree is now on the Deputies’ table. Custodians fear that their work of the last decade, often on a voluntary basis, has been in vain. ANANP is preparing to control everything from the center in Bucharest, where President Adi Croitoru will make his signature on every opinion that the authority will issue.
Traducerea: Ruxandra Stoicescu
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