Restoring the forests of Romania’s mountain ranges

Romania has over 6 million hectares of forests, of which a significant percentage are still ‘virgin’; large, unfragmented mountain areas with no settlements except in the neighbouring foothills. These areas are of unsurpassed beauty, surrounded by natural forests and untamed rivers which shape the valleys. They also support a wide range of biodiversity, including 3,700 plant species and charismatic wildlife including bears, wolves, and lynx.

Romania is home to some of the last remaining virgin forests in Europe, which are under threat from logging and road expansion. Photo credit: Sandra Bartocha.

Sadly, virgin forests are being logged to make way for new forest roads which further exposes access to these wild and remote mountain valleys. Much of this work is being carried out under an ‘economic development’ argument, though there are deep concerns about this depletion of its natural resources in the long-term. Unsustainable logging and abusive exploitation practices have severely damaged thousands of hectares of forests, leaving the soils on the mountain slopes unprotected and exposed to erosion. In addition, forest management over the past hundred years has favoured tree species which offer an economic return, such as spruce, resulting in a widespread proliferation of monocultures that have replaced once diverse forests.

With funding from the Endangered Landscapes Programme, Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC) has developed an action plan through its project Creating a new wilderness reserve in the Southern Carpathian Mountains. This plan includes the restoration of cleared forest land, degraded alpine and riparian habitats, reconverting artificially planted spruce forests, and invasive species management.

Clear-cut forest in the Făgăraș Mountains, part of Romania’s Southern Carpathian Mountain range. Photo credit: Dan Dinu.

Mihai Zotta, Technical Director at FCC, provided an update on recent efforts as part of the projects’ replanting activities: “We had a late, variable spring, with late snow. We worked hard to clear the access trails up the mountain, using excavators, so we could reach the clear-cut areas. With a team of 18 villagers, hired as seasonal workers from the local communities where our activities are based, and our coordinating ranger, we have planted 28,000 fir, spruce, beech and sycamore saplings over an area of nine hectares. This was a thirteen-year-old clear-cut site in the eastern Făgăraș Mountains, where natural regeneration was almost nonexistent. Areas like this need human intervention as the natural conditions are currently not robust enough for the forest to recover by itself.”

FCC already has over six years’ experience in ecological restoration work; during this time over 2.1 million saplings were planted and more than 700 hectares of clear-cuts were restored for the benefit of hundreds of other species that can now thrive in these forests.

And FCC’s work doesn’t stop after planting. It takes an average period of five years until the saplings are strong enough to create a new forest, which requires monitoring of replanting success, replacing dried out saplings and cutting back any grass surrounding the trees so they have adequate space to grow.

Re-planting work taking place in the Carpathia project area. Photo credit: FCC.

“We are pleased that the results from our random selection as part of our monitoring work are positive”, Mihai says. “The rain has helped, but this also means that vegetation is fast outgrowing the saplings. Before winter comes, we will need to organise teams to the surrounding grass again.”

As part of the Endangered Landscape Programme, Foundation Conservation Carpathia have set an ambitious plan of ecological restoration which aims to replant 70 hectares of clear-cut forest each year, alongside a programme of ranger patrols and temporary fencing where restoration sites neighbour livestock pastures. This project will also implement erosion control measures by filling rills, building small fences and trenches and replanting on up to 10 km of skidding tracks per year. The riparian forest vegetation will be re-installed across a minimum of 40 km along the mountain streams. The process of converting spruce monocultures into natural forests will be initiated on a total of 200 hectares, and dwarf pine, juniper, and the natural alpine flora will be re-established on a further 200 hectares of degraded alpine habitat.

To find out more about this project, please visit the Carpathia project page.