The European Commission has threatened Romania with legal action for allegedly failing to tackle illegal logging and not doing enough to protect some of Europe’s largest unspoilt forests.
Excessive logging is a major problem in the country; last year, two forest workers who intervened to protect trees were killed, prompting thousands to march in Bucharest demanding action.
Romania is home to more than 525,000 hectares of virgin primary forests — more than any other EU country outside Scandinavia.
As well as containing ancient and protected trees, these woods provided habitat for wildlife including bears, wolves and lynx.
Greenpeace estimates that Romania is losing up to nine hectares of forest every hour due to illegal logging.
Woodland habitats 'have been lost'
The EC said on Wednesday that Romania has been “unable to effectively check operators and apply appropriate sanctions” in the logging industry.
It also found that “Romanian authorities manage forests, including by authorising logging, without evaluating beforehand the impacts on protected habitats” as required by European directives and that “protected forest habitats have been lost,” in breach of regulations.
The legal action gives Romania one month to “address the shortcomings” before announcing further sanctions.
It follows complaints submitted to the Commission last year by environmental groups Agent Green, ClientEarth and EuroNatur.
Agent Green said one area of illegal logging on a protected site “looks like a battlefield and is larger than the entire city of Brussels”.
ClientEarth lawyer Ewelina Tylec-Bakalarz said: “The Romanian government has repeatedly failed to fulfil its obligations to protect its forests under a number of European environmental laws. By opening infringement proceedings against Romania, the European Commission is sending a clear signal that it takes this problem very seriously.
"This is an important warning that Romania must stop blatantly disregarding its legal obligation to protect these unique forests”.
Romania’s government did not immediately respond to a request from Euronews for comment.
The Silva trade union federation says six foresters have been killed in recent years while another 650 forest workers were beaten, attacked with axes or knives or even shot at after catching illegal loggers in the act.
They include Raducu Gorcioaia, who was found dead in his car with head wounds on Sept. 12 last year near a forest in Iasi, eastern Romania, and Liviu Pavel Pop, who was shot dead on Oct. 16 in the northwestern Maramures county.