„Unexpected” turn of events: revisions to the New Forestry Code

The Senate approved yesterday the draft of the New Forestry Code, with a majority of votes and only one vote against. The significant changes brought to the draft law give us hope that the vision for forestry policies, expressed by the National Strategy for Forests, could still come to life – of course, the subsequent legislation that will follow is key in this respect.

After several meetings and debates in the Parliament, in addition to the efforts made by other stakeholders, we managed to convince the authorities that some essential clarifications were needed. Besides the administrative reforms in the forestry sector that must be adopted, we are concerned with preserving the sustainable management principles on which biodiversity conservation in Romania is based. Unfortunately, these principles are brought into discussion at every time the forestry-related legal framework is changed.

However, as some serious shortcomings we drew attention to were fixed, the current form of the draft law gives us hope that we can continue to build on it in the Parliament, with the Government support. In this regard, we appreciate the openness of the Environment Ministry and of the Parliament members to consider the most important amendments supported by WWF-Romania.

The current draft for the Forestry Code will be later discussed in the Deputies Chamber, which is the decision-making Chamber, where the changes and the final vote will be made. We will closely monitor the entire process so that the positive amendments that were included remain unchanged and to also try to bring more clarity on how the strategic directions Romania adopted through the National Strategy for Forests 2030 are implemented.

The most important changes brought to the New Forestry Code draft

  • Minimal ecosystem services now include the obligation to ensure forest regeneration, preserve and improve biodiversity and ensure the continuity of sustainable timber production.
  • The principle of timber harvests continuity is further stated and even strengthened to ensure a responsible forestry, as a foundation for the development of a sustainable forest bioeconomy in Romania.
  • Good practices that define a close to nature forestry are now clearly enforced on forests that have a production role. These practices explicitly include: creating and/or maintaining the mosaic forest landscape; ensuring ecological connectivity, including through ecological corridors; keeping standing and on the ground dead wood within the necessary ecological limits; maintaining and protecting habitat trees; forming aging islands; maintaining a high level of diversity for wild flora and fauna species by protecting biodiversity elements of extreme value.
  • Standardization of processed wood assortments is established to support the higher valorization of timber from public forests, ensuring that each assortment is allocated an appropriate industrial destination to maximize economic value added and enable the cascading use of timber.
  • Restoring a customary right for local communities regarding the collection of non-wood forest products for their own consumption.

Consistent solutions to address fundamental issues included in the infringement procedure that refer to EUTR implementation and to combating illegal logging in Romania

  • Establishing deterrent sanctions for illegal logging. For example, overloads exceeding 20% of the declared volume incur criminal liability if they exceed the equivalent of 5 m3 cumulatively within a year.
  • The integrated information system for forests will fulfill a series of functions to increase efficiency and transparency. It should provide public-interest information regarding the origin of wood, traceability, circulation, and commercialization of timber materials. Additionally, it should offer information for risk assessment by competent authorities and guide risk-based control.
  • Authorities taking responsibility for the development and provision of modern forest and timber transportation monitoring tools, aimed at fighting non-compliant practices.

Other provisions of the New Forestry Code supported by WWF

  • The concept of “forest-dependent communities” is defined and a legal framework is established to facilitate their access to forest resources, which they consider a fundamental right and upon which they depend. Conservation measures developed through the management plans of protected areas will need to take into account the legitimate interests of these communities. The exploitation of timber and non-timber forest products, as well as the acquisition of services, must sustainably support the socio-economic development of these communities.
  • Forests outside the National Forestry Fund will be managed based on a new set of agro-forestry norms, approved by a joint order of the central public authorities for forestry and agriculture.
  • Sustainable principles for forest management in the National Forestry Fund are retained.
  • The digitization of the forestry sector continues and conditions to reduce bureaucracy are created. The National Forestry Register is established as part of the Integrated Information System for Forests to record properties in the National Forestry Fund, facilitate electronic notifications and reports between various public entities, monitor the implementation of forestry services, and provide assistance and information to owners benefiting from payments or using forestry services.

Strategic directions of action that require more clarity in the New Forestry Code

  • Facilitating access to forest resources for businesses in specific sectors of the forestry industry, based on their contribution to the socioeconomic development of local communities relative to the consumed timber volume. Quantifying the contribution of vertical value chains relative to the consumed forest resource. More clarity is needed regarding the sustainable use of timber resources obtained from forests to support sustainable development of local communities.
  • The main coordinates of timber traceability and the first market placement in order to make sense of the simplicity-transparency-efficiency The SUMAL architecture should target the traceability of timber materials and, distinctly, the traceability of raw timber assortments throughout the entire custody chain, up to their first transformation through processing. The state should not consider the act of estimating timber quantity as a management document.
  • Limiting the use of invasive exotic tree species in reforestation compositions for lands outside the national forestry fund (except for the cases where their use is regulated by the Law on reforestation of degraded lands).
  • The artificial fragmentation of the national forestry fund associated with non-uniform management, by continuing the chaotic restitution system, which can cause significant economic, social, and ecological harm. The transfer of lands included in the national forestry fund from its public state ownership to its private ownership should be exempted if they belonged to the state's public domain before March 6, 1945.
  • Clear specification of the mechanisms and funding sources that will be established to ensure compensations for landowners subject to imposed restrictions.

Considering the complexity of the economic, social, and environmental implications of the new Forestry Code project, we hope that our proposals will be taken into account. Romania has now a historic opportunity that it shouldn’t miss.

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