Exploring Romanian forests – an unexpected journey

by Silke Jacobs, Sara Filipek, Gert-Jan Nabuurs & Bas Lerink

‘Timber Mafia’, ‘Notorious corruption’ and ‘Destruction of last virgin forests’. News articles about Romanian forests and their management are dominated by headlines like these or with a likewise tendency. But we were wondering: Is that really the only thing we should know about Romanian forests? Or are there also examples of good and sustainable forest management – as well as protection of primary forests?

As the Wageningen University & Research team of the SUPERB Project, which aims at upscaling forest restoration, we were eager to explore Romanian forests and to get in touch with its foresters. Although we heard the stories of the impressive untouched forests, our expectations were mixed. After our SUPERB conference in Sibiu ended, we headed north-east to Suceava for an introduction to the last remnants of Europe’s primeval forest. We were looking forward to the wilderness, but also curious about regular forest management in the productive spruce and beech stands of the Suceava district.

Oncoming traffic on our way to Suceava
Oncoming traffic on our way to Suceava

The journey from Sibiu to Suceava was an adventure on itself: zigzagging between horse drawn hay carts and putting our rental car and our driving skills to the test on unpaved forest roads. Unscathed and in awe of the Transylvanian landscape we arrived at our hotel in a suburb of Suceava. After some leg stretching, we went off to bed quickly, as we all knew we had a great hike scheduled for tomorrow.

The next morning appeared to be a beautiful hiking day and we were excited to meet the famous forest professors couple Laura and Olivier Bouriaud. With our company of six, we went off to pick up a local forester from ROMSILVA as seventh companion. He is an active forest manager in the Suceava forest district and knows his way through the vast Carpathian forests. It was until later that day, when we realised how essential it was to be guided around by someone with the knowledge and skills for wandering around.

Information sign on the left and regeneration gap on the right

Around 40% of Romanian forests are FSC-certified, which means that wood is harvested in a sustainable manner in these areas, respecting wildlife and other ecosystem services. We visited a recently thinned certified forest stand, with imposing spruce trees on fertile calcareous soils. Gaps that were created earlier by selective thinning or smaller clear-cuts were quickly claimed by regeneration from primarily spruce. Ferns dominated the understorey, but also gave way to species like Paris quadrifolia, which is in decline in Europe due to loss of habitat and might soon be on red lists. What we saw in this forest stand very much contrasted with the harsh media stories. At the border of the forest stand, an information sign was placed, to inform visitors on e.g. the measures, the volume of removed wood and the exact planning. We walked through the stand discussing the measures and the related communication to stakeholders.

We hiked along the mountainside, clutching the stems and branches from large beech trees for support. Finally, we reached a ridge that pointed out above the canopy. Here we had a great and rather humbling view on the surrounding forest area and the outskirts of the Slatioara town. After this highlight and catching our breath, we were ready for the descent. The first few meters were so steep that we agreed to slide down from a seated position, until we were able to stand up again and walk carefully over the old trail. We descended to the creek running through the reserve, where we washed our hands and drank some ice-cold water. Later that day, Laura and Olivier took us to their home for a fantastic BBQ, after which we returned to our hotel for a well-deserved rest.

Exhausted but extremely happy after intense hiking in the Codrul Secular Slătioara

The day after this fantastic field visit, we were invited to give a lecture about our work and projects on the Ştefan cel Mare University of Suceava. Silke presented the SUPERB project to an enthusiastic group of students from the forestry department. Gert-Jan backed that up with a lecture on his IPCC work, while Sara and Bas spoke about their projects related to climate smart forestry. After an interesting discussion with the audience, it was time for us to leave the university and prepare for our return journey to the Netherlands with our own impressions of the Romanian forests or at least part of it.