Fagaras mountains are unique - according to our knowledge, they host the largest areas of primary forests in entire EU (around 10,000 hectares). To compare - it is the same area as all the primary forests found in the entire Slovak Republic. In addition, other large areas are covered by valuable natural forests, which connect primary forest localities into larger complexes of high naturalness. Therefore, it deserves special attention and conservation.
The outstanding value of Fagaras is in the large continuous primary forest valleys with a complete gradient of altitudinal belts of forest vegetation - from thermophilic beech-hornbeam forests through beech-fir-spruce forests up to spruce and mountain pine. Several primary forest localities are more than 1,000 ha, and usually grow on both sides of the large valleys. Such primary forest valleys almost do not exist in the EU. One of the flagship primary forest valleys in Fagaras is Boia Mică that covers 1,145 ha with an altitudinal difference of 1,670m (from appr. 750m to 2,427m) over a distance of 7.5 km. We found 37 trees older than 300 years, 10 trees older than 400 years, and 1 tree older than 500 years on 14 randomly selected study plots in Boia Mică.
Primary forest in Fagaras were protected by their inaccessibility - cliffs, waterfalls and steep slopes. When we established our permanent study in Fagaras. 5-7 years ago, long valleys were almost untouched, with no roads and industrial logging. It was hardly accessible wilderness - providing best habitats for large carnivores and many protected species. Primary forests were covering continuously large landscapes.
Unfortunately, in the last few years a lot has changed. This summer (2018) we spent ca 7 weeks of hard fieldwork in order to remeasure the permanent study plots in 9 valleys in the Fagaras Mts. The drastic change in the form of heavy logging of primary forests was shocking for us. New roads appeared, and large clearcuts arose. More than one meter diameter trees, which were growing here for centuries, were logged for timber and firewood. One of the most precious natural localities in the European Union is disappearing rapidly. Moreover, our last visit in Fagaras Mts. ended with punctured tires on our university car. It seems like some people are not comfortable with our research, and they want to frighten us…
Primary forest inventory in Fagaras Mts. was conducted mostly by WWF and identified several thousands ha of primary forests. However, large areas in many valleys were still not included in their mapping, especially due to problematic criteria for primary forest identification in Romania. Even more worrisome, logging is also damaging the forest inside the polygons that are proposed to be included in the Primary forest catalogue. Approximately 3-4 thousand hectares should right now be included in the catalogue by WWF, Greenpeace and Carpathia (link). However, the rest (ca 6-7 thousands ha of primary forests) are under serious threat of logging. Forest management, particularly large scale clear-cutting and salvage logging, have substantially diminished and fragmented habitats of protected species, regardless of the status of forest protection (NATURA 2000).
Obviously, the chance to protect the complete primary forest complex in Fagaras Mts. is very low. Here we document logging and threats in several primary forest localities in Fagaras Mts. It is important to note, that it is not a complete list and the problem is much wider...
Current speed of destruction of Fagaras primary forest is truly alarming. It is obvious that there is no time for long discussions - one of the most valuable natural places in EU is disappearing before our eyes. Solutions are needed as fast as possible.
If our aim is to conserve Fagaras mountains as a whole, as an exceptionally valuable functional ecosystem, the mapping and submitting of primary forests to the National catalogue is probably not the most efficient way for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is a very slow process - far slower than deforestation rates. Another point is that not only primary forests are worth protecting according to current state of scientific knowledge it is clear that if we want to protect biodiversity, natural processes and thus ecosystem services to a sufficient degree, we need to protect large complex areas. Protecting only primary forests will create the same picture like elsewhere in Europe isolated fragments of primary forests surrounded by clearcuts, unnatural and young secondary forests with damaged soil and biodiversity. This kind of landscape is not able to support us with ecosystem services to a sufficient extent. Fagaras is still unique due to its large unfragmented, untouched or relatively untouched areas, which still ecologically function like one unit. Let’s find ways for preserving this treasure!