Conservation challenges in the Retezat Mountains of Romania

High up in the Carpathian mountains of Romania a new venture by environmentalists is challenging the way tourism impacts local communities by focusing on small scale responsible tourism. The project is based in the Retezat Mountains, part of an area recently described by international NGOs as “the last intact forest landscape in temperate Europe“.

Golden eagles, lynx, grey wolves, brown bears, marmots, otters, red deer and chamois are still common in these mountains. They live surrounded by virgin forests, pure springs, waterfalls, river canyons and glacier lakes with clear blue water, caves, alpine meadows with plenty of flowers and high peaks scratching the skies. From the bottom of Retezat to its’ highest peaks 2500m above sea level visitors can enjoy the four seasons of the year in complete harmony. Most of the area is protected by national and European laws and include: Retezat National Park, Domogled National Park, Hateg Dinosaurs Geopark and Tarcu Natura 2000 site.

Current issues
Despite the obvious potential for eco-tourism, local communities outside the National Park, in the main cities of Targu-Jiu and Petrosani suffer from acute poverty. Most of the city inhabitants were engaged in coal mining, an industrial activity which is now in full decline. The short era of coal has attracted hundreds of thousands of people from other parts of the country artificially raising the local population. With coal subsidies due to end in 2012 the industry is expected to collapse and environmentalists are particularly concerned that the financial problems in the area will lead to rapid degradation of the environment, through deforestation, hunting and uncontrolled, large scale tourism development.

Local and central authorities of Romania have been slow to recognise the international importance of the area and have chosen instead to construct a national road through the middle of this region in the hope of attracting more industry to the area. Work on the road started in 1999, but was repeatedly halted due to the lack of adequate work permits and an ongoing dispute with environmentalists. The protestors point out that the works were not even authorized at the start, and despite the claimed economic benefits, environmentalists worry that the road would destroy precisely what it is supposed to promote: the beautiful nature of the region, by disturbing ecosystems and interrupting the routes of migrating animals. Gabriel Paun, founder of Wild Time Tours and Agent Green said that if the road goes ahead “we say goodbye to the Retezat Intact Forest Landscape (IFL) as asphalt roads are an eliminating criterion for the IFL classification. Therefore we have taken to court ANPM (The Romanian National Agency of Environmental Protection) to retract the environmental permit issued for the road works. We are confident that in court we will be able to prove that there is no legal and scientific basis for the environmental permit“.

Agent Green with help from professors from the University of Edinburgh and Babes Bolyai have also started a biodiversity study in the area due to be affected by the road and so far they have already identified 109 wildlife corridors for large mammals, 26 species of bats, 34 areas where 4 species of reptiles and 6 species of amphibians are present and the nest of a pair of the very rare golden eagle.

Other environmentally damaging activities such as deforestation, poaching, illegal construction and resource exploitation in general tend to occur in the non-protected forested areas surrounding the park due to a lack of wardens and corruption of the local authorities. Greenpeace Romania has recently published a report highlighting that around 28,000 hectares are lost to deforestation in Romania each year and almost half of the affected forests are located within protected areas. Romania’s forests are disappearing at an alarming rate of 3 hectares per hour. Fortunately Retezat National Park has not been as affected by deforestation as some of the other National Parks in Romania.

Read full article at Tourism Concern.

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