Highlights

International Journal of Government Auditing – Summer 2015


Forest regenerating and enhancing afforested areas:
A performance audit conducted by the Romanian Court of Accounts

Subsequent to the United Nations Conference of Rio de Janeiro, 1992, which launched the sustainable development concept, forests have been considered assets of humanity. Forests play economic, ecologic and social functions, and states were invited to adopt sustainable management principles to benefit current and future generations. The first of the six management criteria established at the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe, held in Lisbon in 1998, is about the maintenance and appropriate enhancement of forest resources and their contribution to global carbon cycles. Forests absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, capturing carbon in the wooden mass and in the soil, then eliminating pure oxygen and ruling out greenhouse gas emission from the atmosphere. Thus, forests play a key role in reaching the objective provided in the Europe Strategy 2020: achieving greenhouse gas emissions that are 20 percent lower than they were in 1990. Data on

Data on the audit mission, auditees and target

The mission titled "Performance audit of the national forest fund administration, in the period 2010-2013" was conducted in 2014 at:

  • The Ministry of Environment and Climatic Changes, The Department for Waters, Forests and Fishery;
  • ROMSILVA National Forests Régie, including its county directorates;
  • The Institute for Forest Research and Organization;
  • The Environment Fund Administration;
  • The National Environment Guard; and
  • Forestry and Hunting Regime Commissariats (nine institutions).

Four auditors from the Court of Accounts, and 80 from 40 county chambers of accounts, participated in this mission.

Special attention was paid to forest regeneration and the enhancement of afforested areas, within the framework of the analysis of forest administration, organization and management. The mission was mainly aimed at the topics explained below.

Forest regeneration

Failure to care for and regenerate the growing stock generates shrinkage of forested surfaces, and forest destructuring and degeneration, thus negatively impacting their respective protective, economic, ecological and social functions.

Laws were established providing obligations to regenerate forests so as to prevent this phenomenon.

The National Code for Good Forestry Practices (The Forestry Code) provides that forest owners/administrators are to regenerate forests within two vegetation seasons as of sole or final cutting, and to establish a forest preservation and regeneration fund to finance growing stock regeneration and caring works.

In the period 2010-2013, regeneration works were conducted in keeping with the table on the next page.

graph: Survey Year Sources: National Statistics Institute, Romsilva National Forests Régie

Here are the findings:

  • The state forestry fund stands for about 50 percent of the overall national forestry fund. Sole or final cuts negatively impacted the forestry fund of other holders to the greatest extent; the regenerations made on the lands of other holders represent less than a third of the total.
  • By the end of 2013, almost 60 percent of the surfaces undergoing illegal cutting and surfaces negatively impacted by biotic and abiotic agents were not regenerated within the legal delay. About 70 percent of the regenerated surface has been natural.
  • As a general rule, the map of non-regenerated forests overlaps the illegal cutting one.
  • The enforcement of the Forestry Code adopted in 2008 on the computation of wooden mass contribution, to establish the preservation and regeneration fund, triggers a diminution of sources as compared to the provisions of the previous Code. Had the provisions of the previous Forestry Code been enforced in the period 2010-2013 for the state public property forestry fund, an additional 186,366 lei would have gone to the preservation and regeneration fund.

Afforesting on degraded agricultural lands

Romania has around 2.2 million ha of degraded agricultural land, which cannot be used for agricultural purposes but can be enhanced by afforesting. In the period 2002-2006, 19,349 ha of degraded land were transferred from the State Domains Administration to the Forest National Régies for afforesting purposes. After 2006, only one more transfer was made: 73.7 ha, in 2011.

In keeping with national afforesting programs, the afforesting of 156 thousand ha of degraded land was provided for 2005-2013, of which 18.5 thousand ha were actually afforested (12 percent). At this pace, it would take some 1,070 years to afforest the current degraded lands (2.2 thousand ha).

As of 2008, the degraded land afforesting program was also financed by the Environment Fund.

The following were found relating to the financing from the Environment Fund:

  • The procedures established through the financing guidelines issued by the Environment Fund Administration did not consider risks inherent to biotic and abiotic factors or the specific character of afforesting, which needs continuous financing until the plantation reaches the stage as a massif— when it can support itself.
  • The legal provisions establishing that the central authority for forestry is the sole competent entity in the technical coordination of degraded lands afforesting were infringed.
  • Out of 7,048 ha contracted for afforesting, the status as a massif was reached only on 41 ha, and only for 2,836 ha are there annual controls of theregeneration endorsed by the forestry and hunting regimen, confirming success of the plantation.
  • As contrary to the "polluter pays" principle and to the aim of the Environment Fund (deterring polluters by taxation and financing projects having a positive environmental impact), an environment fee was established and charged to the forest owners. The forest is thus a net contributor to the Environment Fund, and the income collected from this source is three times higher than the payments made to support afforesting programs.

Protection forest curtains

In keeping with the national afforesting program approved in 2004, the protection forest curtains requirement in Romania was 270,000 ha.

In 2013, the program was updated; the new objectives are highlighted in the table below:

graph: Survey Year

Only some 388 forest curtains were set up in the period 2005-2013. Therefore, at the beginning of 2014, the forest curtains surface in Romania was about 3,800 ha, lower by 5,500 ha than they were in 1957 (in 1962, protection forest curtains were almost totally cleared, to be turned into agricultural land).

Permanent removal and temporary occupation from/in the forest fund

The legislation frequently promoted the development of certain sectors based on the forestry sector, by tax exemptions provided in the Forestry Code granted to beneficiaries of land removals from the forest funds. Thus, the forest fund was put in a position to no longer be able to establish financial resources for forest regeneration and preservation, and for afforesting.

In the period 2009-2013, the improvement fund recorded net constituted financial resources of 63,944 lei, and the fund for forest preservation and regeneration 343,240 thousand lei, as a consequence of tax exemption provided by special laws.

It was also found that there is a very high number of extensions of temporary occupation deadlines for abandoned oil drills. The extension of the occupation authorizations is a procedure to wangle the obligation of the occupation beneficiary to return the land in a state allowing for afforesting.

Illegal change of forest land destination

There is an alarming diminution trend of forest funds through the transformation, after clearance, of forest lands into agricultural lands or pastures. Identified were some 912 ha which were cleared and illegally turned into agricultural lands, and another 172 ha which were, after abusive exploitation of wooden mass, abandoned.

The destination change of forest vegetation land into agricultural land or pastures is also stimulated by grants from the European Agricultural

Recommendations of the Court of Accounts

The following recommendations were made relating to these issues:

  • enhancing the legal framework on the establishment of the preservation and regeneration fund;
  • analyzing and clarifying whether the legal provision according to which "a contribution of 2 percent of the income generated by the sale of the wooden mass and/or of wooden materials obtained by the administrator, respectively by the owner of the forest" becomes income to the Environment Fund was established with the observance of the "polluter pays" principle: possible measures shall be ruled accordingly;
  • analyzing the possibility to establish legal provisions for which the above-mentioned two percent quota would become a source of the fund for the enhancement of lands meant for forests;
  • taking stock of the plantation status, especially in the instance of the projects the beneficiaries of which did not submit annual regeneration control results, and taking adequate legal measures;
  • establishing and implementing a realistic program to set up the required forest curtains;
  • enforcing the legal measures to restore the temporarily occupied lands to a state allowing for
  • afforesting.

The recommendations were forwarded to the appropriate authorities so that they could take the required measures.