PROJECT LIFE11/NAT/RO/823 “ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION OF FOREST AND AQUATIC HABITATS IN THE UPPER DAMBOVITA VALLEY, MUNTII FAGARAS”
The Fagaras Mountains are one of the most spectacular alpine landscapes in the Romanian Carpathians: The highest peaks of the country are located here, surrounded by some of Europe’s ecologically most valuable, un-fragmented woodlands. The upper Dambovita Valley represents the South-Eastern part of the Natura 2000 site Muntii Fagaras (ROSCI0122) and is, due to its size, remoteness, and its relatively original state, of great importance for biodiversity conservation. The integrity of this Carpathian ecosystem, however, is threatened since formerly nationalised forests have been restituted to private people throughout the past years. Uncontrolled logging has destroyed significant parts of the forest surface and has even taken a toll on the virgin forests still present in the Dambovita Valley. This project aims to protect remaining wilderness, and to return managed forests back into their natural state. The aquatic and riparian ecosystems have suffered since the 1980ies when a hydro-power plant with numerous river control and regulation structures were built along the Dambovita river and its tributary streams. Here, this initiative aims to elaborate and establish ecologically suitable conditions for the target species without compromising the protection function of the control structures.
Project co-financed by the LIFE+ program of the European Union
- To accelerate re-wilding processes and to enhance biodiversity on clear-felled areas and managed forests (where tree composition has been severely altered) by purchase and subsequently cutting back groups of trees and replacing them with the original tree species. Through this, the habitats of species like Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus), White-winged Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos), Red-breasted Flycatcher (Ficedula parva), and Hazel Grouse (Bonasa bonasia), will tremendously improve.
- To save the remaining virgin and quasi-natural forests in the upper Dambovita Valley by purchase through the foundation and to stipulate their complete protection in the Management Plan of the Natura 2000 site. The majority of the virgin forests to be saved will be acidophilous spruce (Picea) forests of the montane to alpine level (9410) with some Mountain Pine (Pinus mugo) – Rhododendron myrtifolium associations (4070*) in the sub-alpine areas, and Luzulo-Fagetum beech forests with Silver Fir (Abies alba) and/or Norway Spruce Picea abies (9110).
- To restore the original riparian vegetation along the watercourses and to rehabilitate the aquatic eco-system of the Dimbovita basin in order to allow upstream fish migration that has been interrupted for several decades. Species directly benefiting from this habitat improvement are Southern Barbel (Barbus meridionalis), European bullhead (Cottus gobio), and European otter (Lutra lutra).
- To reduce the negative impact of man-induced erosion that is causing pollution of waterways and degradation of forest productivity through the loss of topsoil.
- To inform the general public about the Natura 2000 site and to increase their appreciation for conservation of the habitats and species in this area
To achieve our main objective of saving the remaining natural forests that are crucial for the integrity of the Natura 2000 site, the Foundation Conservation Carpathia will purchase approximately 200 ha of forests that have never been cut and where the natural tree composition and age structure is still intact. At the same time we will make sure that these forests obtain complete protection by stipulating a non-intervention approach in the Management Plan for the Natura 2000 site Muntii Fagaras.
Another focus is on purchasing approximately 400 ha of clear-felled areas and 1,000 ha of managed/planted forests which will allow us to take all the measurements necessary to restore the natural ecosystem. On clear-felled areas that lack proper regeneration we will concentrate on replanting a broad variety of autochthonous tree species, which would be native to the site, to enrich the area. Measures to initiate a trend back to the original ecosystem in forests that have been transformed into spruce monocultures throughout the past decades include opening up parts of these monocultures and reintroducing saplings of the native tree species, as well as increasing the amount of dead wood.
Actions to improve the aquatic ecosystem with its adjacent riparian forests will focus on the elaboration and implementation of a river restoration plan in close co-operation with the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Administration for Water Management “Apele Romane”, that aims to allow the free course and dynamic of the mountain streams wherever possible and to enable upstream fish migration. Replacement of the spruce plantations with alder communities along watercourses will be another important measure to establish a functioning river ecosystem.
To control erosion on existing skidding tracks, we will use local labour force to fill up rills with stones, gravel, and organic material, to level ramparts and to reconstruct the forest soils in order to allow the original vegetation to re-grow.
Raising the awareness among the general public about the Natura 2000 site and the concept of restoring and re-wilding the upper Dambovita Valley will be achieved by using site specific notice boards and by distributing detailed and well-designed wilderness booklets about the area at no charge. In addition, guided visits to the area with political decision-makers and representatives of regional and national authorities and workshops with representatives of the outdoor-tourism segment will help to get additional support for our conservation activities.
A.1 INVENTORY OF PRISTINE FORESTS
Securing the remaining pristine forests in the upper Dambovita Valley and the upper Leresti Valley is one of the main objectives of our project. Their complete identification and evaluation, based on information gained from mapping and remote sensing, will allow us to target the land purchase activities most efficiently by systematically addressing current and future land owners of properties containing natural forests can be addressed and we can hopefully purchase these forests before logging activities start.
A.2 ASSESSMENT OF ORIGINAL TREE COMPOSITION AND INVENTORY OF FOREST REGENERATION ON CLEAR-FELLED AREAS
This activity aims to understand the spatial forest composition prior to any cutting so that restoration measures can be best targeted towards the original state. After almost a decade of intensive logging, the central Dâmbovita Valley on the East side of the Natura 2000 site Muntii Fagaras (ROSCI0122) is interrupted by over 1,000 hectares of clear cuts and many areas do not show any evidence of a sufficient regeneration of trees. One of the objectives of this preparatory action is to identify and map those clearings that are lacking regeneration and that shall be targeted in the subsequent restoration activities.
A.3 CREATION OF A NURSERY
Scope of this action is to create a nursery for specific forest species, which have been drastically reduced in number and distribution due to forest management practices over the last 100 years. Without replanting species like elm, sycamore, rowan, or yew, these forests would not recover into their natural state for a long time. Since our goal is to assist in the speedy recovery of natural habitats and wilderness, we believe that nurseries will help in the re-occurrence of these species in much of the Dambovita Valley.
A.4 INVENTORY OF AREAS AFFECTED BY SOIL EROSION
Deforestation and bad forest exploitation methods have caused and still cause widespread erosion throughout the project area. Especially the extraction of timber on provisional tractor tracks leaves deep wounds in the top soils. An inventory will enable us to target our restoration activities on those areas where quick action is most needed to reduce further negative impacts on soils, slopes and downstream water courses. A detailed, site-specific technical planning for erosion control will allow us to operate the following erosion repair in the most time- and cost effective way.
A.5 RIPARIAN HABITAT ASSESSMENT AND RESTORATION PLANNING WITH A SPECIAL FOCUS ON ALLUVIAL FORESTS (91E0*)
The objective of this preparatory action is to assess the riparian habitat in all water courses of the project area to identify and map existing alder corridors with Alnus glutinosa, Fraxinus excelsior, and Alnus incana (91E0*). Besides identifying intact alluvial forests that will act as reference ecosystems, the inventory will highlight sections along the rivers and streams that are in need of certain restoration measurements to re-establish the ecological integrity of this priority habitat as well as to increase biodiversity in the transition zone between the terrestrial and the aquatic environment. It is particularly important to understand the historical and current anthropogenic influences on the river to establish the most feasible areas for restoration.
A.6 INVENTORY OF THE STATUS OF THE AQUATIC ECO-SYSTEM AND PREPARATION OF RESTORATION ACTION PLAN
The entire water courses of the project area have been equipped with small dams, sills, spur dykes, and other river training structures to regulate the natural dynamics of the streams. This survey will identify those segments on the streams where measurements need and can be taken to improve the ecological condition for the native fauna in accordance with the safety interests of the power-plant operator. In a first step we will assess the ecological state of the Upper Dambovita Valley by analyzing the benthic macro-invertebrates and fish community structure, which are the key components of this type of river ecology. Based on this, we will elaborate a restoration action plan that will be presented to the Ministry of Environment and Forests and to the Romanian Water Administration (Apele Romane) for approval.
A.7 EXPANSION OF ASSESSMENTS OF VIRGIN AND ALLUVIAL FORESTS FROM THE UPPER DIMBOVITA VALLEY TO THE OVERALL NATURA 2000 SITE ROSCI0122 MUNŢII FĂGĂRAŞ
Most issues that we want to tackle in this LIFE+ project exist in a similar degree also in other parts of the Natura 2000 site and we want to prepare the ground for conservation and restoration activities all over the site. The administration of Natura 2000 site Muntii Fagaras, has declared its interest to extrapolate the results of this project to the overall site. In a first step, site-wide surveys will focus on mapping the remaining virgin forests to implement proper protection measures, and to survey all streams and brooks to demonstrate where restoration measures are necessary to restore the original alluvial forests. Furthermore, we will assist the administrators with sharing our experiences gained during this project.
B.1 PURCHASE OF NATURAL FORESTS
Safeguarding the remaining pockets of natural forests in the upper Dambovita Valley of the Natura 2000 site Muntii Fagaras is one of the main goals of our project. During the last decades, most forests in the Dambovita Valley have been cut and often been replaced by spruce monocultures, the highest 200 m below timberline, however, were usually left untouched as avalanche protection. For this reason, there is still a band of virgin forest along most side valleys below timberline. Now with the restitution process, all forests including these virgin stretches are being given to private owners that want to exploit them. We intend to purchase approximately 200 ha of forests that have never been cut and where the natural tree composition and age structure is still intact, with the scope of complete protection.
B.2 PURCHASE OF CLEAR-FELLED FORESTS
After the start of forest restitution in Romania, a total of over 1,500 ha of forests have been clear-felled in the central Dambovita Valley. Although the law obliges the owners to regenerate a new forest after the cutting, it rarely happens. More important even is the fact that the law foresees regeneration basically as replanting with the dominating forest tree species, focusing purely on commercial interests. This is leading, and has already led in many of the managed forests, to the disappearance of ecologically valuable tree and brush species. By purchasing the clear-felled areas we are in the position to close the forest gaps and to accelerate restoration of the habitat that belongs into this area by partially replanting the original and autochthonous tree species.
B.3 PURCHASE OF MANAGED FORESTS
The majority of the forests in the Dambovita Valley have been subject to some kind of forest management within the past 100 years, leading to a reduction of ecologically valuable tree species in favour of the commercially profitable ones. The main objective of our initiative is to re-wild the entire upper Dambovita valley and to slowly transfer it back into a non-managed natural habitat. For this purpose we intend to purchase about 1,000 ha of managed woodland that will be subject to specific management measures to encourage and/or accelerate natural rejuvenation in order to diversify species composition.
C.1 RESTORATION OF FOREST FLOOR ON ERODED SKIDDING TRACKS
This activity aims to stop further erosion on selected clear cuts and in some managed forests and allows vegetation to re-grow on these exposed soils. Based on the inventory of areas affected by erosion (A.4), we will organise erosion control measures for the reconstruction of the degraded forest soils. Rills will be filled with branches, gravel, and soil until the level of the original forest floor has been reached again. Ramparts on either side of skidding tracks have to be shoveled back onto the track to allow the recreation of the natural slope. Once the original slope has been restored, small and short trenches from the track downwards will help to maintain the run-off of precipitation, in case the repaired soil would sink over time.
C.2 PLANTATION OF ORIGINAL TREE SPECIES ON CLEAR-CUTS
This action aims to replant trees, which we have raised in the nurseries on the clear-felled areas in order to allow re-growth of the original forest ecosystem. We estimate that we have to replant Common ash (Fraxinus excelsior), Wych elm (Ulmus glabra), Sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), or European yew (Taxus baccata) on at least 200 ha of clearcuts. Planting trees from the nurseries will start as soon as they have reached at least 30 cm in height, which we expect with some of the species (ash, sycamore, rowan) to happen after two years. At least 20,000 saplings of beech and fir we can root already in the first year from nearby forests to give these shadow-dependent species a head start.
C.3 REJUVENATION OF MANAGED FORESTS/ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION
Thousands of hectares of mixed forests in the Dambovita Valley have been transformed into spruce-dominated cultures with no or only little deciduous trees throughout the last decades by forest management. This activity will enhance biodiversity and will initiate a trend back to the original ecosystem – Luzulo-Fagetum beech forests with Abies alba and/or Picea abies or acidophilous Picea forests in the montane zone, and Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa in the riparian areas – by carefully opening up parts of these monocultures and reintroducing native tree species which have been eliminated through forest management. We will do so by creating up to five pockets/ha in the spruce canopy with a diameter of ca. 15 metres by cutting and bark-peeling the spruce. Such, the spruce forest will be interrupted every 40-50 metres where we will then replant saplings of the missing species.
C.4 RESTORATION OF RIPARIAN GALLERIES
Alluvial forests have been artificially replaced with the economically more interesting spruce. Both, the alteration of the water regime and the clearing of the riverine woodland left the Dambovita basin with a scattered distribution of intact riparian vegetation. The measures in this action – including removal of tree species foreign to the site (mainly spruce plantations) in the frame of the forest law, and regeneration of the proper species community such as alder and Common ash – aim to enlarge and to connect alluvial forests. Intact riverine woodlands will serve as reference sites and source for seeds and saplings.
C.5 REHABILITATION OF TRIBUTARY STREAMS
Depending on the results of the survey of activity A.6 (Status of the aquatic ecosystem), we will restore over 10 km of living space for our target species in the Dambovita basin. Since the river stretches, which are now interrupted with dams, will become permeable again for all kind of fish species, the actual uninterrupted length of the aquatic ecosystem will be 17.7 km.
D.1 MONITORING OF FOREST FLOOR RESTORATION ON ERODED SKIDDING TRACKS
For a three-year period after erosion control measures have been carried out, rangers of the Fundatia Conservation Carpathia will check twice annually (once after the snowmelt and once in August after the end of the period of summer storms) these repaired surfaces and monitor the re-appearance of gullies and the succession of vegetation. We will verify depths of new erosion on the former tractor tracks, overall percentage of vegetation on the rebuilt forest floor, and species of occurrence on these surfaces. If gullies would reappear, we would repeat the activity of erosion control.
D. 2 MONITORING OF FOREST REGENERATION AND REJUVENATION
- 2 Monitoring of forest regeneration and rejuvenation
In order to evaluate the restoration of plant composition and structure in comparison to plant composition and structure of a natural forest, we will monitor the success of planting of each species, the increase of species in various locations, and the survival of planted saplings on the clear-cut areas that we have selected for activity C.2 for five consecutive years. To do so we will establish permanent sampling plots. In addition, we will return every year to the restoration gaps in the artificial spruce monocultures (C.3) to monitor the success of the initiated rejuvenation.
D.3 MONITORING OF FOREST HABITAT RESTORATION EFFORTS – INDICATOR SPECIES
Improvement of the habitat quality in the targeted forests can best be measured by the return of species that depend on specific stand compositions, maturity of the forest, and/or the presence of dead and decaying wood. Woodpeckers are of special importance since in terms of their ecological requirements they are considered as being the most demanding guild among the resident bird species. The three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) is considered an indicator of natural spruce forests, whereas Dendrocopos leucotos, the white-backed woodpecker, requires beech or mixed forests with a high degree of naturalness, structural diversity, and the presence of dead wood. Therefore, distribution and density of these species will be monitored to evaluate habitat modifications. A third indicator of natural deciduous and mixed forests is the red-breasted flycatcher (Ficedula parva), which allows for an evaluation of small-scale habitat improvement measurements.
D.4 MONITORING OF AQUATIC SYSTEM
The consequences of remodeling the old river control and regulation structures shall be monitored and analyzed (increased fish abundance, free dynamic of mountain streams, slack water zones etc.) to evaluate the advantages for biodiversity conservation of mountain streams. The entire process will be monitored on the one hand through repeated vegetation surveys that are accompanying the restoration of riparian galleries and on the other hand through indicator species such as bullhead (Cottus gobio), barbel (Barbus meridionalis), brook lamprey (Eudontomyzon mariae), and hazel grouse (Bonasa bonasia). The European otter (Lutra lutra) as an indicator for the overall quality of the aquatic and riparian system will be monitored annually by the count of field signs such as fecal deposits (spraints), feeding remains, and tracks in late winter/early spring.
D.5 ASSESSMENT OF THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC IMPACT
To evaluate the economic impact of our activities upon the local community we will first assess the current economic value of the area (number of tourists, the days they spend in the area, and the money they leave). On top of that, we will evaluate via the logging licenses the value of timber which is harvested in the area, and evaluate the economic input for the area, and the number of jobs this activity provides. This will give us the economic value of the current land management. We will then evaluate the money spent locally for restoration measures through the CARPATHIA project, the development of tourism revenues, and the number and quality of jobs.
E.1 PRODUCTION OF WILDERNESS GUIDE WITH MAP
The concept of restoring and rewilding the upper Dambovita valley shall be explained in a little booklet that will be distributed to visitors, locals, and school classes. The booklet will contain general information about the characteristics of natural forests and will describe in detail the key habitats and species of the area, as well as the reasons and expected results of our restoration activities. In addition, it will contain a topographic map including the marked trails that are already existing in the area and the tourist facilities bordering the Natura 2000 site. The booklet will be produced in a children’s and an adult versions.
E.2 WORKSHOPS, GUIDED VISITS, AND CONFERENCES
Throughout the project period people from different target groups will be invited to topic oriented workshops (e.g. outdoor-tourism) or visits to the project area in order to discuss site-specific conservation problems and possible solutions. We will also present the project outside of Romania to raise the awareness of this conservation initiative.
E.3 NOTICE BOARDS
By installing notice boards in strategic locations we intend to make people – visitors as well as the local population – aware of the existence, the biodiversity values, and the uniqueness of the designated area. We will also inform about the objectives and expected results of the measurements conducted within the LIFE project.
Informing of the interested public will be supported by a LIFE-section of the CARPATHIA domain (in construction) that includes objectives, measurements, progress, and results of the LIFE project in English and in Romanian language. The information will be continuously up-dated according to the progress of the project.
E.5 LAYMAN’S REPORT
By the end of the project we will produce a layman’s report for the general public including all the information about objectives, actions, and results of the LIFE project. The 5 – 10 pages long report will be produced in English and Romanian language and will be available in paper and electronic format.
F.1 PROJECT MANAGEMENT AND OVERALL COORDINATION OF THE PROJECT
Overall project management lies in the hands of Fundatia CONSERVATION CARPATHIA. This includes the planning, the selection of staff, selection of equipment and material, selection of external services, execution of preparatory actions, implementation of conservation actions, financial administration, and reporting. As this LIFE+ project proposal targets one of the key activities of the Foundation, the core staff will be responsible for the management and implementation of this project.
F.2 NETWORKING WITH OTHER PROJECTS
We intend to extend the pool of FCC’s experiences with additional contacts to other LIFE Nature Projects, which have been working or currently work on similar issues as we do. Exchange of experiences with other specialists or similar projects can help to optimize project results and mistakes can be avoided. It will focus on the stirring team of the project, but also includes a trip for subordinate colleagues, to experience restoration work and monitoring activities in other conservation areas.
F.3 AUDITING OF THE PROJECT
Balance sheets and financial administration will be verified by an authorized auditor. Fundatia CONSERVATION CARPATHIA has been having financial audits since its very beginning and is familiar with the procedure of auditing. The auditor will further be contracted to control the compliance with the LIFE+ standard regulations and common provisions.
F.4 AFTER LIFE CONSERVATION PLAN
An after LIFE Conservation Plan is required to assure the continuity of those conservation actions that need to be carried on after the end of this project and to demonstrate the long term management of the targeted habitats and species. We will prepare a separate document, in which the restoration and monitoring activities that need to be carried on or extended over a larger area will be described together with a time plan and the staff requirements. The conservation plan will be elaborated in English and Romanian language and will be delivered together with the final report.
The project aims to achieve following results:
- Complete protection of 200 ha of natural and quasi-natural forest patches in the upper Dambovita and Leresti valleys;
- Halt of erosion on and along at least 10 km of skidding tracks with beginning re-growth of vegetation;
- Vivid regeneration with the original species composition on up to 200 ha of clear-felled areas;
- Conversion of at least 400 ha spruce monocultures into more natural forests with pockets of deciduous tree species and dead wood;
- Reclamation of at least 100 ha of alluvial forests with Black alder (Alnus glutinosa) and European ash (Fraxinus excelsior, *91E0) in the Dimbovita valley;
- Unobstructed upstream migration for fish on at least 17 km of watercourse above the Pecineagu lake;
- Established monitoring programme that evaluates the effectiveness of the restoration actions taken;
- Increased level of information and support from the local population, visitors, and decision makers.
Funding structure of the project LIFE11/NAT/RO/823:
- European Commission: 2,917,624 € (50 %)
- FCC and project partners: 2,917,624 € (50 %)