Preserving old-growth forests while navigating their different definitions

FSC / Jonathan Perugia
Addressing misconceptions and aligning terminology with the FSC standard in Romania.
FSC / Jonathan Perugia
April 22, 2024
Category : General news

Old-growth forests, with their intricate and rich biodiversity found nowhere else, are indispensable to our planet’s health and resilience Recognizing their importance, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has diligently developed standards aimed at safeguarding these precious ecosystems  

Since FSC first developed the High Conservation Value (HCV) approach in the late 1990s, it has been used to identify and manage outstanding and/or critical environmental and social values in production landscapes, this includes old-growth, rainforest and mature forests.  

It is essential to acknowledge the diversity of definitions surrounding old-growth forests as recognized by various formal entities including the European Commission, FAO, UNESCO, Carpathian Convention and others. The term ‘old-growth’ is often misused interchangeably with others such as primary, virgin, and primeval forest. These various definitions lead to different interpretations of how to identify and preserve them. 

Moreover, distinguishing between old-growth forests and managed forests with similar tree age and ecological attributes is crucial. While managed forests can exhibit characteristics similar to old-growth forests, they are designed and managed to support sustainable timber harvesting and economic development. Restricting logging based solely on tree age, reduces the overall environmental value of managed forests. In Romania, trees can be harvested only after they reach their maturity: 120 years for beech and 140 years for oak. When limiting logging beyond this age, forests will be managed with shorter rotation periods, favouring younger trees for logginga common practice in other parts of Europe. This prevents forests from reaching their natural structure and age and has detrimental effects on biodiversity and the wealth of ecosystems inside of them. 

Starting in 2011, FSC worked closely with WWF Romania to promote the strict protection of old-growth forests (read more about this here and here). This laid the groundwork for significant achievements, culminating in the introduction of the National Forest Stewardship Standard (NFSS) for Romania in 2017. The NFSS details specific rules and criteria aimed at safeguarding old-growth forests. These measures include provisions for maintaining biodiversity, protecting threatened habitats, and fostering stakeholder engagement. Notably, the NFSS was developed through an inclusive, multistakeholder approach with environmental NGOs actively participating in the process.  

As we move forward, it is important to continue this collaborative approach, ensuring that our focus and actions align with the shared goal of preserving old-growth forests for generations to come. Together, we all stand with trees, advocating for their protection and nurturing the rich ecosystems they sustain.  

We value the crucial role of NGOs and the media in alerting us to potential violations of the FSC standard in Romania and anywhere else in which FSC operates. While we take all allegations seriously and have established formal channels for receiving information and alerts of wrongdoings, we urge for substantiated claims and scientific rigor to support allegations and avoid unnecessary confusion