While logging is on the increase in Romania, it has not yet reached the same levels as during socialist rule, and Romanian forests remain a carbon sink. That’s according to researchers from the US, Germany, Italy and Romania who reported their work in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Romanian government took the unusual decision to return all forests to their pre-socialist owners. Many observers assumed that the new forest owners would have strong incentives to immediately clearcut their forests and were concerned that Romania would become a net carbon source.

“While forest-harvesting rates are lower than before the collapse of the Soviet Union, they are increasing quickly,” Boston University’s Pontus Olofsson told environmentalresearchweb. “We urge policy makers and land-use planners to fully account for the trade-offs and synergies between economic returns from forestry, provision of ecosystem services (e.g. food retention, soil stability) and biodiversity conservation.”

The researchers are concerned that a further increase in logging could result in net emissions from terrestrial ecosystems during the coming decades. However, there is hope that forests will regrow on abandoned farmland. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, more than 2 million hectares of farmland were abandoned in Romania, as price liberalization, diminishing markets and declining rural populations made farming financially unviable.

“Reforestation on former farmland is being seen across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union,” said Olofsson. “There is a lot of farmland in Romania that seems to be degraded or fallow and future forest expansion on these lands could substantially increase the current sink strength even under increased logging scenarios. But there is as yet little evidence of substantial forest regrowth on farmland in Romania. If logging rates continue on their current path and there is no significant forest regrowth on abandoned farmland, Romanian forests will be a carbon source by 2050.”