Saving the Last Remaining Virgin Forests in Romania From Illegal Logging

With their foundation, Fundația Conservation Carpathia (FCC), Barbara and Christoph Promberger demonstrate the close relationships between tourism and the conservation of a unique ecosystem. They have dedicated their lives to conserving and protecting one of Europe’s most unspoiled regions: the last remaining virgin woodlands in Romania. For many years, wide-scale illegal logging has threatened the ancient trees and rare wildlife that seek refuge in these forests. But how did Christoph Promberger end up in this fascinating country, turning a stint planned for just a few years into his life’s work?

Christoph Promberger
Christoph Promberger, Fundația Conservation Carpathia, © Matei Buță

A passion for wolves

Since childhood, Promberger has been fascinated by the King of the Forest. In fact, a children’s book introduced him to the world of wolves, and that gripping story about these breathtaking beasts has stayed with him his entire life. As a postgraduate student studying wolves in the late ’80s, he conducted research for his thesis that took him to a secluded hut in northern Canada’s sparsely populated Yukon.

Wolf
© Barbara and Christoph Promberger

“Everybody has an opinion about wolves: you either love them or you hate them. I definitely belong to the first category.” – Christoph Promberger

Promberger was a brilliant student but lacked the necessary financial resources, so he had the idea to contact Jack Wolfskin to request funding. After writing back and forth, the young academic was able to acquire the gear he would need for the exciting upcoming adventure. And so began a lasting connection. Armed with a rucksack, protective sleeping bag, and functional clothing, Promberger set out on the adventure of a lifetime without the faintest idea of what would be awaiting him upon his return to Germany.

Romania bound

Coinciding with Promberger’s return, Jack Wolfskin launched an initiative to ramp up conservation efforts for wolves. As fate would have it, the team contacted the Wildbiologische Gesellschaft München e.V.(WGM), an organization committed to wildlife biology, and whose director happened to be Promberger’s former wildlife biology professor. The professor was quick to recruit his former student for this breathtaking mission in Romania.

Carpathian Mountains
© Cornelia Dörr

“That was exactly what I wanted. It’s always been my dream to explore the furthest corners of the globe.” – Promberger

And so it began. When Promberger stepped off the plane near the Romanian city of Braşov for the first time in the summer of 1992, it was love at first sight: the endless expanses, the silent forests, the mystic villages. Here – away from all the mass tourism and stress of the big city – is where the wild animals roam and the silence of nature is all-encompassing. This was everything Promberger always wanted: solitude and the chance to do something meaningful. The plan was to stay for just four years, but 26 have since passed, and there is no end in sight. Promberger met his Austrian wife and comrade-in-arms, Barbara, in Romania in 1996. Christoph and Barbara’s professional lives have also been intertwined ever since.

The deforestation of the last remaining virgin woodlands

After toiling for a year to develop the biggest large-predator research and conservation project in Eastern Europe, raising two wonderful children, and opening the Equus Silvania equestrian farm in Transylvania, it was time for something new. This was around the same time mass deforestation was underway in the mountains of Romania, and it was clear to the pair that they had to step up.

Natural forests in the Carpathian mountains
© George Soare

Romania began returning its state-owned forests to the public in 2005. But many new forest owners knew very little about the swathes of woodland and were not interested in using these tracts for their own purposes, so they sold them. Alongside serious investors, many dubious, profit-oriented deforestation companies began to spring up on the market, buying up virgin woodland and illegally clearing thousands of hectares at a time.

A plan was needed to counteract this serious threat to the Carpathian ecosystem. Knowing it would take more than two, Barbara and Christoph contacted former backers to get their project off the ground.

The birth of Carpathia

The couple founded the Fundația Conservation Carpathia (FCC) in 2009 together with other philanthropists and conversationalists, with the aim of halting illegal logging and protecting the Carpathian forests and the biodiversity within them in the long run.

Replanting campaign Carpathia
© Georgiana Andrei

“We never could have thought this was possible. We started the foundation as a pair, and it has since grown to over 100 people.” – Promberger

Through the purchase, conservation, and management of forests and grasslands, the foundation helps maintain and restore the natural Carpathian ecosystem. It has achieved a number of impressive feats in the last decade:

– Over 25,000 ha of forest purchased for permanent protection
– Over 65,000 ha of hunting concessions secured for the protection of wildlife
– Illegal logging prevented over an area of more than 65,000 ha
– More than 2.5m trees planted to regenerate 800 ha of deforested area

The foundation’s objective

Carpathia’s mission is to establish Europe’s largest forested national park in the heart of Romania to protect the habitats of wild animals like wolves, lynxes, and bears, and to foster evolutionary processes. The project encompasses the Făgăraș Mountains, Piatra Craiului National Park, and the Leaota Mountains, making the protected area ten times larger than Germany’s Bavarian Forest National Park.

“Our statutes dictate that we will eventually hand over all of the purchased land to the state as the epicenter of a national park.” – Christoph Promberger

Fagaras Mountains Romania
© Dan Dinu

The FCC is helping establish a new, nature-friendly economy in the Făgăraș Mountain region that will benefit biodiversity and local communities. Upon completion, the national park is intended to serve as an icon for nature conservation in Europe. With the project, the foundation’s members also aim to generate benefits as effectively as possible for the locals.

Following the call of the wolf

With this in mind, the idea to develop an eco-tourism system came around a year ago, culminating in the “Wolftrail”. The trail was created in cooperation with the outdoor outfitter Jack Wolfskin and the travel experts at ASI Reisen. It raises awareness for the Carpathian forests and the FCC and inspires the Romanian population to conserve this unique natural landscape.

“We have to develop the business first so that younger people can once again view living from tourism as a viable option. We also have to work to defend this basis of existence in future.” – Christoph Promberger

Carpathian Mountain Landscape with Clouds
© Emil Cseh

On a six-day expedition through a wild, unspoiled region in the middle of Romania, hikers can follow in the tracks of the wolves. The trail leads through some of the country’s most secluded areas, hardly accessible to outsiders, and offers stunning views of the Carpathian forests. Adventurous visitors will find tracks of wolves, western capercaillies, lynxes, bears, and other fascinating flora and fauna. With a bit of luck, travelers might even catch a glimpse of one of these beautiful creatures. Some of the accommodation is provided in comfortable wilderness observation huts with wide-open views of the lush, green fields and picturesque forests. From the safety of these huts, there are good chances of spotting stags, bears, boars and even wolves. The sublime silence is broken only by the rutting stags and the howling packs of wolves.

To join the fight against the ruthless deforestation of Europe’s last remaining idyllic forests and help establish a unique national park, you can sign the petition “Romania – save Europe’s last large virgin forests!” or donate to the FCC. Signing up for the Wolftrail shows the local population that we all stand to gain more from the conservation of virgin woodlands than from their deforestation.

The breathtaking nature of the Carpathian Mountains

What can I do to fight the illegal logging of Romania’s last virgin forest?

Support FCC’s work by

– sign petitions like Save Paradise Forests

donate to FCC

– book the Wolftrail to help show the local people that saving the forest and earning money through sustainable tourism is better than logging it.

Photo header: © Dan Dinu