Country, Date of election
Building on his own experience in establishing Romania’s first citizen-led national parks, Florin is catalyzing a citizen-driven movement for the creation of a functional system for protected areas in Romania. By connecting urban and rural communities through nature, he is creating incentive structures for businesses and individuals to unlock and exchange resources, showing how they can gain benefits from conservation.
Recognized as one of the European areas with the highest biodiversity, Eastern Europe abounds in flora and fauna species, unique natural landscapes and cultural heritage of exceptional values. Romania has the highest density and population of large carnivores in Europe. At the same time, as in many emergent and former communist economies, political decisions regarding protected areas are prone to favor economic interests, thus representing huge pressures and threats to the conservation of this heritage. For example, the restitution of formerly nationalized forests and changes in land ownership segmented protected areas and enabled abuses such as illegal logging and conversion of forests into meadows and infrastructure development areas. The Romanian Court of Auditors estimates that the volume of illegal logging reached 925.372 m3 in 2013 (mostly in state-owned forests managed by the National Forest Administration Romsilva), 60% of which has not been regenerated, thus creating a loss of 45m euro in just one year. Moreover grazing activities, modifications of wild rivers, wildlife hunting and poaching, uncontrolled tourism and infrastructure development also threaten these natural wonders. National agencies are being established to coordinate and support protected areas management, yet often, as is the case in Romania, they lack resources and actual power.
Florin’s measure of success is difficult to quantify in the short-term. He works for the conservation of habitats and species which are essential for the benefit of human life. In Buila, 4.500 hectares, of which 3.000 hectares of forests, were saved from exploitation. Based on empirical observations, the conservation status of alpine meadows, rock and calcareous habitats, as well as the number of black goats, deer, bears, wolves and rays have increased. Florin proved that 300.000 euro invested in holistic community engagement for development and conservation generated a value added of 30 million euro in the region, including in ecosystem services. The number of tourists increased over 100 times in just few years: over 25.000 tourists benefit from the thematic trails, biking trails and tours combining nature with local stories, culture and tradition or the speleology summer camps.
Romania has some of the highest levels of biodiversity and last remaining virgin forests in Europe. Yet, almost 55% of its protected areas are in public neglect. Florin is catalyzing a citizen-driven movement for the creation of a functional conservation system for protected areas in Romania.
Florin established Buila Vanturarita, the first citizen-led Natural Park, and Vacaresti, Romania’s only urban Natural Park located in the capital city. He learnt that in countries lacking a political vision, strategy, management or public funds for conservation, building exemplary models of park administration is not enough to change the conservation system. To unleash a lasting change, he is aligning interests of conservationists, urban, rural and business communities and activating new incentive structures to engage them in nature preservation, spread new conservation standards and advocate for a stronger commitment from the state.
Capitalizing the strategic position of Vacaresti urban park, situated in an area that has over 10% of Romania’s population, Florin is creating a National Embassy for Protected Areas. This is an advertising endeavour for all other forgotten parks and reserves across the country, 55% of which do not have a warden or conservation manager. He is transforming this park into a gateway project for preserving Romania’s natural heritage.
Unlike other citizen-led conservation projects in Central Eastern Europe, Florin’s idea goes well beyond the protection of a specific area or advocacy campaigns. He is increasing the national demand for nature, funnelling private resources for conservation from the center towards the periphery and providing support to local leadership and park administrations. Within ten years, he envisions to foment the spread of a citizen-led and effective conservation model across the country. This will hopefully engender a political vision and strategy for conservation and inspire neighboring countries to adopt bottom-up approaches.