At the very beginning we were just a few friends, mountain lovers who had a view of the most beautiful mountain areas in Romania and also of the problems existing at that specific moment. In 1991, we established an environment organization of students, without having a very clear focus. Three of the group had been visited the Retezat National Park and were very affected by the large quantities of waste and the big number of sheep grazing within the only, by then, national park of Romania and also a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO - MAB program. They launched the idea of practical and concrete activities based on volunteers action of enthusiastic students and young teachers (biology, geography, forestry, economics, technical etc.).
We focused since 1992 on Retezat National Park, considering it the most valuable montane zone in Romania, a European interest natural area. "Pro Natura" started in 1992 the program "Protection and Environmental Education in Retezat National Park" which has been developed every year since then. The members of our association embraced the idea of only one activity, but vast in scope.
In 1992, 50 tones of wastes had been collected and deposited in especially arranged places, their evacuation being finished in 1994. This way, the alpine area hygienisation was accomplished. The premises of ecological tourism by the force of example were realized. Starting from 1993 weve put under control the observance by tourists of park rules, regarding the camping, their own wastes, making fire, cutting the dwarf-pine. For all these Pro Natura has obtained authorization of custodians from Nature Monuments Commission of the Romanian Academy.
Also Pro Natura realised the information and awareness of tourists by discutions, conferences, leaflets, questionaire, restrictive panels. The awareness had been extended to the public by television, press, a weekly Pro Naturas radio broadcasting.
For the first time in a mountain area a waste evacuation system has been realized based on delivering ecological bags to the tourists and arranging containers in certain places. Pro Natura also realized the information and awareness of tourists by discussions, establishing information-education centers, leaflets distribution, questionnaires and restrictive panels. The awareness had been extended to the public by television, press, a weekly Pro Naturas radio broadcasting.
By the results obtained, this action was among the most mediated, having a great impact on general public, who realize that in Romania, enthusiastic youth exits, leading to a consolidation of the NGOs position within the society.
A decisive role for the collaboration between UNESCO - Pro Natura and these bodies has the establishment of the Retezat Commission for the coordination of the actions and the collaboration between the concerned factors for an efficient management and for solving the area problems. Therefore, after an intensive lobby made by "Pro Natura" and Deva Forestry Branch, in the February 1996, the Governmental Authority of the Hunedoara County Decision has established the "Retezat Commission". This is composed of all the involved actors, among which is also UNESCO-Pro Natura. The goal of the Commission is the nature conservation and sustainable development within the Retezat massive. Among its particular objectives is solving the overgrazing, tourism and legislation problems.
In starting the international lobby, the very good cooperation between UNESCO "Pro Natura" and the IUCN - Focal Point Romania, was essential. These two organizations started to work unite, having the same interest - Retezat National Park. As a consequence, in spring 1995, two IUCN experts have visited Retezat National Park, in order to see the achievements in the area within the Visiting Tour of all five east-Europen sites proposed as models in 1992. Their observations, comments and proposals were discussed in June at a seminar in Danube Delta, Romania and presented through a book "Best Practice for Conservation Planning in Rural Areas" at the Ministerial Conference in Sofia, October 1995. Also, the World Bank mission involved in supporting the Romanian Government in producing the Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, have visited Retezat in the summer of 1995, as a possible model site to be funded by a GEF Project which implies the realization of a study for the management plan and also the establishment of a management structure.
Now "Pro Natura" aims to involve in the future administration of the park. For the human resource development "Pro Natura" and other NGOs set up in 1996 the Romanian Rangers Association (RRA), which is now affiliated to the International Ranger Association. RRA aims to form human resource for protected areas management. All our efforts are directed now towards making UNESCO "Pro Natura" a long-term viable partner in Retezat National Park management.
Pro Natura actions had also drawn the interest of some important foundations and companies. The program has financed since 1992 by Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe, Soros Foundation AIDRom, Youth Ministry and private companies.
What can be learnt from our activity and extrapolated for others is that clear focus, continuos action, dedicated people, seriosity and good partnerships can lead to a long-term success. Once you establish the partnership with governmental structure, state institutions, NGOs, media and you are perceived as a credible partner, the way to achieve your objective is smoother.
As a recognition of our activities in nature conservation field, UNESCO Pro Natura was accepted in 1997 as a member of IUCN -The World Conservation Union.
In its following stages, the programme aims to solve the overgrazing and touristic problems through:
For rasing public awareness and NGOs access to information Pro Natura established an Internet site in the Student Cultural House and now we are searching to develop the Internet Navigation Center for students and environmental NGOs and also to put on the web information about nature value of Romania, and related activities.
Our projects are now:
Local public policy - broadening partnership between all steakholders for Retezat National Park management through the "Retezat Commission" and lobby the decision-makers in the field