Home Newsletter 2012 Human Dimension: good practices for sharing decisions, responsibilities and success from the EX-TRA project

by Grazia Felli, PNGSL

The LIFE EX-TRA project took place between January 2009 and March 2013 in three Italian national parks (the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, the Monti Sibillini National Park and the Tosco-Emiliano Apennine National Park) and in different areas in Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. Based on the knowledge acquired in the previous LIFE project “Improving the coexistence of large carnivores and agriculture in southern Europe” (LIFE04NAT/IT/000144-COEX), of which the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park was a partner, the LIFE EX-TRA project offered the opportunity to transfer skills and good practices concerning the management of large carnivores onto other areas.

At the beginning of the project an analysis of the stakeholders and the types of conflicts involving them was performed. The analysis was carried out with different methodologies in the partner countries according to the different local socio-economic and legal situations and basic problems connected to carnivore conservation.

This assessment revealed that in general the attitudes regarding large carnivores are positive although some tensions generate different complex conflict situations in the different project areas.
Whereas in Italy the most urgent problem in protected areas seems to be a feeling of being “not represented” by the authorities, in Romania the main faced issue was the need for a concrete damage compensation system. In Bulgaria most efforts were focused on the mitigation of an emergency situation caused by bears that have attacked humans. In Greece the main problem that was addressed was that the conviction still persists among livestock raisers and hunters that wolves and bears were reintroduced by environmentalist groups.

The preliminary stakeholder assessment phase was followed by the application of an innovative methodology, which aimed at the management of conflicts through negotiation with local stakeholders and participatory planning. For this a row of institutional and non-institutional meetings between the different interest groups was planned. Thanks to the mediation of facilitators, these meetings resulted in the common agreement on management approaches, which were followed by concrete interventions on the territory.

Two sets of negotiation meetings were done: the first set aimed at identifying in the spectrum of “things that we can and want to do together” some urgent themes and, consequently, some concrete priority actions. The second set of meetings was directed at verifying the results of the previous agreements and at stipulating new ones. These were clearly not generic meetings but authentic “consensus workshops”, aimed at developing shared decisions and activities.
These consensus workshops were not independent from each other but closely and explicitly correlated. For instance in the second set of meetings the three involved Italian National Park administrations referred to what they had planned to do in the first set. They pointed out publicly which actions have been totally implemented, the ones only partially implemented, the ones to be improved and the ones not implemented at all.
This process could therefore be considered similar to a self-controlled process: a coordinated set of best practices which, in the context of an open circulation of information and of communicative transparency, implements and improves itself through a precise verification and an evaluation.

Notwithstanding the different methodologies applied, it can be affirmed that the key element of these Human Dimension actions for all the partners was, without any doubt, the opening of new channels of communication between institutions and local communities.
At the same time, this approach has created new consensus for the local authorities because there has been a crucial subversion of the logic by which traditionally stakeholders had to give “blind” support to the local governance policies. Finally, the participatory process has also helped to introduce some good practices in the field of stakeholder consultation for supporting large carnivore conservation.