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Conflict resolution and management

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RG Conflict resolution and management
01.11.2016 - 31.10.2019

The research group aims at providing support to the alpine space project ALPBIONET2030, assessing the challenges and problems linked to socio-economic conflicts in rural and mountain areas. The transformation of rural areas (depopulation, amenity migration) leads to various clashes among rural inhabitants, rural inhabitants and newcomers as well as the rural inhabitants and returning wildlife species. This particularly holds true in small-structured economies and regions with a low share of permanent settlement area. Diverging interests concerning land use and agricultural practices in mountain valleys and the management of returning or crossing wildlife due to the development of wilderness areas and a re-naturalisation of abandoned areas calls for new solutions. Innovative approaches may positively use promising economic potentials. 

Project Description

Human pressure on mountain regions of Europe is drastically increasing, provoking serious impacts on the biodiversity richness and on a wide range of ecosystem service. The intense fragmentation of the landscape, due to the expansion of human-related infrastructures and activities, in particular in the Alps and the Apennines, affects negatively on the ecological continuum of Nature and on the free movements of mobile wildlife species, causing continuous conflicts between the human society and the natural environment (Human-Nature Conflicts HNC). Mountains are open labs to study the current conditions of environmental, social and economic sustainability of natural resources and to sustain and improve the human-nature relationship. Conflicts arise when the actions of humans or of the natural environment (in particular wildlife and natural hazards) have an adverse impact upon the other. Although it is recognized that humans have profoundly affected wildlife and the environment in many ways, through habitat loss, pollution, introduction and spread of exotic and invasive species, overexploitation, and climate change, this hereby suggested discussion group will not focus only on responsibilities. The aim of the project will be to analyse the current conflicts happening in mountain environments, finding feasible solutions to those that result from direct interaction between human society and welfare and the natural environment. Human-nature conflicts vary according to geography, land use patterns, human behaviour and local traditions, and the habitat and behaviour of wildlife species or individual animals within the species – for this reason, solutions cannot only be general, but have to be adapted to the specificity of the area investigated and of the local community.

In mountain areas, the presence of protected areas and of wild animal populations inflict costs on local communities. Although we may consider protected areas as “safe islands” for conservation purposes, they include, in many cases, several villages where, due to the high presence of wildlife, conflicts happen. In addition, the areas outside of protected areas suffer even more for this phenomenon, because the level of protection provided to local communities could be even lower than inside of a protected area. In turn, local residents can develop negative attitudes towards reserves, wildlife and local administrations, exacerbating the conflict and undermining conservation efforts. In order to break this cycle, there is a need to protect rural livelihoods, reduce their vulnerability, and counterbalance losses with benefits and foster community-based conservation. Both people and wildlife suffer tangible consequences and the different stakeholders involved should commit themselves to tackle and resolve such conflicts in the future. The promotion of coexistence is directly related to the establishment of an Alpine Ecological Network and to new wildlife management concepts that are required due to the increased wildlife presence in many areas. Recent events concerning the return of large carnivores in the Alps (Brown Bear, Wolf, and Lynx) have highlighted the road ahead to improve the coexistence and to gain environmental, social and economic benefits. Protected areas and their surroundings are the perfect locations for this kind of investigation, being the place where nature conservation goes together with the regional development of local populations.

The hereby proposed project will illustrate that HNC is a growing global problem, which is not restricted to particular geographical regions or climatic conditions, but is common to all areas where human populations live in a highly natural environment with a high degree of wildlife species, sharing limited resources. Dense human populations in close vicinity to nature reserves seem to pose the greatest challenges in many countries. Conflicts become more intense where livestock holdings and agriculture are an important part of rural livelihoods as in the Alps.

An important aspect of this project relies in the social impact related to HNC. The human-nature conflicts have a strong social component, which is linked to the social acceptance and tolerance of wildlife species and to the recognition of the added value provided by living in a high-natural environment.

Social aspects are related to the local environmental awareness and to the development of participatory processes with stakeholders to explore the potentials for community-based conflicts management. Participatory processes are needed in order to identify potentials for improving the economic welfare of local populations, thinking “out of the box” of business-as-usual (i.e., new forms of tourism, value of commercials and of indirect publicity, image of the area, marketing, destination management, knowledge transfer etc.). Mediation techniques and resolution strategies will be investigated in order to find the best way, for each location, to discuss between interested parties and gain the maximum benefits, reducing new conflicts that may arise.

The project will touch all the related HNC thematic such as transportation, tourism, social attitude and acceptance, destination management and marketing, protected areas and ecosystem services management, spatial planning, ecological connectivity, wildlife management, trans-boundary cooperation, legal aspects and road ecology. The project results will be shared with national and international governative and non-governative networks (IENE network, The European Wilderness Society, EUROPARC, IUCN, The Alpine Convention, The Carpathians Convention, EURegio, ….) and with local/regional/national and international administrative units.

This new project of the Institute for Regional Development and Location Management comes from the need to in-depth the experiences done in past projects like ECONNECT, GreenAlps and BioREGIO and to gain new ideas and stimuli for new proposals holding innovative research questions of social, economic, legal and environmental interest linked to actual problems of the Alpine area.

The project, based on the gained experience, will explore additional conflicts management, especially referred to human/human conflicts in the territorial management. 

Detailed Description

A conflict is usually a struggle between two opposite forces. The word “conflict” is defined as “incompatibility between opinions and principles – a situation that arises because differences in perception, attitude and when the behaviour of one is unacceptability disadvantageous to the other”.

This kind of definition may be applied to both Human-Human and to Human-Nature conflicts (HNC). HNC arise either when the human expansion gets in contact with the natural environment and with its inhabitants (due to road building, tree cutting, hunting, habitat transformation, large forest degradation, rapid infrastructure development etc.) and/or when nature “invades” human spaces in the form of flooding, rock falls, wildlife “attacks”, or other natural catastrophes. The issue of "conflicts" between humans and between humans and nature is a growing problem, which, in the Alps, has been reinforced by the reintroduction and by the natural return of large carnivore species (Bear, Lynx and Wolf). 

The hereby proposed project aims at definiyng the most urgent conflicts currently going on in the Alps and in some key areas (Protected Areas and Pilot Regions of the Alpine Convention) and to identify potential solutions and opportunities with local actors in dedicated workshops. 

The project also wants to contribute to the raising of enviornmental awareness among young generations through meetings in high school in key areas and by producing a short movie on the conflict issue in the Alps.

The final aim is the elaboration of a "coexistence and conflict resolution toolkit" to be shared with administrators and stakeholders in order to contribute to the positive coexistence between humans and nature.

Favilli Filippo
Streifeneder Thomas Philipp
De Bortoli Isidoro
Maino Federica
Omizzolo Andrea
Alpine Convention
Alpine Network of Protected Areas
Autonome Provinz Bozen Südtirol, Abteilung Forstwirtschaft, Amt für Jagd und Fischerei
IENE - Infra Eco Network Europe
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