The 3rd and 4th of July 2017 the networking workshop “The presence of wolf (and great predators) for the valorisation of the territory” was carried out by the LIFE WOLFALPS project on the theme of ecotourism.
In the evocative setting of the Val Masino, hosted by Centro Polifunzionale della Montagna di Filorera, Comune di Valmasino (SO), the delegates of the LIFE WOLFALPS project met with Italian and Slovenian collegues to discuss some of the best practices in European large carnivore ecoturism initiatives like the porjects Pasturs, DifesaAttiva (LIFE MedWolf) and LIFE DINALP BEAR.
Among the good practices discussed in the two days:
Ecotourism: The most successful events are those where there are exciting experiences for the participants (contact with farmers, meeting at mountain refuges with the researchers, tasting or dinner with local products, purchase of the products). Snow tracking initiatives or at least 2 day treks are more effective, rather than just one day’s trek. Ecotourism can also be conceived for those areas where predators are not yet stable and continuous or where the presence of the animal is difficult to detect (eg lynx) with educational paths (thematic trails) or with evocative experiences (visual or Themed readings).
The value of large carnivores: predators can advertise the territory as a place rich in nature. The presence of these animals has an indirect advertising value for the territory that surpasses the expenses the administrations claim for the repayment of the damage. Some administrations spend resources on territorial self-promotion that predators provide for free through TV and documentary passages (often not funded by public funds). This value should therefore be recognized from the point of view of territorial marketing.
Products: The word “Wolf friendly” product is controversial. In some contexts (eg Slovenia) it is used, while in other areas (eg Italy) is more nuanced and it is preferable to recognize (labels of) virtuosity of the farms, rather than a direct message of association with the big predator. There is also a problem with the presence of many brands, which the consumer struggles to distinguish. In addition, the marginality of the products of farms located in the wolf presence territories. Not always pastures that adopt prevention measures has facilities for transforming their products and are able to sell their products or ensure the quality of attractive products for tourists. The most effective approach is the bottom-up approach, where the producers themselves are involved and recognize themselves in the virtuosity of their own farms (eg in adopting protection systems, in tourist recognition of added value of buying products from a ‘virtuous farm ‘).
In this sense it is important that the farmers themselves and their associations define virtuous solutions for product enhancement (innovative meat and wool producing that carry the message of coexistence with the big predators), themed trekking of the alpine pastures and the producers.
The prospects may be to offer diversified initiatives (nature trekking with the possibility of sighting the great carnivores – like in Slovenia, trekking in search of trails and trekking / alpine visits, as is the case in Slovenia, the Alpes-Maritimes Park or in the Province of Grosseto ).
These initiatives can have perspectives of self-sustainability even beyond LIFE projects, especially if refuges, hiking associations, farmers are involved, always with the active involvement of the territory becoming the main actor.
As a synthesis, a list of key points to consider in the future:
1. payment of a fee minimises the risk of last-minute cancellations;
2. the emotional stimulus should be very strong (e.g., feeling the presence of LC, or feeling the efforts made by the livestock owners…);
3. the promotions of products should be a bottom-up process supported primarily by the livestock owners and their associations;
4. products should remain of limited availability to make them assume a character of extra-ordinary.