First LWA EU Networking Workshop on Responsible wolf ecotourism and junior citizen programmes for nature conservation
On March 16th the First networking workshop of the LIFE WolfAlps EU project took place online, and which brought together experts from different countries around the themes of ecotourism and environmental education. A meeting dedicated to sharing experiences and good practices gained in LIFE and non-LIFE initiatives, useful to establish contacts and initiate a lasting exchange of knowledge and know-how.
Improving coexistence between wolves and human activities through a participative approach is the challenge and main goal of the LIFE WolfAlps EU project. Co-existence with the large predator requires exchange and collaboration between the different actors involved and a continuous comparison of applied methods and results, with a view to a constant improvement of the strategies implemented. This is why networking and the exchange of good practices play a very important role for LWA EU.
The workshop gathered 11 speakers from Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, France, Belgium and the USA working in protected areas, universities and associations. The first part of the morning was devoted to wolf-themed ecotourism, while the second part discussed activities to involve young people in environmental protection.
LWA EU is develpoing responsible ecotourism initiatives, with ecotourism products and packages as the key to discovering the biodiversity, history and culture of the Alpine region. The project is also very active in the involvement of the younger generation, a powerful and effective long-term investment to support wildlife conservation, particularly through the Young Ranger programme. Irene Borgna (Aree Protette Alpi Marittime, Education Office) spoke about this in her presentation that kicked off the event.
It is a fact that conflicts arising from the negative economic impacts of wolf predation on livestock are among the most burning issues facing wolf conservation policies today. On the other hand, evidence shows that the wolf, as a charismatic species, can also bring educational and research benefits, regional and product marketing revenues, and socio-economic benefits from wildlife ecotourism.
Irena Kavčič (University of Lubiana, LWA EU partner) provided an overview of the programme carnivore friendly in Slovenia, a label supporting products and services made with respect for coexistence with large carnivores, from cheese to honey to handicrafts, not forgetting tourist accommodation and hiking guides. Kavčič also presented the guidelines for responsible wolf-themed ecotourism developed within the LWA EU project (you can find them here) and in collaboration with the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe (LCIE), specialist group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature that deals with large European predators.
Not just sightings or searching for tracks: wolf-themed ecotourism can focus on cultural aspects, based on the millenary human-wolf relationship and the symbolic significance of this animal in our traditions. This was discussed by Francisco Álvarez (CIBIO-InBIO/BIOPOLIS, Portugal), who brought the example of northern Portugal, where the symbolic value of the wolf and the history of the relationship with the predator enriches the tourist offer, thus favouring coexistence with rural communities.
The wolf is not the only large carnivore present in our territory and capable of arousing mixed emotions in the general public. For this reason, we have gathered the experience developed on bears, in particular the Apennine bear, a subspecies of bear living in central Italy, between Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, whose small population (the latest estimates count about fifty individuals) is of crucial importance for conservation. Clara Tattoni (LIFE ARCPROM project collaborator, Italy) presented the results of a study conducted within the European project LIFE ARCPROM in collaboration with WWF, that intended to understand the attractiveness value of bears in the central Apennines. The results of the study, which analysed articles on bears that appeared in the media from 2015 to 2020, show that the commercial value of indirect advertisements for services is around EUR 11 million, a figure significantly higher than the damage done by the plantigrade.
Giovanna Di Domenico (Maiella National Park) illustrated the path that led to the definition of the first Bear Friendly label in the Maiella National Park as a tool to promote coexistence and preserve the ecosystem. The label was launched in 2022, followed an intensive work of active involvement of the participants and aims not only to reduce conflicts, but also and above all to preserve the habitat for the Marsican bear. Currently 19 farmers and beekeepers have joined the label.
Closing the ecotourism session, the association La Ventura, steward of the LWA EU project, presented his experience. In fact, the association is very active in the area and offers ecotourism outings and activities for children and young people, including those under the Young Ranger programme.
Manca Velkavrh (LIFE WolfAlps EU) and Mojca Pintar (Triglav National Park) spoke about the joint Young Ranger (LWA EU) and Junior Ranger programmes in Slovenia. Junior Ranger is a programme launched in 2002 by EUROPARC, a European network that brings together protected area professionals from as many as 40 countries, as Jessica Micklem-Kolenić explained in her overview. The EUROPARC network involves the younger generation in nature protection through the Junior Ranger, Youth+ and the new Youth Manifesto programmes. The aim of these initiatives is to create opportunities for exchange and knowledge on nature protection issues for young people aged 12 to 30. There are currently 44 active programmes in 19 countries. Junior Ranger is an educational activity extremely developed in the US protected areas, as explained by Brad Free, ranger of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where more than 400 parks run the initiative. The programme runs for children from 5 to 15 years of age, but there are never any limits to exploring and learning how to protect the natural world! And, speaking of exploration, citizen science for youngsters can meet ecotourism, as Maud Gari (Le LABA) explained: the European project YETI is dedicated to developing and supporting the skills of young people who want to work in the field of ecotourism.
The whole discussion was followed by a professional cartoonist, Agnese Blasetti, who illustrated the different speeches, giving the Book of abstract a total different look!
For more info:
Download the programme.
Download the Book of abstracts for more information on the presentations.
Download here the presentations of the different speakers and additional documentation.
To watch again the conference click here.