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From protected enclaves to regional managers

Aug 27, 2014
The Swiss National Park in the canton of Graubünden is 100 years old. It was the first National Park in the Alps and is still a model of its kind – but it no longer ranks among the best of the protected areas.
Image caption:
Swiss National Park: as the first national park in the Alps, Switzerland’s largest protected area had a great influence as a role model on neighbouring countries. © padmanaba01, flickr

When the first National Park in the Alps was officially opened on 1 August 1914 under the aegis of the then Swiss Nature Conservation Federation, today Pro Natura, the notion of protection was paramount. By 1932 the park had grown from its original 100 km2   to 170 km2. The creation of a such a large core zone without human usage would scarcely be possible today, says Thomas Scheurer, director of the research commission for the National Park. Now, when new protected areas are established, the first question is often how much value will be generated.

Numerous tasks

External influences – climate change, tourism, transport and energy production – have all increased. The tasks of the park authorities have therefore become more diverse and complex. Negotiations with different partners are required, says Scheurer. “There is no solution available for the park alone: there are only regional solutions.” Scientists hold up the dynamic remediation of the residual water in the Spöl stream as a “model for co-operation”. A solution however remains to be found for the ever-increasing traffic over the Ofenpass road, which runs through the middle of the National Park, towards Livigno in Italy.

Since 1914 the National Park has inspired numerous other protected areas in the Alps, some with very different orientations and tasks. According to Guido Plassmann of Alparc, the Alpine Network of Protected Areas, more and more inhabited protected areas are being created with regional development responsibilities in addition to their nature protection function. Protected areas could provide many ecological services that cannot always be valued in monetary terms. “The conservation of biodiversity cannot simply be expressed in Euros”, he says.

Developments blocked

Many protected areas lack financial resources, skills or a clear strategic direction. For example, of the 24 national parks in Italy, only three have elected executive committees. This lack of strategic leadership means that the parks are even more at the mercy of outside forces. One of the oldest parks, the Stilfserjoch (Stelvio) National Park in the Italian Alps, will now be sacrificed to regional interests and divided into three parts, making any unified administration impossible. In France, too, protected areas face obstacles: for fear of interference, municipal representatives from around Vanoise, the oldest French national park, are blocking the overall concept developed under a broad participation process. The aim of the concept is to ensure lasting co-operation between the park and the surrounding municipalities.

Source and further information: , (it), (fr)