Awakening of the Wilderness Movement
A cultural change in the European protected areas and particularly in the fragments of wilderness has been underway for over a few decades. To people committed to park management and wilderness lovers, it is almost palpable: You can feel it! The swing is visible particularly in the remaining European wilderness when Europeans begin to care more about their Wilderness Heritage.
Nevertheless even in this time (which we hope future generations will call as the awakening of European Wilderness movement) there is a lack of trained wilderness managers in Europe. We miss the people with a philosophy of wilderness protection and commercial restraint. There is a growing amount of the new breed promoters and collaborators, people whose swagger comes from expanding special interest in the use of wilderness areas and incorporating commercial business interests into them. There is still only a handful of managers that see wilderness areas as valuable European owned ecological assets, not just symbolically, but as real and tangible landscapes divorced from the growth and consumption agenda of other lands. Wilderness areas are lands where decisions and management should be based predominantly on scientific ecological integrity and where the protection and conservation agenda are aggressively defended.
Tourism versus Wilderness
Satisfying millions of visitors – who are expecting equal and unimpaired access to most of the protected and wilderness areas serving as home to relatively intact and protected ecosystems – is now under growing severe and intense attack from commercial and mechanized interests. And sadly, some protected area managements have become pretty often a significant contributor to that threat.
There have always been extreme activities and commercial interests pounding at the doors of any protected and particularly wilderness areas, such as mining, forestry operations, grazing, or hotelier interests. But the newest breeds – equally as dangerous – are mountain bike promoters, dealers and manufacturers. Wilderness area managements have far too often cowered before these latest pressures, whose proponents sense weakness and incapacity to regulate; and too often senior wilderness managements have assuaged their failures to protect wilderness areas with cries that compromise is necessary!
Compromise is the function of giving away something each time when pressure or demand occurs. It works well for commercial, corporate and other special interests – to use an example, special interest Group A demands a piece – a few hectares or just a few km’s of a trail in protected areas – of the 100 EUR you have in your hand. Five years later Group B wants the same thing. After decades of compromise, you hold only 10 EUR instead of 100 EUR. Some might consider that as a benefit; after all, you could have nothing left! I don’t think most Europeans see it that way. No living ecosystems function that way.
Europeans have already had most of the protected areas (even wilderness areas) compromised by special interest users. After ca 100 years protected areas are the remnants of insatiable demand and never-ending confrontation. They are invaluable; they are harbours and – in cases like wilderness in Swiss NP, Switzerland, Central Balkan NP, Bulgaria or Majella NP, Italy – they are anchors to the extremely important European ecologically functional landscapes. They are the end result of a century of conservation ‘horse trading’. Now another crack has appeared in the conservation dam.
Consequence is that still functioning, living wilderness ecosystems that have absolutely nothing to gain from compromise are in danger. They need all their existing biological and evolutionary parts and processes to stay alive.
This invasion to the protected and wilderness areas is not happening by accident. It is, in my view, a calculated effort to defer to extremists in local communities, national lobby groups and their local “tribes” and radical chamber of commerce types and collaborating legislators in well-developed European countries.