Position Paper to Wilderness of the National Parks Austria

The National Parks Austria recently published a position paper for Wilderness and non-intervention management in the Austrian National Parks. The technical committee for Wilderness and non-intervention management in the Austrian National Parks developed the position paper. It offers guidelines for Wilderness and non-intervention management in Austria. The paper furthermore offers recommendations for the implementation of Wilderness, in accordance with international Wilderness and National Park criteria, the goals of the Austrian National Park Straregy 2020+ and the Austrian biodiversity strategy. The paper should act as a strategic and practical guidance and decision support tool for National Park managements.

Wilderness aims of the National Parks Austria

The guidelines of the position paper aim to be applied by all six Austrian National Parks. However, it is not a mandatory goal to establish Wilderness areas in every National Park. It is the National Park managements decision to establish a Wilderness areas according to the IUCN Cat. 1b, or even Cat. 1a, criteria on suitable areas. Establishing a IUCN Cat. 1b Wilderness area is not an evaluation criteria of IUCN Cat. 2 National Parks. However, it is a high quality instrument of nature protection. The main purpose of the paper is to intensify the discussion about Wilderness and non-intervention management in the core zones of the National Parks. Furthermore, it advocates for the existing and potential Wilderness qualities in the core zones to be measured, documented and saved. If necessary and appropriate, the managements should restore and further develop Wilderness qualities.

Three of the six Austrian National Parks are already partners of our European Wilderness Network. Therefore, the European Wilderness Society welcomes the decision that the National Parks Austria strive for a stronger emphasis on non-intervention management and Wilderness development and protection.

Development of the position paper

The Austrian National Park Strategy of 2010 already included the goal that all National Parks have to identify non-intervention zones. The strategy further determines allowing natural dynamic developments in the core zones of the National Park. The results of the “Conference on Wilderness and Large Natural Habitat Areas” in Prague in 2009 inspired these statements. In 2011 the preservation of Wilderness areas was stated as an explicit goal of the European Biodiversity Strategy of 2020. The Austrian Biodiversity Strategy 2020+ builds on the European Biodiversity Strategy and consequently includes Wilderness protection. The Austrian Biodiversity Strategy particularly mentions the importance of large areas with non-intervention management in forest ecosystems. This protects species and habitats depending on undisturbed natural dynamic processes. The Austrian Strategy suggested to particularly increase non-intervention areas in the National Parks. It further proposed to identify additional areas suitable for non-intervention management in other protected areas.

Hohe Tauern WIlderness Exkursion 2017 - © All rights reserved
Hohe Tauern WIlderness Exkursion 2017 – © All rights reserved

Some National Parks have already started to increase their non-intervention areas and put a stronger focus on Wilderness in their core zones. National Park Hohe Tauern, National Park Kalkalpen and recently National Park Thayatal are part of our European Wilderness Network. All three of them host important Wilderness areas in their core zones. Their experiences led to numerous open questions which formed the starting point of the development of the position paper. In 2016 the National Parks Austria installed the expert committee for “Wilderness and non-intervention management”. The position paper takes several national and international laws into account. These are, for example, the Natura 2000 legislatives, the  Biodiversity Strategy (CBD), the Alpine Convention and the Austrian forestry law of 1975.

International certification of Austrian Wilderness

Wilderness areas in Austrian National Parks have to be officially recognised as an IUCN Cat. 1 area. The position paper furthermore recommends a certification by the European Wilderness Society for quality assurance reasons. The European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System (EWQA) is an internationally acknowledged certificate. It is based on the Wilderness definitions of Wild Europe and the definitions of IUCN Cat. 1b. It can further be the basis for a step by step advancement of Wilderness areas and for regular evaluation activities. The Wilderness certification process of the European Wilderness Society can also act as a basis for the IUCN recognition.

The European Wilderness Society highly welcomes the development of this position paper. We are looking forward to cooperating with all six Austrian National Parks to protect Austria’s last wild places!

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