Picos de Europa mountains
Politics in the Park: the fragile future of the Picos de Europa mountains
News from Pura Aventura published on 15 Jun 2006.
15 Jun 2006
by Diego Martín, June 2006
“Last July I had the opportunity to work for 10 days for the Picos de Europa National Park, taking a group of junior rangers from different European countries around the Picos de Europa mountains. This proved to be a lot of hard work but also provided a great insight into different issues surrounding national parks, conservation, education and new generations.
For over a decade there is been a European program to promote the involvement of the young generations of Europe living in or around protected areas into the protection of these areas. This program is organized by Europarc and is called Junior Ranger. The program is implemented in different ways depending on the country concerned but basically the idea is that young residents of protected areas learn about the natural areas the live in and learn about the work of those who protect it. The objective is to create future generations with a better understanding of the conservation of natural enviroments.
Junior Ranger runs yearly summer camp, and this year the Picos de Europa National Park had offered to host it. A total of 30 people came, each of the parks represented by a ranger and 2 or 3 junior rangers. There were rangers from Germany, Czech Republic, UK, Slovenia, Estonia and two Spanish national parks: Picos de Europa and Aigues Tortes. The program had been working for different lengths of time in the different parks and with varying degrees of intensity. Overall, it was inspiring to see the commited job of some of the parks and to share views and opinions with people from all of these places. As Europeans we are people who allegedly share common values, in this case the conservation of natural environments. Finally, it is always a pleasure to share the beautiful Picos with a new, and appreciative, group of people.
I was invited to run this group by a good friend of mine who works for the Picos National Park just a few weeks before the group arrived. I was not told much about it until two days before. The main thing I realised was how little had been prepared and how badly things had been managed! In a typically Spanish way, our National Park had offered to host the summer camp even though the Junior Ranger program doesn`t exist in Spain and there aren`t any signs that is going to exist in the near future. Not only that, but the National Park didn`t really know much about the program, its objectives, what we wanted to tell the participants. Not even the rangers of the Picos de Europa National Park had been informed of this activity and its purposes.
As it proved during the week the rangers from the Picos National Park lacked any feeling of working as a team – they don´t even know other rangers of other areas of the park! This state of affairs is not helped by their confused job status. The park mixes career rangers working for the state with rangers who operate under temporary contract. A great deal of the time they appear to be more concerned about their laboral rights than about their day to day work. On the other hand I met some rangers who were fantastic people and are truly focused on their jobs, specially the ones that are originally from the villages inside the park.
The lack of English language information is particularly obvious in the visitor centres of the park. Indeed, my original role on this tour was to translate, since the National Park doesn´t have anyone that can speak decent English! I had thought that having the Director and Director of Public Use of the National Park with us, it would be them who decided what to tell the group and that I would simply translate. In reality it was very different since nobody had really planned what the group was to do. I ended up setting our agenda and then leading the group as if it was one of our normal Pura Aventura groups.
Having the Director around did give us the opportunity to get a good insight into the daily running of the National Park, which is easily the most complex of the Spanish Parks. The most pressure on the Picos comes not from its 2 million visitors annually, nor the 2,000 plus people who live inside the park, nor the difficulties of preserving traditional farming methods while protecting endangered species like the wolf and bear but instead come from the political arena.
The Director is a political appointment which changes every time there is a change in ruling party. Add to this the fact that, after its enlargement in 1995, the National Park spans three regions: Asturias, Cantabria and Leon. This means that the Park has been run by three regional governments plus the central government. This creates all sorts of problems, such as the fact that hunting is still alowed in the Park in one of the regions, or the fact that money has to be evenly spread between the three regions for purely political reasons rather than any sort of environmental consideration.
To make things even more complicated, last year the Superior Court ruled in favour of the regional governments in their pledge to manage directly their own protected areas, wich means that the National Parks of Spain are going to be run by solely by the regions and not the state. This can be good or bad depending on many factors and depending on wich parks, but definitely makes things difficult for this one. Still today no one knows what is going to happen over the next few years, how the park is going to be run, if it is going to benefit from unified management or not.
With this situation at a political level is difficult to see how the National Park is going to promote things like the Junior Ranger Program in the Picos. One of the main problems here is that the local population still sees the National Park as an enemy and conservation efforts as an attack. I don´t think you stand much chance changing the way of thinking of an old shepherd towards the National Park, but I do believe that you can bring up the new generations to value their environment. There is a pressing need to invest in the young people living in or around the National Park so that they get to know and appreciate the region in all its complexity. They will have to live from these mountains like their families have done for generations, but they will have to do it in different world where conservation and tourism have joined traditional farming as a characteristic of most European mountains. That´s why I think that programs like this are much needed in this area and should be a priority for any protected area in Europe."
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