Strategies for effective communication and collaboration with communities in Slovenia
Location: Ljubliana – Slovenia,
Story by: Seth Wilson
Slovenia provides a critically important habitat for several large carnivore populations in southeastern Europe. As a technical advisor to the LIFE DINALP BEAR Project, Seth Wilson developped a guidebook to strengthen the communication and conflict-solving skills of the Slovenian Forest Service. The guidebook can also be adapted to other regions.
As an American conservation biologist based in Missoula, Montana, I had always dreamed about working internationally. As fortune would grant, during 2016-2017, my family and I had the chance to live and work in Slovenia. Sovereign since 1991 and a member of the European Union, Slovenia provides a critically important habitat for several large carnivore populations in southeastern Europe. In 2016, I was invited by the Slovenian Forest Service to act as a technical advisor to the LIFE DINALP BEAR Project – a five-year effort that seeks to manage and conserve brown bears (Ursus arctos) as one large population across Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, and Italy.
A major aspect of the work entails reducing human-bear conflicts with local communities and improving prospects for bears to recolonize the southeastern Alps from the Dinaric Mountains of Slovenia and Croatia. One of the most important facets of large carnivore conservation is to develop a positive working relationship among wildlife managers, local communities, and other stakeholders whose collaborations are fundamental for addressing, reducing, and preventing human-carnivore conflict in a meaningful way. In Slovenia, my sense is that there is great opportunity for grass-roots, bottom up conservation, particularly in a post-communist environment where there is an appetite for more local control in decision making. This became clear when I started my major project – a book titled, “A Guidebook to Human-Carnivore Conflict: Strategies and Tips for Effective Communication and Collaboration with Communities”.
A Guidebook to Human-Carnivore Conflict: Strategies and Tips for Effective Communication and Collaboration with Communities
Download the guidebook here
The purpose of this guidebook is to offer strategies and practical tips on effective communication and collaboration with communities to address conflicts with large carnivores. This guidebook was proposed under the LIFE DINALP BEAR project and seeks to increase public awareness of large carnivores by providing educational materials for officials working with human-bear conflict cases. The guidebook is focused on reducing conflicts with brown bears (Ursus arctos) but also incorporates wolves (Canis lupus) since these two large carnivores are found in overlapping habitats in portions of Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy. Damage inspectors and intervention team members from Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, and Austria are often involved in responding to conflicts and damages from both species. While certain tools and management techniques for addressing conflict are different for bears and wolves, the communication techniques and strategies for working with communities recommended in this guidebook are relevant to both.
The fundamental goal of this guidebook is to provide Slovenian, Croatian, Italian, and Austrian damage inspectors, intervention team members, and other partners with useful and practical information that can help improve their professional communication practice. A second and equally important goal is to provide general strategies for meaningful collaboration with the people who live with large carnivores across the four countries involved in the LIFE DINALP BEAR project. A third goal of this guidebook is to encourage a proactive and preventative approach to carnivore conservation that serves the common interest. Specific recommendations and strategies found throughout this guidebook reflect this perspective.
The main audience for this guidebook is Slovenian, Croatian, Italian, and Austrian damage inspectors and intervention team members who are field level personnel and are in regular contact with farmers, hunters, landowners, community members, and the general public. Additional audiences include all partners involved in the LIFE DINALP BEAR project who are engaged in large carnivore research, conservation, and management across the four partner countries. Other interested Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), individuals, or government officials from Europe and North America who are involved in wildlife management may find portions of the guidebook useful.
The guidebook offers new tools and innovative approaches for field-level practitioners who want to conserve and manage brown bears and wolves that inhabit human-modified landscapes. Additionally, the guide offers practical tips for effective communication and proven strategies for building partnerships and collaborations with the people who live with large carnivores. The contents of the Handbook were developed together with the audience (in this case Slovenian Damage Inspectors). In interviews they were asked what skills they needed to improve. Many of the lessons developed for the guide can also be used by NGO personnel and others who are engaged more broadly in nature conservation.
The content of the guidebook was presented at formal meetings with hundreds of Slovenia Forest Service personnel, to Croatian bear damage inspectors, and to carnivore managers in Italy. The guidebook prepares those on the front line of carnivore conservation in their critically important roles as wildlife ambassadors. It enables them to engage with communities using a participatory approach that bridges theory and practice in a clear and understandable manner.
The engagement, excitement, and interest of the inspectors in the book was emblematic of a new change occurring in Slovenia – the growing appetite for a participatory democracy and an engaged citizenry.
The project was done under the auspices of the LIFE DINALP Bear Project and supported by: Frankenberg Foundation, Trust for Mutual Understanding, Bunting Family Foundation, Pumpkin Hill Foundation, Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative