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"Wilderness": What It Means When It Becomes A Reality - A Case Study From The Southwestern Alps.

F. Hoechtl, Susanne Lehringer, W. Konold
Published 2005 · Geography

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Within the framework of the transdisciplinary research project “Changes in alpine landscapes resulting from a decline in land use in the Val Grande National Park and Strona Valley—from rural landscape to wilderness”, the impacts of uncontrolled nature development on the landscape’s structural diversity, plant species richness, as well as on the local population and tourists were investigated. The study area was the community of Premosello Chiovenda in the Val Grande National Park—“Italy’s largest wilderness area”. In order to achieve reliable results, methods for conducting historical landscape analysis, ecological inventories and empirical–social research were combined. As a result of land abandonment, the floristic species richness is decreasing in higher successional stages, and depending on the altitude, the structural diversity of the landscape is changing. Wildfires in the successional communities pose threats to the neighbouring villages. Nevertheless, many rural and cultural landscape characteristics persist, and past uses continue to have a significant impact on future landscape development. The main impacts on the inhabitants are psychological and economic in nature. Around the villages, they regard the effects of abandonment in a very negative light. Visitors of the area judge the consequences of land abandonment differently. While they regard the resulting landscape’s wildness positively, they also regret the cultural losses suffered by rural communities. If the abandoning processes continue, rural landscape and its associated habitats will be lost. Despite this, new habitats, such as those resulting from ecosystem dynamics, will form. The evolving landscape is not, however, hospitable as a living space for man. The characteristics intrinsic to the landscape in the absence of its productive use and maintenance render it uninhabitable. A reasonable scenario for Premosello Chiovenda should provide the coexistence of dynamic, “wild” areas, free from further agri- or silvicultural uses and areas of cultural importance, where traditional and innovative forms of land use should be encouraged and developed. In the future, decision-makers should be aware of the positive and negative aspects of a large-scale rewilding, and all stakeholders, especially the affected local communities, should be included in any decision making process that concerns the establishment of protected areas which are left to develop without human control.
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