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Norway's Protected Areas: Failing to Conserve Threatened Environments

Photo: Andrew Bowden(26.04.2013) A 2009 reform is expected to mitigate local conflicts at the expense of long-term conservation.

An on-going research project at FNI investigates the management of protected areas, both in Norway and internationally. In Norway, the Parliament in 2009 decided to reform the governance of protected areas, establishing local management boards with extensive authority over much of the country's protected areas. FNI researchers Lars H. Gulbrandsen and Ole Kristian Fauchald have examined the implementation of the reform, analyzing the implications for the balance between local user interests and long-term environmental interests.

High long-term risks

Findings indicate that the reform can be expected to lower tensions between property owners and management authorities – whereas the outlook for long-term conservation objectives is rather grim.

The major weakness of the reform lies in its failure to develop regulatory and institutional frameworks to ensure fulfillment of environmental conservation. The long-term risks of the reform, which appear high and in many respects irreversible, indicate an urgent need for a stronger focus on the regulatory and institutional frameworks, the researchers hold.

Ole Kristian Fauchald- The upside is that the starting point was a dysfunctional management regime, with the environment being threatened in 40 per cent of the protected areas. In that light the consequences of the reform might not be that negative. Due to the reform, local authorities have a closer connection to and more significant interest in these areas, Fauchald says.

But compared to international standards, Norway's management of protected areas has so far failed to deliver, according to Fauchald.

From certified managers to local heroes

Lars H. GulbrandsenA central aspect of the reform is that responsibility is moved from state-employed nature management experts to local politicians. Fauchald and Gulbrandsen find that with the politicizing of the management boards, the members are more prone to give dispensations to local interest groups. Local politicians are eager to please their constituencies, for example by granting dispensations for the use of motor vehicles in protected areas. This surely increases local goodwill in the short term, but is a serious threat to the long term survival of vulnerable nature areas.

- Through this reform the scientific experts lose terrain and local politicians with other priorities than nature conservation take over, says Fauchald. The hope is that the reform may increase the consciousness among local politicians as to the value of biodiversity.

Hidden from the public

The researchers find that the management reform was passed with insignificant public scrutiny. The authorities kept a very low profile.

- This was possible because the reform was passed as a budgetary decision. The media's attention was on other aspects of the state budget. In that way this could happen without public debate, Fauchald says.

Further information:
   More about the project: Managing Protected Areas in a Time of Internationalization
   Article: The Norwegian Reform of Protected Area Management: A Grand Experiment with Delegation of Authority?
   Presentation brochure: FNI Research on Biological Diversity
   Contact person: Ole Kristian Fauchald
 The Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI) is an independent foundation engaged in research on international environmental, energy, and resource management politics.
The Institute maintains a multi-disciplinary approach, with main emphasis on political science, economics, and international law.

Fridtjof Nansen Institute
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