The 2nd Carpathian Network of Protected Areas Conference held in the High Tatras Region, Slovakia, 23-26 April 2013 included a half-day workshop entitled “Protected Area Management Planning with a Focus on Cross-Border Cooperation.” The workshop was organized by Tomasz Pezold, IUCN Programme Office for South-Eastern Europe and included introductory presentations on transboundary collaboration by an international panel: Michael Quinn (Canada), Alois Lang (Austria), Ewelina Zajac (Poland) and Mariann Komlós (Hungary).
Approximately 20 participants representing 10 different countries and more than a dozen protected areas created 4 working groups to discuss current initiatives and needs for future improvements in transboundary cooperation across the Carpathian Network of Protected Areas. The wealth of experience and diversity of geographies represented by the participants generated highly productive discussions. It was noteworthy that there was representation from Pieniny National Park (Poland) and Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada) – two of the world’s first International Peace Parks established in 1932.
Participants highlighted a variety of initiatives that demonstrated cooperation across the Carpathians and adjacent regions including specific examples from Hungary, Serbia, Poland, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Romania, the Czech Republic and the Ukraine. There were excellent examples of formal arrangements (e.g. memoranda of understanding) between countries, but also cases where manager-to-manager communications lead to cooperation in the absence of formal agreements. In fact, the importance of personal relationships between parks staff was identified as one of the most important facilitators of cross-border cooperation. There were many stories of friendships between managers, rangers and researchers that engendered good will between adjoining protected areas. Activities that promoted formal and informal exchange visits between parks were highly recommended by all participants. Research, visitor management and fire prevention were highlighted as activities where significant cross-border collaboration was occurring. Although there is a wide variety of languages and dialects across the region, participants did not see this as a significant barrier to collaboration. The use of English is becoming more common as a neutral means of communication.
There was some lively discussion about the overall legibility and meaning of the “Carpathians” as a regional identity. Although the Carpathian Range is very large and individual counties (and sub-regions) often have stronger local identity meaning, there was a sense that there was a growing affinity across the Carpathians that made this a useful organizational construct. Transboundary protected areas and activities that linked nature and culture across jurisdictional boundaries were seen as productive mediators in developing a stronger regional identity. One current example was the “Carpathian Sheep Transhumance” that is linking the region through culture and heritage breeds of sheep and traditional husbandry. Such initiatives help to advance sustainable development of Carpathian mountain regions.
Participants discussed the need to move toward more formal agreements that lead to the production of joint management plans and shared information/education resources. Clear vision and shared strategies are desired, but it was clear that jurisdictional and organizational differences will need to be overcome. Ongoing engagement through a Carpathian network was seen as essential to create and communicate common messages and to share the costs and benefits of cooperation. The Carpathian Network of Protected Areas serves as an ideal mechanism to develop, promote and implement innovative forms of governance.
Prepared by Michael S. Quinn, Institute for Environmental Sustainability