International Mountain Day is a day to celebrate their rich biodiversity, their importance for nature and people, as well as to address many threats they face. Mountains provide freshwater, energy, food, climate, soil and air quality regulation, they are home to many endangered species and to 15 percent of the world’s population. However, climate change, unsustainable farming practices, commercial mining, logging and poaching, land-use change and excessive construction, are threats to mountain biodiversity. Along with natural disasters, all this leads to a fragile and unstable environment for local communities.
“Many of the mentioned factors threaten, not only the unique natural values of the mountains, but also jeopardize the survival of local communities in mountainous areas. We must be aware that unsustainable activities in nature will ultimately always affect people, and most often not those who carry out those activities. The biggest consequences are marginalized groups, such as communities in rural mountainous areas, who are leaving their homes due to lack of opportunities for economic development. Therefore, one of the recommendations is to include mountain-specific policies in national sustainable development strategies”, says Marko Pećarević, Protected Areas and Governance Program manager at WWF Adria.
Mountains make up most of the protected areas in Western Balkan region. WWF and Parks Dinarides organized a webinar on December 8th about the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on protected areas, which highlighted the sensitivity of protected areas in situations where tourism is not possible. While some areas, mostly national parks, have managed to recoup revenues due to mass visits following the lifting of measures and the inability to travel abroad, a number of smaller protected areas have been left without much of the planned budget. By canceling group visits and recreational activities, managers and local communities were left without the revenue from ticket sales and accommodation rentals.
“It is still uncertain how long the pandemic will last and how long it will take for the situation in the protected areas to normalize. Protected areas management and Governments are facing a great challenge in finding mechanisms and ways to help overcome the pandemic crisis as easily as possible. In that sense, mountains as important tourist attractions, which provide habitats for protected species, with their sustainable valorization, can be one of the levers that will activate tourism, responsible visitors and generate the necessary income for both protected areas and the local community”, says Executive Director of Parks Dinarides, Zoran Mrdak.
Mountains, are the symbol of the Dinaric Arc and in addition to having exceptional water, forest and landscape wealth, they also provide significant potential for creating various economic activities for parks, through sustainable tourism, agriculture, crafts, and can improve development models of protected areas in our region.