Last summer I started my research on conservation-development conflicts in the process of returning large carnivores in Europe (namely wolves in the Czech Republic) to the wild. A year later I returned to the field and spent two weeks among farmers in the cultural landscape of the Beskid Mountains area. Preliminary results show social injustices linked to the implementation of wolf protection measures in the area.
The return of large carnivores (namely wolves) to nature in the process of rewilding is currently one of the greatest issues for herders in the cultural landscape of the Czech Republic. Wolf-protection measures are what often drives human-wildlife conflicts. Therefore, there is a growing interest in developing effective means to integrate the needs of nature and people within the field of biodiversity protection and to address the different interests of local communities.
Through a social-ecological lens my research focuses on the perceived injustices among the local stakeholders, which further determine their support of biodiversity protection or its withdrawal.
In my study, I’ve been working with an empirical analytical environmental justice framework developed by UEA’s Global Environmental Justice research group. Multiple stakeholders from the farming sector were surveyed during this summer via face-to-face semi-structured interviews (n=12), including a field stay mainly in the Beskydy Protected Landscape Area (Beskydy PLA) and also around Jablunkov, where I conducted participant observation.
The Beskydy PLA is located in the Outer Western Carpathians and spans almost the entire territory of the Moravian-Silesian Beskid Mountains, a substantial part of the Vsetin Mountains and the Moravian part of the Javorniky Mountains, which form the Czech border with Slovakia.
Two-thirds of the area are covered by woods today, but the Beskid Mountains landscape also includes meadows, pastures, borders, and copses.
The area is largely inhabited and covers several large cities with a population of over 10 000 people. As for land management, it has a long history of sheep herding, which is a crucial factor contributing to the current conflicts between farmers and wolves in the landscape.
My data analysis focused on the following components of environmental justice: communities of justice (whose justice?), and dimensions of justice (distributive, procedural and recognitional). This helped me to better analyse the context of perceived social injustices linked to wolf protection mentioned by the stakeholders.
The preliminary data show that the stakeholders primarily referenced the poorly managed Wolf Management Programme (WMP).
The WMP is conceptual and methodological material that determines the basic procedure for the prevention and resolution of conflicts that may arise from the presence of wolves in a densely populated cultural landscape while simultaneously ensuring that the requirements for adequate protection of this species are met. Specific steps, solutions to situations and the responsibility of the relevant institutions are determined by other materials related to the Management Programme. The main goals of the WMP include the introduction of a system for funding of the implementation of preventive measures for the protection of livestock herds and a working system for damage investigation and damage compensation.
The greatest problem for the farmers regarding the WMP was with the compensation for their losses from wolf attacks. They also expected to receive more support in adapting to this new situation and to be more involved in the planning of the protection and reparation measures in cases where wolves kill their animals; as a result, the farmers must adapt to new rules, new measures, and new ways to care for their herds. The strict wolf protection made the farmers feel that they were not able to sufficiently protect neither themselves nor their herding business. It also made them feel a strong sense of injustice.
I will be returning to the field in November to conduct a longitudinal stay and further explore this problem. The research will continue until the summer of 2023.
 Wolves practically disappeared from the Czech countryside for nearly 108 years. See https://www.navratvlku.cz/o-vlkovi-historicke-a-soucasne-rozsireni/.
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