This first axe is made of 3 main directions:
Solid, relevant decision making is obviously an essential factor that directly determines the outcome of our actions regarding protected areas. However, still to this day, decisions are often made by a single person (the park manager, often called “the conservator”) or a small group (“the central administration”) who are far from having all the skills required to manage the territory of the protected area in all its complexity. As a result, routine choices are generally made (what was done last year is reproduced) or choices are made that solely depend on the interest, tastes, or abilities of the decision maker. This is an open gate to corruption… Individual decisions also hinder the continuity of management (it changes according to the conservator) and doesn’t allow for an effective discussion of the choices that are made with the other stakeholders (and therefore, it puts in jeopardy their acceptance of these choices); nevertheless, these discussions are indispensable for implementing adequate decisions. There are many examples of parks where results have greatly changed (positively or negatively) after the conservator was removed, while the context remained the same.
This is why the decision-making process regarding PAs has to be widened. Not in order to obtain everybody’s opinion, not to try to gain consensus around the “one requesting the less”, not to follow a fashion or a philosophy… but because decisions have to be strengthened. This goes through either significant improvement of the skills of the decision-makers in place (but this is not going to happen on its own and will take a while, like any capacity-building process), or through gathering the lacking abilities to quickly fill in the gap. Thus, setting up « boards of directors » for parks is a rapid answer to this situation; it also enables us to go from “collaborative management” as an idea (this notion has been talked about for years) to really implementing it in the field. It is also the opportunity to bring the decision closer to local stakeholders, who are not sufficiently consulted in the field (and often only because it is required), and who would become – as far as possible and useful – leaders. The risk exists that unfortunate decisions emerge from this type of governance, but it seems moderate and the benefits expected from this opening are much bigger, if it is well conducted and directed towards respecting the primary vocation of the territory, that is conservation of nature.
The first direction offered by the road map is therefore to consolidate each PA’s decision-making body by widening it to new stakeholders in order to deal with gaps and mistakes more efficiently. It will make the decision-making system more sustainable, beyond the only persons involved. This requires an in-depth evolution of the governance strategies of many sites or PA systems, but some countries or sites have showed that this is possible and that we can achieve positive results through this approach.
A story that we have been hearing for years is the one revolving around the value of protected areas. This value is measured, dissected, extrapolated… and everyone agrees to say that it is much more than the natural heritage (biodiversity) contained in these territories (for example via ecosystem services, populations’ wellbeing, cultural heritage, etc.). Everybody? In truth, it is rather experts, technicians, conservationists… and it is up to whom will find the most utopian value to this increasing number of values. But the main public, the people living in and around PAs, citizens, pupils…remain unsatisfied and even if they see their direct benefits (there are always some), they also measure the direct drawbacks (and there are always some) of these PAs. And yet, it is known that political decisions, in fine, come from the street. Hoping that ministers will change their mode of governance on the basis of experts’ reports, this is forgetting that they don’t read them or do not understand them. However, they listen to, they feel the wind that agitates the potential electors, the opinion-makers… and this wind, sometimes they follow it. Therefore, this “opinion field” has to become our target. We have to make sure that PAs will be considered as an element of our common heritage that has to be protected (like a cultural or religious element). Of course, this must come without minimizing its other existing values. This will be long and complicated, but the modern means of disseminating information and messages probably enable us to significantly reduce the time required to induce tangible changes in the public, and therefore in its representatives. This goes through education, information, awareness raising, lobbying, media, social networks and certainly new channels to be invented… finally, there are many ways and they have to be added up to reach the scale required for the expected change. Otherwise, without clear and univocal adoption of PAs by populations (widely speaking), there is little hope that favourable decisions will be spontaneously made regarding them, and even less that they will be able to counteract the disadvantageous decisions they are subjected to, for example when they face a mining project.
Therefore, the second direction proposed by the road map is to work on public opinion, on the largest scale possible. Starting with the general public, new generations, children… It is a huge task, but it is the key of success for the future. Without radical change of mentalities (meaning that we go from PA only seen as a “consumer good” to PA perceived as a common heritage to be protected as a priority), there is no chance that good and sustainable political decisions be made in their favour, while pressure to consume more resources and more land is continuously increasing.
Protected areas are included in a wider landscape they influence and depend on. Nothing new there and yet, very often, we act and decide as this was not the case. These contiguous territories are managed by different administrations; stakeholders do not communicate, often do not know each other… everyone acts on his territory and complains about his neighbour. Hence, conflicts rise regarding the use of the same resources (but for different management objectives); frustration due to possible inadequate sharing of potential benefits (in general over or under estimated according to who is talking of them) grows; and at the end, we observe the rejection of Pas by people because they only see or feel their constraints. And yet these protected territories and those having an impact on them (logical definition of their periphery) are finally the same and should not be managed independently. These fights of prerogatives (“I am in charge of…”) have to end finally and we must open the way to synergies of interests (“this common decision enables us to reinforce each other”). Just like the first direction of this roadmap, the intention here is not to seek a weak consensus because we know that there are issues that divide and will keep dividing us. But at least we need to make sure that reciprocal information is always in place, that decisions are made on the basis of this information and that, at no time, one or the other party is acting alone (this is mostly seen for example when mining projects are drafted or when unilateral decision is taken to gazette a PA). This is not so complicated but requires unambiguous political decisions (transparency, which is the most difficult to obtain because one cannot see it!) leading to corruption eradication. And it requires new or strengthened capacities (because a dialogue of “ignorant” people will only result in nothing consistent). It is thus necessary for managers to have a volunteer and structured openness approach to ensure that the PAs are no longer considered like a black hole (at best) or a problem (at worst), but on the contrary like a credible element to construct a global territory planning policy.
The third direction proposed in the road map is structured around the notion of consultation, which has to be put into practice. As a spontaneous positive evolution of peripheral stakeholders is not to be expected soon, it is PA managers and decision-makers (therefore boards of directors, see direction one) who have the responsibility to achieve this by opening their doors to better communicate, better inform, better share and mostly by opening up to inquire about the arrangements concerning them, and become indispensable interlocutors for “planners” of neighbouring territories.