Urban and rural perceptions and collaborative management of Rondane National Park, Norway

Efforts to protect nature are accelerating worldwide. In 1993, the United Nations list of national parks and protected areas included 9 832 sites, most of them in mountain regions. These covered more than 9 million km2, a land area equivalent to that of the United States. Continuing growth in the numbers and total area of protected sites is, however, creating management issues and leading to conflict.

One of the overarching problems is that the drive to protect wilderness or nature usually emanates from urban and lowland elites. When the world’s first national park - Yellowstone in the United States - was created in 1888, it was perceived as a wilderness to be preserved with only minimal human activities, with large areas remaining essentially “pristine”. When this approach is applied in populated areas, it challenges long-standing common property rights, disrupts livelihood systems and leads to conflict at various levels. These issues affect both the developing world and industrialized countries, such as Norway.

Nearly all of Norway’s national parks are located in its mountainous hinterland. Most are on State-owned land of low productivity, much of which is regarded as wilderness by Norway’s urban and lowland majority. Nevertheless, these State-owned lands also represent an important livelihood asset for rural mountain people, who perceive them as cultural landscapes. Expansion of protected areas has therefore become a contentious issue between rural, upland and urban, lowland Norwegians.

Rondane became Norway’s first national park in 1962, and now covers 580 km2 of mainly State-owned land above the timberline, surrounded by private or community-owned alpine and forest lands. Historically, local communities used this private and State-owned land for hunting, gathering, forestry, summer grazing and even small-scale mining, and many of these activities are still important in the buffer zones surrounding the park, which are common property lands managed by local communities.

Rondane National Park is used extensively for recreation and tourism. It contains trails and lodges, but motorized vehicles are excluded. Second homes, hotels and other tourist facilities have been developed in the surrounding areas, and current plans involve expanding the park on to private land. This would have little impact on summer grazing and tourism, but forestry and mining would be prohibited, as would hunting and the construction of new roads and recreation and tourist facilities.

In 1996/1997, foreseeing the possibility of conflicting reactions, the planning authorities held a series of meetings with local community representatives to discuss the possible extension of the park into the current buffer zone. These meetings brought to light several difficulties.

In general, local people did not hold “outside” managers in high esteem. They perceived little trust and felt that local competence was regarded as irrelevant and/or inadequate. They considered park rules as unnecessarily rigid and bureaucratic, and managers as knowing less about the area and its qualities than they did themselves. They also saw managers as representing urban and lowland interests. Local people perceived the management style as impersonal, and most felt that protected area management should be based locally.

Although local inhabitants had good practical knowledge of their natural environment, they had limited understanding of the role and function of a national park. Strict protection rules for wolves, bears and foxes were an especially contentious issue because these predators threaten sheep farming. Tourism and its promotion and management presented another set of issues. Conflicts on issues such as welfare subsidies, agricultural policies, infrastructural development and centralization of the school systems were also expected. The fundamental question was whether the park extension was necessary and legitimate; local representatives asked why an already large national park should be extended when the buffer zones were being well managed by local informal institutions.

This case study demonstrates the significant problems that stem from the different educational, social and cultural backgrounds existing in a modern nation. Collaborative and participatory management requires a culturally pluralist decision-making process, and mutual understanding is needed to overcome socio-economic and cultural differences among stakeholders.

Adapted from J. Ives. 2001. Highland-lowland interactive systems.

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last updated:  Tuesday, March 27, 2007