Protected areas sometimes struggle with effective management plans, and tensions may arise between various stakeholders. The UNDP supported, GEF financed project “Strengthening Romania’s Protected Area System by Demonstrating Public-Private Partnership in Romania’s Maramures Nature Park (MMNP)” avoided such tensions through full stakeholder participation and by building upon the Maramures Biodiversity Consortium (MBC), an innovative local government-NGO partnership focused on the conservation and sustainable development of the diverse landscape comprised of national forestland, protected areas, private forestland, agricultural land, and small urban areas. The project aim was to adopt an effective and appropriate method of protected area management to conserve Maramures biodiversity, which in this large area (150,000 hectares) was the creation of a multifunctional protected landscape. A comprehensive management plan was crafted and agreed upon by all stakeholders, and implemented through a cooperative public-private partnership.
With an area of over 130,000 ha, Maramureş Nature Park (MMNP) covers approximately 22% of Maramureş County, situated in the northern-most parts of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. The landscapes and ecosystems of MMNP include rivers valleys and floodplains, forested slopes, and high meadows, and peaks of over ,900 m. 18 major habitat types have been identified including areas of pristine forest, now very rare in Europe. 24% of the plant species known from Romania are found here, including 26 Carpathian endemics, and the fauna is rich and diverse. The area is home to over 90,000 people, and is renowned in Romania for its traditions, its cultural heritage and its unique architectural styles. People in Maramureş have maintained close links to their land and environment, managing much of the landscape using traditional eco-friendly practices maintained over centuries. These values are increasingly threatened by habitat fragmentation and degradation, over-exploitation of natural resources, and uncontrolled tourism development. Underlying these threats has been a declining local economy and outmigration of young people to seek work elsewhere. The challenge for Maramureş is to take advantage of its natural and cultural treasures to promote development, without spoiling the unique cultures and landscapes of the region.
1. Participatory development of management plan:
By involving local interests in the planning process, the project team was able to exchange information and ideas with stakeholders and build a consensus about future management. Of particular importance was the participatory zonation of the Nature Park in a way that reflects the environmental priorities and economic needs of the area.
2. Stakeholder involvement in governance:
Two oversight bodies have been established: the Scientific Council, comprised of 13 regional academic specialists, which reviews all proposed actions or decisions that have potential environmental impacts, and the Consultative Council, comprised of 54 members representing the full range of stakeholders, meets to discuss the plans of the Nature Park, share ideas for future actions, and work together to resolve problems and conflicts.
3. Public-private partnership building:
The project was led by the National Forest Administration (NFA), but extended far beyond forests areas and built upon the foundation established by the Maramures Biodiversity Consortium (MBC), composed of members of the City Council, the main government natural resource agencies, and the Ecological Society of Maramures.
1. Involving local and regional government agencies, NGOs, and community-based organizations (CBOs) can be a major contributor to project success. Establishing buffer zones and Biosphere Reserves usually requires the involvement of local authorities, which have often had little previous contact with centrally administered protected areas. In most cases these local authorities prove to be very open and cooperative partners, appreciating the need for protection of biodiversity and very receptive to measures that aid nature friendly rural development. NGOs and CBOs often have strong connections within local communities, and can play an important role in activities such as increasing stakeholder participation through awareness raising and information dissemination.
2. Protected area administrations should avoid being unnecessarily officious and exclusive. Instead, they should work to develop open and inclusive relationships with their local communities and administrations. Becoming a respected part of the local community is a highly effective way to secure cooperation and understanding.
3. To effectively mainstream biodiversity concerns at the regional or local level, there needs to be a mechanism by which the primary actor (project manager, park director, etc.) can interact on a regular basis with key stakeholders to develop effective relationships. The mechanism should be sustainable once a project has finished.
1. MMNP becomes fully operational:
In four years the protected area went from being newly gazetted and existing only on paper to having a fully functioning administrative unit, a comprehensive management plan agreed upon by all stakeholders, and working partnerships with regional and local government institutions in implementing and enforcing the park management plan. The number of hectares under strict conservation management is 18,769 compared to an initial target of 7,800. The protected area management team is now seen as a respected and valuable partner in the ongoing regional development process.
2. Environmental governance strengthened:
Park management and biodiversity considerations have been mainstreamed into local development and economic investment procedures by establishing consultative park zoning through stakeholder consensus. Mainstreaming also occurs through incorporation of park input into the development permitting system, by the inclusion of the park administration on the county technical committee that analyses and discusses proposed investments and environmental impact assessments.
3. Stakeholders realize value in natural capital:
There were multiple significant achievements under this outcome, including excellent progress in reducing the impact of sawdust waste on riparian ecosystems, and the high quality Total Economic Value (TEV) study supported by the project that has raised the awareness of local and national authorities of the economic value of natural capital. The TEV study catalyzed dialogue on improving protected area financing in Romania and laid the foundation for future interventions that will offer economic arguments to decision makers and shape political agenda so that management and financing of protected areas will become priority policy issues.