Global conservation ideas & local reactions: the case of a new proposed national park in the Făgăraș Mountains, Romania

Aastrup, Marie Louise (2020) Global conservation ideas & local reactions: the case of a new proposed national park in the Făgăraș Mountains, Romania. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Environmental protection is never a controversy-free endeavor. Conflicts arise over land ownership, use, and access. With the fall of Communism (1947- 1989) Romania experienced drastic changes in property rights, land tenures, environmental policy, and management. In the intervening decades, Romania transitioned to a market economy and accessioned to the EU in 2007. Since then a private foundation, Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC), has put forward a proposal to establish the Făgăraș Mountains National Park in Central Romania. Although the national park is yet to be established, FCC has, since 2009, been purchasing land for private protection with the intention of returning these landholdings to the state once a national park has been established. This raises questions around how people come to think of conservation in certain ways, how different actors understand and frame new conservation initiatives, how lived experiences and histories are shaping conservation perceptions, and what conservation perceptions can reveal about social equity concerns and how can these inform conservation planning. To answer these questions, I employed mixed methods consisting of qualitative data collection (interviews, participant observation, document analysis) and quantitative data collection (a questionnaire). I conducted 56 semi-structured interviews with environmental non-governmental organizations, government officials, local decision-makers, and local community members with various levels of involvement in the proposed national park. I distributed the questionnaire (n = 644) among local community members in 10 different municipalities. Throughout this dissertation, I show the fruitfulness of using mixed methods to investigate local conservation perceptions. In this dissertation, l argue that a critical social science perspective can improve conservation planning and deepen our understanding on the humanenvironment interactions as they pertain to conservation. Local perceptions of the park proposal are not only complex, they are also contradictory, shaped by local experiences and histories, public concerns and anticipations for the future. Chapter Two examines how different actors employ conservation narratives to push different political agendas. Political ecologists have paid extensive attention to protected areas, especially in relation to power, rights, and marginalized peoples. This dissertation draws on political ecology to examine conservation narratives in the context of post-Communism and neoliberalization in Romania. Three chief narratives can be observed pertaining to tourism, restrictions, and deforestation. These narratives are embedded in the history and socio-economic context of the area, but also reveal the agendas of different actors regarding landscape values. Assessing these narratives, this research reveals how actors position themselves and the points of contention among the different actors in the brewing conflict that the national park represents. In the third chapter, I investigate how social memory forms and informs local perceptions of conservation. I investigate the role of historical context, local experiences, and social memories in shaping local perceptions of the proposed park. I argue that conservation initiatives should be attentive to, and respectful of, the historical and cultural contexts in which they occur as these will be key in understanding local experiences, livelihoods, and concerns related to the park and eventually successful conservation. In particular, exploring and documenting local experiences and social memories of past and present events deepen our understanding of local realities. Finally, I illustrate how perceptions research can guide equitable conservation planning (Chapter Four). The ways in which protected areas impact local communities are complex and contextual. In this chapter I investigate local perceptions of the proposed national park to understand the implications of local perceptions for equitable management by comparing two geographical areas in the Făgăraș Mountains: one area, comprised of communities adjacent to an already existing privately protected area (n = 217) in the Făgăraș Mountains, and the other area integrating communities in the Făgăraș Mountains (n = 427) but not adjacent to the privately protected area. I show that contextual factors inform people’s perception of the park proposal and that locals in the privately protected areas are slightly more positive that a national park will bring benefits than are locals further away from the privately protected area. Locals in both areas perceived a number of restrictions, especially regarding livelihoods. Understanding local perceptions of proposed protected areas can inform equitable management, as perceptions can reveal spatial differences in anticipated distribution of benefits, contextual factors that affect trust in management, and barriers for procedural equity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 15028
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references.
Keywords: Conservation, Protected Area, Social Memory, Romania, Conflict, Perceptions, Political Ecology, Power, Privately Protected Area, Trust, National Park, Equity
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Geography
Date: October 2020
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Library of Congress Subject Heading: National parks and reserves--Government policy--Romania--Făgăraș Mountains; National parks and reserves--Social aspects--Romania--Făgăraș Mountains; Romania--Officials and employees--Attitudes.

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