We want you to know what is going on in the BOD, our meetings, our actions, members leaving, the new ones elected,... but text written in this blog cannot be taken an official position or statement of the Society for Conservation Biology. Probably it is not even an official statement of the section... as these need to be approved by the members.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Reflections on Human-Bear Conflicts

Guest post by Lacramioara-Mihaela Maghiar

It was a beamful cold day in October when a brown bear cub crossed my path in the subalpine area. Bewildered, he was probably wondering about its mother’s whereabouts. I was wondering about the same thing too. I always ask myself where the mother bear is when I encounter a cub. Meeting a mother bear with cubs or a wounded bear is one of the most dangerous situations for humans. This experience reminded me that in different parts of the world, we are afraid in the wild of different circumstances: for instance in some eastern European forests we are afraid of encountering bears or wolves, in South Africa you might be afraid of a lion roaring in the bushes, and in the Arctic you might feel safer floating away from a polar bear on an ice sheet.

I am aware of the fear I have when I am trekking through the Romanian Carpathians. It taught me how to behave and respect the animals and their territory. But when it comes to a bear’s territory and the resources it offers, some conflicts naturally arise. By talking about conflicts, I am not referring to the understory plants competing for light. It is about a common conflict nowadays: between human beings and bears. This conflict is common on other continents too, but I will concentrate on Romania as the country has the largest population of brown bears in Europe after Russia, estimated at 5,000-6,000.

Făgăraș Mountains, Romanian Carpathians, Romania. Photo by Lacramioara-Mihaela Maghiar.

In Romania, bears are blamed for damaging crops, attacking livestock and orchards, for wandering towards garbage bins in search of food, and sometimes they are blamed for attacks on humans. Concurrently, bears face several threats, including habitat fragmentation. Human beings are increasingly protruding into bear territories and thus humans are interfering with the bears’ habitat and resources. The close presence to human settlements is uncomfortable for many inhabitants, a situation that often leads to conflict. Therefore, the positive or negative attitude towards brown bear is developed based on experiences.

Is a brown bear attacking your crop? You could just as easily blame a beech or an oak tree! There are years when these trees do not bear fruit, so bears have to search for nourishment in other areas. Of course, we shouldn't blame the trees for these scenarios, but we should rather concentrate on finding solutions for these cases. Protection systems for sheepfolds, orchards and crops are already reducing human-bear related conflicts in some areas of the Romanian Carpathians. Electric fences have also proven useful and stop bears from damaging villagers' crops. Electric fences are also used to protect the sheepfolds from attacks. These are just a few steps toward effectively managing these conflicts. There is a need for sustaining and spreading these good practices.

Another measure which could improve the situation is correctly estimating the bear population, as hunting organizations often exaggerate population estimates of over 10,000 brown bears. Due to unrealistic numbers, the Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests establishes high annual harvest quotas for bears. Fortunately, Romania banned all trophy hunting of brown bears in 2016. Drawing more awareness among citizens, a responsible management of garbage in bear-populated areas, corridors connecting the fragmented habitat and reducing poaching are also measures with long-term effects.

There are many cases where measures have been taken, but bears are still perceived negatively in some areas because of the continuous conflicts which have been happening for decades. At the same time, Romania's bear population could dwindle while we are debating about the best solutions to counteract said conflicts. Therefore, this sensible issue has to be handled in a timely manner and rather effectively. We as humans have to realize that we are part of problem because we have contributed to this scenario by activities that lead to habitat loss or destruction. Finally, we should remind ourselves that in unfragmented forests we have a chance to listen to the background sounds like the bears growling, deer grunting or capercaillie males singing during courting season, and many other animal noises. These are the sounds of biodiversity which highlight the power of ecosystems to ensure the well-being of its inhabitants, not conflicts.

Some information included in this post came from the following online resources: (1) http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/species/problems/human_animal_conflict/human_bears_wolves_conflict.cfm. Last accesssed: 12th December 2016; (2) http://www.wwf.ro/?206227/WWF-Romania-isi-gestioneaza-populatia-de-urs-in-mod-iresponsabil. Last accesssed: 12th December 2016; (3) http://milvus.ro/Mammal_Conservation/ro/large-carnivores/faq-about-wolves-and-bears-in-romania. Last accesssed: 24th October 2016


Post written by Lacramioara-Mihaela Maghiar

Lacramioara-Mihaela Maghiar is currently completing a master's degree in geomatics at Babeș-Bolyai University from Cluj-Napoca. She has a bachelor's degree in geography and a master's degree in ecology and conservation. Her research focuses on the impact of climate change on alpine plants. She's also interested in the analysis of stable isotopes of carbon from soil and their relation with the climate. Moreover, she is always working at her personal development by attending trainings such the Summer School on Alpine Plant Life from Switzerland (2015) or participating in WWF projects. You can reach Lacramioara on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/convi.convallaria

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Whats up! Some words from the new President of SCB Europe Section

Bengt Gunnar (Bege) Jonsson

It is exciting to step in as President of the Europe Section. Being one in the line of prominent and successful past Presidents also comes with a bit of pressure and I can only promise to try to do my best. However, managing and developing the Europe Section is fortunately not a single person effort or responsibility and I feel confident that the newly elected Board is highly capable to serve the interest of the Sections members. At the very start of my term I would like to highlight a set of items that I consider as especially important.

-              ECCB2018. As a single issue, this is clearly our main task for the coming 1.5 year. ECCB is our major brand and potentially more known among European conservation scientists than SCB itself. Our conference has to be a scientific, social and economic success. I am optimistic since our host in Jyväskylä, Finland are reliable and devoted.

-              Outreach to and communication with our members. During the last years we have made significant progress in establishing an active social media presence which I am sure has taken our visibility to a new level. We need to keep this good work up. The engagement in student conferences and courses as well as the Awards we have given, represent other important parts of the interaction with our members. Supporting the next generation of conservation scientist is a strategic target for the section. Perhaps more difficult, but not less important is to promote the establishment of Chapters. This can only happen by identification of individuals that have a strong motivation for this. We need to keep our eyes and ears open to make sure that we see these potential enthusiasts and give them our support.

-              We should try to reach out to East Europe. This is something that Barbara Mihok stressed repeatedly and I do fully agree! There is a special challenge that relates to language and resources that limits the potential for East European researchers to fully engage within European conservation. Compared to Western Europe (wherever the exact border is can be discussed), our East European colleagues, although highly skilled, works with much limited funding and the use of English as a working language is not as wide spread. This represent concrete obstacles and although I do not have any solution or identified activity at this stage, I do feel that we should make a stronger effort to transform SCB-ES a truly Pan-European organization.

-              SCB-ES should make its voice heard on European conservation policy. Being a scientific organization gives us a special position and if managed well an opportunity to influence. However, there is a main challenge in selecting the right topics for engagement. By no mean do I criticize the work done by our Policy Committee so far, but clearly a major task for the PC is to scan relevant topics and being pro-active rather than re-active.

-              There is an ongoing process within SCB that relates to the degree of independence of the Sections. This may be a small issue if we decide to retain the current status, but may be a major issue if we decide to seek a higher level of independence

-              I list the budget last, not because it is less important than other issue, but because it represent our ability to achieve goals rather than a goal in itself. For 2017 the budget is slim since the resources provided by SCB global has been strongly cut. It suggest that we need to ensure profit from ECCB and also preferably to identify some European sponsor for our work. It seems like we cannot rely on the global to feed us in the future, regardless of our status as a Section.

Any one of you members are more than welcome to contact me, or someone else on the Board of Directors, for comments and reflections on how you would like to see the Section develop during the coming years.