Four of the nine national parks in Slovakia are located in the Žilina Region. The Malá Fatra National Park has a very specific position compared to the others. It is the only one with its entire area within the territory of the Žilina Region. Moreover, 85% of its area is privately owned, which is the highest proportion of private property among all Slovak national parks. How has the Žilina Region managed to establish a dialogue and restore trust between the stakeholders in the national park area? This is what we talked about with Lucia Lašová, coordinator of participation in Žilina Region.
In December 2021, the Slovak state introduced a reform of the national parks. The Ministry of the Environment set out an ambitious plan to divide protected areas into zones with clear rules for all users of the territory. The amended law also defines a new position of the state administration in the territory. National park administrations have been upgraded to independent organizations with full legal personality. “The state has an interest in managing the territory of national parks, but in many cases, protected areas also extend onto private land. This is a fundamental stumbling block in the management of national parks under the current Slovak conditions. Private owners in the Malá Fatra National Park, where the state and private land are in the most significant disproportion, approached the Žilina Region because they were concerned about the threat to their property rights. Their property rights are also limited by the Nature Protection Act,” Lašová describes the situation in Slovakia.
In January 2022, the owners’ initiative was assigned to the Regional Development Department and the Participatory Policy Unit at the Žilina Region. “National parks do not fall under the regions, but under the Ministry of the Environment. In February, we sent a letter to the Ministry asking for patronage of the mediation process.” The regional administration began to act as a mediator between the state and citizens.
Conflicts between the administration of the Malá Fatra National Park and some owners were arising in the national park area. It was necessary to establish a procedure that would conciliate the conflicts and enable mutual dialogue. “We aimed to meet with everyone individually and listen to the needs and concerns that arose from the upcoming processes. We acted as neutral facilitators in the process. Based on individual meetings that were held repeatedly, we were able to initiate one joint meeting, which took place in May 2022. In a neutral setting, the proposed zoning of the national park was officially presented, with the participation of representatives of the Ministry of the Environment. As part of the reform, it was established that national park directors must be re-elected. The newly elected director then presented her view on the management of the Malá Fatra National Park to all the owners and a constructive debate took place,” says Lašová.
At the end of the year, the National Park Council was formed. Key stakeholders in the area are represented on the council, such as mayors of municipalities, non-state forest owners, the owner of the ski lift, academics, and nature conservationists. This diverse sample functions as an advisory body to the National Park Authority. “These people are able to talk to each other at the same table, to meet and explain things to each other, to share ideas, and to participate. The situation has completely changed and it shows. We have four national parks in our region and the situation is much more challenging in the other ones. People were not prepared for the changes. We have tried to support this in the Nízké Tatry National Park, but there we entered the process quite late,” adds Lašová.
Although this mediation process is not normally the responsibility of the regions, it is an interesting example of good practice with some successful results. The region’s position was so strong that a regional representative who should not have been on the Council was elected a chair. National park directors are inspired by the example of Malá Fatra and are aware of the need for good facilitators for the implementation of the new reform. Based on requests from the directors and the successful example of Malá Fatra, a programme could be prepared in the future to open up new positions for national parks.
“It shows that involving the actors in the territory and taking into account their needs can result in the sustainable development of protected areas and implementation of any reform. Also thanks to the example in Malá Fatra, we are currently planning to cooperate in the development of the Strategy for the Development of Sustainable Tourism in another national park – NP Velká Fatra. I consider the growing network of partners of the region as one of the most important results of the whole process,” concludes Lucia Lašová.
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