Brown Bear Foundation

The Fundación Oso Pardo (FOP, Brown Bear Foundation), founded in 1992, is a conservationist NGO formed with the objective of contributing to the study and conservation of the brown bear in Spain, its habitat and the cultural surroundings in which this endangered species lives. The Foundation consists of a multidisciplinary team of scientists and experts in biodiversity conservation, environmental educators, communicators and rangers that make up the Bear Patrol.

The work of FOP extends into fields of conservation and restauration of the habitats of high interest for the species, the monitoring of the bear population, research applied to management, the fight against poaching, training and environmental education, and the prevention of conflicts between bears and humans. FOP considers the social acceptance of the bear to be very important. For this reason we promote a positive image of the species as an element of rural development and as a symbol of a well-conserved natural world.

In Spain the brown bear is catalogued as “Endangered”. In 2017, there are more than 240 bears in the Cantabrian Mountains and around 40 – 45 in the Pyrenees.

BEAR PATROLS

The FOP maintains Bear Patrols in the most important bear zones of the Cantabrian Mountains and the Pyrenees. They are made up of women and men from the bears’ territories. The tasks of the patrols range from surveillance and monitoring of bear populations, to support for research programs, environmental education or orientation of visitors in protected 4 natural areas.

HABITAT PROGRAM CONNECTIVITY

One of the basic courses of action for the conservation of the brown bear is to guarantee connectivity between populations and breeding nuclei by developing measures that facilitate the movement of specimens and the necessary genetic exchange. The FOP works in the communication corridors and in the zones of expansion, creating a network of small forests to favour the movement of the bears. In addition, 6 the plantations around motorways encourage bears to use the most suitable tunnels and passages and avoid collisions with vehicles.

FOP also works on identifying the “black spots” of roads and railways, where the chances of accidents are greater, to propose specific measures that make these infrastructures safer and more permeable.

HABITAT PROGRAM PLANTATIONS

In addition to the plantations to promote connectivity between bear areas, the FOP has over several years created a network of feeding points strategically located on the slopes most visited by bears and, especially, by females with cubs. The land is planted with cherry trees (Prunus avium), apple trees (Malus sp.), alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus), whitebeam (Sorbus aria), alpine buckthorn (Rhamnus alpina) and other 8 fruit-producing species for the bear.The plantations are developed on abandoned grassland or in forests owned by the FOP, or on public or private lands through land stewardship agreements that guarantee the future maintenance of the plantations.

The plantation works are usually carried out with local forest cooperatives and unemployed residents of the area, thus contributing to the creation of local employment.

HABITAT PROGRAM VOLUNTEER ACTIONS

The FOP places great importance on volunteering activities, because they facilitate the involvement of society in the conservation of biodiversity and promote values of solidarity.

The profile of the FOP volunteer is very heterogeneous, ranging from children and their families to retired people, students, professionals from different fields, or workers of the companies that support us.

Increasingly, the number of volunteers is rising, and either individually or collectively, they participate selflessly, working as a team, for the conservation of the bear and its habitats.

Volunteer actions that arouse more enthusiasm and motivation are linked to improving the quality of the bear habitat. The volunteers actively participate in the planting of autochthonous species that produce fleshy fruits and in the collection of seeds for the nurseries.

HABITAT PROGRAM LAND OWNED

The FOP is co-owner of 14 woodlands that occupy 110 km2 and owns 131 abandoned grassland totalling 72 hectares.

The properties are located in the west of the Cantabrian Mountains, in the areas of highest habitat quality for the bear.

URSUS PROGRAM

A good knowledge is essential to develop effective conservation strategies. The FOP technicians and scientists design and carry
out habitat characterisation and population monitoring projects, with special attention to females with cubs. They also carry out genetic studies and analyse the behaviour of females with cubs.

The FOP considers key to delve into the multiple human dimensions related to the bear, and how different social, psychological, economic and political factors can influence perceptions, fears, attitudes and tolerance towards the bear. The conflicts between humans and bears are analysed and solutions for a peaceful coexistence are proposed.

The species that preferentially live in mountain habitats are among the most vulnerable to the possible effects of climate change. For this reason, the FOP collaborates in the research and monitoring of indicators of the effects of climate change on biodiversity in the mountains inhabited by the bear.

ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION

Schoolchildren are the future and the bear is an excellent tool for environmental education. Children’s stories and teddy bears have been companions in the early years of many girls and boys, and bears are good ambassadors to transmit knowledge about biodiversity and conservation challenges to schoolchildren.

Since its inception, the FOP has launched an Educational Program that has reached several generations of schoolchildren in the Cantabrian Mountain Range, with storytellers and children’s workshops, and educational routes to learn about the Bear Country. Currently, the programme contains practical tools, didactic materials and activities aimed at both teachers and schoolchildren.

To update and share the teaching content, the FOP works in a network with universities, environmental education departments of the administrations and other organizations that also have environmental education programmes supported by the image of the bear.

SOCIAL PARTICIPATION

The informative campaigns among the local population are fundamental to favour the social acceptance of the bear. The FOP develops information and awareness activities aimed at social, economic, and institutional actors linked to the bear and, especially, to the groups most affected by its presence. Improving knowledge and appreciation of the bear favours the participation of stakeholders in the conservation processes of the species.

For the FOP, the creation of participatory structures and environmental governance is essential to foster dialogue and consensus, and facilitate interactions between social actors and administrations in the processes of biodiversity conservation. All this helps to prevent conflicts, to find solutions and alternatives to the problems, and provides greater legitimacy to the measures and actions regarding the conservation of the brown bear.

BEAR HOUSES

Bear Houses are thematic centres with contents related to the ecology and the conservation problems and challenges of the brown bear, as well as to the relationships of this emblematic species with humans with whom they share territory. The vocation of the Bear Houses is to become places of information and awareness about the brown bear and energising elements of the regions where they are located.

All Bear Houses are staffed by monitors selected from the residents of the municipalities where they are located, thus creating local employment.

LIFE PROJECTS

LIFE is the financial instrument of the European Union in support of community policies on the environment and biodiversity conservation. Without LIFE support, it would have been difficult to rescue the brown bear from the critical risk of extinction it was in 25 years ago. The FOP has co-ordinated or participated in 11 LIFE projects, and currently (2017) co-ordinates two projects (LIFE Bear Courel and LIFE Natura 2000 + Bear) and collaborates in another (PirosLife).

LIFE BEAR COUREL

“Actions to favour Cantabrian brown bear expansion to new territories in Sierra de Courel (Galicia, Spain)”.

The objective is to promote the long-term viability of the Cantabrian bear population, facilitating its expansion into new territories, guaranteeing connectivity, solving possible conflicts between humans and bears, and increasing information about the species and its acceptance among the local population.

LIFE Natura 2000 + Bear

“Living in Natura 2000 and living with bears in two small and endangered subpopulations”.

The aim is to improve the knowledge, awareness, and appreciation of Natura 2000 and the bear among the population that lives in the territories of the smallest and most threatened subpopulations of the Iberian Peninsula (Eastern Cantabrian and Western 23 Pyrenees), to spread the value of Natura 2000 and the bear as elements of social and economic development, to favour changes in attitudes and promote the creation of governance structures that contribute to a better conservation of Natura 2000 sites and of the two small brown bear subpopulations.

PirosLIFE

“Consolidation of a bear population in a fragmented management territory: Central Pyrenees”.

The project aims to consolidate the future of the bear in the Pyrenees in a favourable social environment, which implies objectives such as ensuring the genetic variability of the population, designing a network of connectivity spaces for the bear, minimizing attacks on livestock and beehives, and ultimately generating a climate of social acceptance and co- existence between bears and the inhabitants of the territories where the species lives.