What is Life +?
LIFE+ is the EU’s financial instrument, initiated in 1992, dedicated to environmental policy development and implementation.
LIFE+ co-finances projects in three environmental areas (Nature and Biodiversity, Environment Policy and Governance and Information and Communication). First of them, LIFE+ Nature and Biodiversity, focus on habitats and species conservation in Nature 2000, as is the case of Cantabrian Brown Bear.
Since 1992, in the Cantabrian Mountains different LIFE programs have been developed for the conservation of brown bear. In five of them the Brown Bear Foundation (Fundación Oso Pardo, FOP) has participated, been the project coordinator in three.
Life + Brown bear corridors project
LIFE+ project Corridors for Cantabrian Brown Bear Conservation will be developed between 2009 and 2011 in two areas: the Interpopulation Corridor and the Leitariegos Corridor.
The Cantabrian brown bear, Ursus arctos, is considered a “priority species” and a “species of community interest in need of strict protection“ by the European Community Habitat Directive (Annexes II and IV). In Spain, they have been protected since 1973 and also included on the Spanish Catalogue of Endangered Species, at “endangered category.
In the Cantabrian Mountains there are about 130 bears, divided into two subpopulations almost isolated from a genetic point of view. The bear’s usual area of distribution is about 5,000 square kilometres. They can be found in Lugo (Galicia), León and Palencia (Castilla-León), Asturias and Cantabria. Sporadically, some specimens can also be found further from this area.
The western subpopulation is populated by about 100 bears while the eastern one has about 30 bears. Both subpopulations are separated by a 50 km-wide area known as Interpopulation Corridor, to which most of the actions on this project are aimed. This corridor is sporadically used by the bear as the evidences show almost every year.
The corridor seems to be well-kept and it owns adequate conditions to be roamed around by the bears on a regular basis. Passing through one of the subpopulation to the other can involve some difficulties because of different developments, such as the León-Asturias highway, built in the 80s, which has reduced dramatically the communication corridor. To this, a conventional railway must be added, apart from a high-speed train railway, a reservoir and a ski resort, to mention just a few.
The conexion of the two subpopulations seems the main measure to solve the low genetic variability.
Within the western subpopulation, in the Leitariegos corridor and its surroundings, we can find a third of the breeding female bears, so this is so important and it has also got one of the best forested areas. However, in this western subpopulation, females with cubs are heavily concentrated and with a risk of fragmentation, and that is why actions keeping and improving habitat quality and reducing fragmentation risk are recommended.
What are the main threats for brown bears in corridors?
Despite of the increase in the number of bears, this population is still jeopardized. The main problems and threats are the following
1. The splitting of the Cantabrian brown bear population into two different isolated subpopulations. The Cantabrian brown bears are divided into two subpopulations, isolated demographically and genetically. This is a serious problem taking into account that these subpopulations have got a low rate of genetic variability and a small number of bears in each—specially in the eastern one.
The Interpopulation Corridor, about 50 kilometres wide, isolates both populations so it is essential to join both populations together. To achieve this, the main point is to put in practice social measures as sensitizing and informing local people, giving support to social and economic agents in the area and establishing good practices to manage the corridor.
2. Low genetic variability
The long-term future for a population lies on keeping enough genetic variability to assure individual survival and the population adaptation. In small populations, such as the Cantabrian brown bear, nature problems can jeopardize their survival as much as actual threats can do. That is why it is essential to assure the connection between both subpopulations to sort this problem out, carrying out the same set of actions mentioned above.
3. Risks of fragmentation in the western subpopulation
Within the western subpopulation there is an area, known as Leitariegos Corridor, which narrows and if this goes on, it would become a serious fragmentation threat for the population. It is essential to improve the habitat conditions, encouraging bears to use this corridor. In order to do so, this LIFE+ project will buy pastures and woodlands and will plant new lands apart from many other actions to inform people.
4. Anthropogenic mortality
Despite the decrease in the number of anthropogenic mortality rates in the past few years, there is still some (mainly by poisoning and shooting). Also snare wires, specially in the western subpopulation, which cripples or kills these animals. That is why it is crucial to have a field team working together with local authorities and the environmental police against snare wires and poisons as well as public sensitization and education.
5. Habitat loss
Habitat loss is caused by different reasons—mainly due to economical activities or those related to different land uses—with this project we try to fight this back by improving the habitat mainly on the Leitariegos Corridor, planting and buying land. It also helps to devise a reference Good Practice Handbook to manage the corridors in the bear area, stating adequate criteria for all the activities.
Area of application and objectives
The Interpopulation Corridor spread over the municipalities of Barrios de Luna, Cármenes, Pola de Gordón, Sena de Luna, Valdelugueros, Vegacervera and Villamanín (León province), and Aller and Lena (Principality of Asturias), while the Leitariegos Corridor is situated in the municipalities of Villablino (León), Degaña and Cangas del Narcea (Asturias).
Although the general objective of this project is to contribute to the recovery of the brown bear in the Cantabrian Mountains, the specific objectives could be summarized as:
OBJECTIVE 1: To favour the linking of both bear subpopulations through actions directed specifically to facilitate a favourable social climate and measures aimed at managing the landscape and habitats in the area between both subpopulations (Interpopulation Corridor).
OBJECTIVE 2: To facilitate a natural flow of Cantabrian brown bears between subpopulations and, therefore, the genetic exchange, by removing bear risks such as illegal snares and poisoning in the corridor (Interpopulation Corridor).
OBJECTIVE 3: To reinforce bear connectivity in the Leitariegos area (narrowing intrapopulation corridor between Leon and Asturias, in the western subpopulation) in order to reduce fragmentation risks in the distribution area of the western Cantabrian brown bear subpopulation.
Organization and financing
This LIFE+ project, coordinated by Brown Bear Foundation (Fundación Oso Pardo, FOP), has two co-financiers: the Fundación Biodiversidad from the Spanish Environmental Ministry and the Social Trust of Caixa Catalunya.
The project has as colaborators all the Regional and Local Authorities in the area: the regional governments of Junta de Castilla y León and Principality of Asturias, and the municipal government of Los Barrios de Luna, Cármenes, La Pola de Gordón, Sena de Luna, Valdelugueros, Vegacervera, Villablino and Villamanín (Castilla y León), Aller, Cangas del Narcea, Degaña and Lena (Asturias).
One of our goals is to create a favourable social climate in the INTERPOPULATION CORRIDOR by gaining local involvement from all those who are acting on the area by:
-Co-operative actions with local authorities which will be embodied in different collaboration agreements.
-Training, informative and also participative actions aimed to council technicians, game and administration rangers, and the Spanish environmental police—SEPRONA. Some meetings will be held with the different local inhabitants, who will be identified by activity sectors. Also, there will be two organized visits to another areas with bear populations where the bear presence has become a development opportunity.
-Creating a field team consisting of two local inhabitants who will take part in several actions: supporting the search and removing illegal snares and poisoned baits, supporting hunters encouraging their good hunting practices respectful with the bear presence, co-operative actions with beekeepers delivering electric fences to protect their beehives or the environmental school activities with children.
– A school campaign for children of any age and for all the students in the interpopulation corridor, with activities such as games, lectures or country excursions.
On the LEITARIEGOS CORRIDOR, to avoid the splitting of the western subpopulation, it is planned to buy pastures and woodlands and to plant 30 hectares of pastures with fruit trees and different tree species to provide bears with shelter and food. Apart from that, it will be written managing plans at the bought woodlands and the land-owners will be advised, promoting the conservation and good use practices on the land, both compatible with bears.
In BOTH CORRIDORS are proposed other different actions:
– The use of good practices managing the corridors by creating a Good Practice Handbook, wich will guide civil services, economic and social agents and local population. This action is followed by the dissemination of the Good Practice Handbook.
– Preparatory actions pursuing to report the civil services which take part on the project field.
– A sensitizing and dissemination programme consisting of the production of leaflets, semester bulletins and a didactic poster and a clear visibility of the project on a web site or on the noticeboards scattered throughout the whole area, preparation and dissemination of Layman’s report, or experience exchange with similar projects
In order to control the project, monitoring activities will be executed and an external audit will be carried out at the end of the project.