The municipalities in the most critical brown bear areas in Spain will lead a LIFE project to promote coexistence, together with the Brown Bear Foundation and the regional Governments of Asturias and Castilla y Leon

The municipalities in the most critical brown bear areas in Spain will lead a LIFE project to promote coexistence, together with the Brown Bear Foundation and the regional Governments of Asturias and Castilla y Leon

The municipalities in the most critical brown bear areas in Spain will lead a LIFE project to promote coexistence, together with the Brown Bear Foundation and the regional Governments of Asturias and Castilla y Leon 2560 1440 Fundación Oso Pardo

Nine municipalities in the western Cantabrian mountains, which host the highest density of brown bears in Spain, will be the main actors in a new conservation Project supported by the European Union’s LIFE Programme. “LIFE Human Bear Coex”, coordinated by the Fundacion Oso Pardo (FOP – Brown Bear Foundation), aims to prevent the incursion of bears to villages and their surroundings, as well as to mitigate possible conflicts with the species in those areas with larger populations of the species.

Although the Cantabrian brown bear is still endangered, the species is moving away from the brink of extinction, with around 370 individuals in 2020 according to data from the last census. This recovery, together with the bears’ capacity to adapt and the changes that have taken place in rural areas in recent decades, is associated with an increase in human-bear interactions.

«The recovery of the Cantabrian brown bear is a conservation success story, recognised beyond our borders, and one of its key drivers has been the constant dialogue and agreements with the local communities», explains the president of the FOP, Guillermo Palomero. «With this LIFE project, the inhabitants of the territory get together to keep the bear away from the villages, a key challenge to ensure the future of the species».

The involvement of the territory is at the heart of the project, as the 9 municipalities where it will be developed – Somiedo, Belmonte de Miranda, Proaza, Cangas del Narcea, Degaña and Ibias, in Asturias, and Villablino, Páramo del Sil and Palacios del Sil in León – act as Project Partners: an uncommon level of local involvement in a LIFE project.

The regional goverments of Castilla y León and Asturias support it as Project Associates. Over the years, they have been implement measures to favour the coexistence between bears and human activities – compensating damages, subsidising electric fencing and other deterrent equipment. Both governments have established field teams of specialised staff to apply the negative conditioning measures to bears with a tendency to habituate. The Fundación Patrimonio Natural de Castilla y León and the Fundación Oso de Asturias participate as collaborators, providing equipment and personnel for the information and awareness-raising actions.

The project, which will last four and a half years, has a total budget of 4,200,000 euros, with 75% of the funds provided by the European Union’s LIFE programme.
The project’s main actions fall into three key areas: prevention, management of human-bear interactions, and information, awareness and environmental education campaigns.

Creating Jobs and capacity for local workers

The prevention actions aim to keep bears away from villages. They will be carried out by three teams managed by the local councils themselves, two in Asturias and one in León, staffed by unemployed people from the local area. Besides creating rural jobs, the project will train these local workers and provide them with tools and vehicles. The mission of these local teams will be to maintain security perimeters in the villages and on paths by clearing bush vegetation to avoid interactions with bears, clearing around a hundred paths.

A brown bear eating wild cherries in the Cantabrian mountains. Picture by Fundacion Oso Pardo.

They will also remove illegal accumulations of rubbish or other attractants. These actions are expected to reach at least 120 villages, providing comfort to local residents.
These teams will also undertake the planting of 50,000 native fruit trees, distributed in 250 groves located far away from the villages. The aim is to generate food resources for bears in the Bush, that will discourage them from seeking easy food sources in human settlements.

Immediate response to human-bear interactions

The actions to manage conflicts with bears will be carried out by a FOP specialised team, which will resolve problematic situations by removing elements that attract bears on a recurring basis. Domestic animal facilities, chicken coops, fruit trees and other assets will be protected using 200 solar-powered fences, metal mesh and other prevention elements. Bear repelling techniques –including 90 electronic systems based on sound, ultrasound and light– will be tested experimentally. The project will closely monitor their effectiveness and usefulness in order to replicate the experience in the future.

The project will install 45 bear containers and 45 container-covering structures in collaboration with and complementing the initiatives of both Regional Governments, as well as exploring other innovative ways to prevent bears from accessing rubbish.

A young bear looking for garbage inside a container. Picture by Fundacion Oso Pardo.

Both in Castilla y León and Asturias, the administrations have been successfully developing bear collaring and radio-tracking programmes, prioritising those specimens with behaviours of habituation to easy food in population environments. In this sense, the LIFE project supports the programme in Asturias – the collaring and monitoring of 10 bears involved in recurrent approaches to villages, possible habituation or conditioning to food sources is planned throughout the whole Project.

Information, awareness-raising and environmental education campaigns

The campaign will include more than 160 talks and meetings with the residents of the 9 municipalities, to inform about the causes and consequences of the presence of bears in the villages, and to discuss how to prevent it. Information will be provided on good practices for garbage disposal and, meanwhile, an environmental education campaign will reach 2,300 schoolchildren in 27 rural schools.

A rural community in southwestern Asturias, sorrounded by prime brown bear habitat. Picture by Fundacion Oso Pardo. 

Furthermore, considering the importance of the project for the future conservation and management of the Cantabrian Brown Bear population, the project envisages the establishment of an advisory and management committee both autonomous communities, made up of representatives of all the participating administrations, experts and technicians.

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