The remigration of the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus), to Denmark, after 200 years of absence, has caused a series of conflicts, holding the potential to cause unseen challenges to nature management. Thereby, the situation in Denmark mirrors the situation in most other countries, where the wolf population has been either restored or reintroduced
Especially for people living close to wolf habitats, including areas where it is likely to return in the near future, the new top predator cause substantial concerns – substantiated or not – for attacks on people, pets and livestock. For hunters, a central concern regarding the wolf is the effect it has on game, thereby causing concerns for a negative effect on hunting.
In addition to these concerns directly related to the wolf, the presence of wolves also sparks strong emotional conflicts between people welcoming the wolf, and people perceiving the wolf primarily as a source of problems and concern. Experience from other countries, including Norway, Sweden and Finland, shows that these emotional conflicts can escalate to vandalism and violence, including illegal hunting/killing of wolves. In fact, illegal wolf hunting has proven to make the wolf management very difficult. The lack of a well-functioning wolf management can further escalate conflicts.
In Denmark, we are yet to reach the conflict level seen in many other countries, but we already today there are strong indications in Denmark that groups of citizens feel they don’t have a say in the wolf issue. This contribute to an increased lack of trust in governmental bodies responsible of wildlife management, as well as mutual stigmatisation between different parties. In order to avoid further escalation of these types of conflict, a proactive effort is needed.
On this basis, Centre for Adaptive Nature management, in collaboration with the Village Association of Idom-Råsted (Idom-Råsted Borgerforening), has launched a pilot project titled The Wolf Dialogue Project. The project is funded by 15. Juni Fonden (15. Juni Foundation) og Frands Christian Frandsens Studenterlegat (Frands Christian Frandsens Student Scholarship). The purpose of the pilot project is to address the wolf issue as a common challenge in a more constructive way. The project seeks to explore the potential for a more direct inclusion of the citizens affected by the wolves and the wolf debate. By inclusion is meant an equal dialogue, in which the affected citizens can address their general and specific concerns, as well as their questions and everyday life-experiences. Simultaneously, in close cooperation with the participating citizens, the potential for a more sustainable management will be explored. In short the objective of the pilot project is to answer the following three key questions:
The results of the pilot project will form the basis for a better understanding of conflict escalation and radicalisation processes in regards of wolf-management. This understanding will be relevant both in the Danish context, but also in other countries. If the pilot project proves to be a success, it is the ambition that the model applied can be up-scaled, and that relevant authorities will be more responsive to the integration of solutions presented by the citizen. Since the project is independent from authorities and special interest groups, it can offer no guarantee that it in fact will have any impact on the current management plan, however, the students and researchers behind the project will do their outmost to help the local citizens to make their voices heard.
The project runs under the direction of researcher Dr. Hans Peter Hansen, Centre for Adaptive Nature Management, Section for Wildlife Ecology, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, in collaboration with the Village Association of Idom-Råsted. The Village Association of Idom-Råsted is a joint association for the two parishes Idom and Råsted. The association initiate activities of common interests to the citizens, and represents the two communities’ general interests. The ambition of the association is to support local development, and to create a sense of community feeling amongst the citizens. The collaboration with the Village Association of Idom-Råsted is also connected to the Village-Lab (Landsbylaboratoriet). Rooted in the active, local community of Idom-Råsted, and with a broad cultural focus, the Village-Lab explores specific parameters needed to secure a thriving, developing local community.
Centre for Adaptive Nature Management and Section for Wildlife Ecology hold a strong research based knowledge about wolves and wolf conflicts in Denmark as well as in other parts of the world. Furthermore, the Centre has substantial experience with processes of citizen participation. Along with Dr. Hans Peter Hansen, the two Master students Caroline Mikkelsen, from Aarhus University’s Biology program and Cathrine Schrøder, from the program of Human Security (Environment and Conflict analysis), as well as ethnographer Dr. Laura Tolnov Clausen, makes up the research team behind the project.
In collaboration with the Village Association of Idom-Råsted an exploratory dialogue workshop was organised in the village of Idom 22nd August 2017. The purpose of the workshop was to invite the local citizens to participate in the before mentioned pilot project. 51 citizens from the local communities participated in the workshop and approximately 40 signed up for the process. Using the framework of the Critical-Utopian Citizen Dialogue methodology a space will be created for the citizens to express and share their thoughts and concerns regarding the current wolf situation. The citizens will, based on their own everyday life situation, their own knowledge and their own experiences and values, get an opportunity to develop their own ideas and visions for the future wildlife management. Furthermore the citizens will formulate their questions and get the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the most relevant expertise in order to strengthen and/or adjust their own visions for the future wolf management. At the end of the process, the citizens will present the outcome of their work for the wider community and for relevant authorities. The team from Centre for Adaptive Nature Management will support and facilitate the entire process. Summarised the process will offer the citizens a chance to:
The facilitating team from Centre for Adaptive Nature Management is committed to support the citizens during the entire process. The team will document the process and help the citizens to summarise their ideas into a concluding report. The team will also help the participants to present their ideas to the relevant authorities. At the end of the project, the process will be evaluated, after which it will be determined whether the project should continue in some form.
The Critical-Utopian Citizen Dialogue methodology has been developed through a number of research projects in Scandinavia during the last 30 years. It is rooted and inspired by the work of Austrian writer, journalist and grassroots activist Robert Jungk and his so-called Future Creation Workshop method developed in the post-era of The 2nd World War. Like the Future Creation Workshop method the Critical-Utopian Citizen Dialogue methodology is divided progressively into a number of different stages. Some basic communicative principles of discourse ethics guide the participants through the process. All participants participate as citizens, not as stakeholders or representatives of certain interest groups. The issues addressed in the process are based on the perspective of the commons. The everyday life perspective, including the knowledge, experiences and values of the participants is always the point of departure and the methodology encourages a future-oriented perspective, recognising the transformative force of social learning and the existence of potential solutions that are yet to be developed. A crucial feature of the methodology is that the necessary knowledge and knowledge-production, defined by the participants themselves, is integrated into the process, strengthening the social learning-process, as well as the ideas, visions and plans being developed.
The Critical-Utopian Citizen Dialogue methodology was initially developed within working life studies in the 1980s and 1990s but has during the new millennium been applied in various natural resource management research projects, including the context of nature conservation and wildlife management. The Critical-Utopian Citizen Dialogue methodology is a strong supplement to the Adaptive Management model and through Centre for Adaptive Nature Management the potential of combining both is further explored in experiments like the Wolf Dialogue project.