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What Do the IUCN Categories Really Protect? A Case from the Alpine Regions in Spain
Abstract: Protected area (PA) coverage is used as an indicator of biodiversity protection worldwide. The effectiveness of using PAs as indicators has been questioned due to the diversity of designations included in such measures, especially those PAs established for other purposes than biodiversity protection. Although international standards have been developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the policies on the ground have been developed independently of the IUCN categories. This makes the use of IUCN categories dubious measures of biodiversity conservation. The World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) developed a framework for the evaluation of management effectiveness of PAs, based on six stages (context, planning, inputs, process, outputs and outcomes). This evaluation method has often been confined to the study of outputs and outcomes. Generally, monitoring of populations and biodiversity has been the most commonly used approach for evaluation, but such evaluations are costly and do not always allow for comparisons of parks. A management plan is crucial for effective management of the parks and for guidance on how biodiversity should be prioritized against other goals. The evaluation of management plans using standardized coding schemes and content analysis is a useful tool that can be reproduced in other studies, allowing comparisons between different parks, regions and countries. In addition, it allows the detection of management weaknesses from the beginning of the protection process. We therefore analyzed the aims and the regulations in management plans of alpine PAs in Spain, as a first step for evaluating the conservation performance. We used content analysis and CAiv to assess how aims and regulations vary in relation to three explanatory factors: IUCN categories, Vegetation Zones and Autonomous Communities. We found the aims of many parks to be vague, without clear indication on how to prioritize biodiversity goals. Furthermore only 45% of the alpine PAs actually have a management plan, which strengthens our argument about unclear guidance of PA management. Although aims could partly be related to IUCN categories, the regulations showed no clear relationship to international policies, which reflects that aims are not necessarily implemented in practice. The overall weak correspondence in management practices among PAs indicated that management is influenced by other factors than international standards. Devolution to Autonomous Communities could be one explanation for the large variation in management practices among parks. The Spanish Constitution passed in 1978 allowed Autonomous Communities declaring and managing PAs and resulted in a sudden declaration of many PAs, and also in a large difference in the development of protection in different parts of the country. In addition, the lack of policies that have coordinated the PA management of central and local governments has probably contributed to the large variation of aims and regulations. We did not find any effect of the alpine versus Mediterranean mountain vegetation zones on management policies. The analysis of management plans shows that clearly defined aims are needed. Aims are, however, not sufficient. Management practices also need to correspond to the prioritizations made in management plans. Obviously there also need to be a management plan for each park to guide prioritizations among a diversity of aims. Information about aims and management practices is needed to apply protected areas coverage as a measure of biodiversity protection. Finally, such evaluations of management plans could not replace the analyses of impacts on biodiversity, but is an important first step in evaluating management effectiveness.
Keywords: Protected areas, evaluation, management effectiveness, IUCN category, Content Analysis, CAiv, biodiversity, conservation performance, management plan, Spain, alpine, Alpine south, Mediterranean mountain, CBD, monitoring.