Conflicts with humans are an ongoing threat to the conservation status of brown bear (Ursus arctos) populations, not only in the project area, but in Europe generally, and steps must be taken to improve coexistence. Measures need to tackle such challenges as a lack of understanding of bears? socio-economic and environmental value, inflated estimations of the risk of bear attacks leading to a lower tolerance of bears, and high traffic-related mortality, associated with increased fragmentation of its habitat as a result of growing traffic infrastructure and urbanisation.
The LIFE DINALP BEAR project?s main objective was to establish a more strategic population - level approach to the conservation, management and monitoring of brown bear populations in Slovenia, Croatia, Italy and Austria. Other key aims included decreasing human-bear conflicts and promoting better coexistence between bears and humans. The ultimate goal was to encourage the natural expansion of brown bear from the Dinaric Mountains into the Alps.
The project developed management plans for the core brown bear population in Slovenia and Croatia. Bear populations in Slovenia have grown 40% in the past 10 years, and to ensure this trend continues, the project established population-level management and monitoring of brown bears across the Northern Dinaric Mountains and the Alps over four neighbouring countries: Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Italy. Furthermore, the project carried out measures to protect sheep populations from bear depredation, which resulted in a 43% decrease in incidences. Sheep farmers and beekeepers, who received the protection equipment through the project, reported a 97.5% decrease in annual damages.
Overall in Slovenia and Croatia, the project actions helped reduce bear mortalities on the road by 25% in the period 2016?2018 compared to the period 2013?2015, despite increases to the bear population. On mitigated road and railway sections in Slovenia and Croatia, bear traffic mortality was reduced by 63% over the same period. Additionally, 143 bear-proof garbage containers (100 foreseen) were produced in Slovenia, including: 68 innovative housing boxes for containers and 75 bear-proof small rubbish bins. In Croatia, 26 bear-proof containers were set on the selected locations on the highway Rijeka ? Zagreb.
Another outcome of the project was the inclusion of spatial requirements for bears in environmental impact assessment studies and the identification of key habitat areas for connectivity. Public authority experts were additionally trained in bear monitoring, damage assessment and damage prevention using non-lethal measures. Finally, more than 70 companies, which produce over 100 products and services applied for the bear-friendly label in Slovenia and Croatia, and nearly 90 000 items received the label.
The project raised awareness in the region of the challenges of bear conservation, producing a range of printed materials, while organising activities such as lectures, workshops, exhibitions. The response from the public was exceptional, and media reports on bears in the project area (more than 350 in total) were largely positive. A total 77 workshops were held in schools, kindergartens and scouting and environmental organisations, reaching 1 535 students, 396 scouts and 4 500 visitors of scouting events, while 83 public events about the project attracted 30 596 visitors.
The upgrading of management plans in Italy and Croatia ensures the continuation of many aspects of the project. The project contributed to the creation of two measures (protection of livestock with electric fences and livestock guarding dogs) in the Slovenian EU?s rural development plan (RDP) financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). Electric fences are being subsidised by the state. The initially planned range of the Guidelines for Common Management of northern Dinaric brown bear population with the attention to management of Alpine brown bear population was significantly extended on the WISO platform ? they were adopted on the level of the Alpine Convention for all its members. Guidelines for Bear Intervention Groups were approved by all project partners and implemented in the project areas in Italy, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).