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Community Forest Governance in Italy part 2: context, and settling in

Kate Swade

This is Luke Whaley‘s second blog post for us – a preview of his three case studies of historic community governance arrangements in the Dolomites of northern Italy…

In the first blog instalment, I outlined the scope of a short-term research placement I am undertaking. Here I am exploring forms of community-based governance, known as “regole”, in the Dolomites region of the Italian Alps. The research itself has been awarded as part of an EU-funded project concerned with forest land ownership changes in Europe. In this second instalment, I shall provide a brief overview of my situation and experience thus far, as well as the rationale behind the case studies that have been decided upon. This will hopefully provide a little context for the research.

To begin at the beginning; having flown into Venice’s Marco Polo airport, I took the bus to the nearby city of Padova. Here I was greeted by my host, Professor Paola Gatto, from the University of Padova’s Department for Land, Environment, Agriculture, and Forestry (LEAF). The University itself is thought to be the second oldest in the world (after Bologna), with a hall of fame that includes the likes of Galileo Galilee, Copernicus, and Vesalio.

The first few days of the trip were spent in Padova. Here I became acquainted with a number of the staff and research students at LEAF; conducted a seminar on my work into adaptive water governance back in the UK; and made use of the University’s facilities to undertake preliminary desk-based research on the regole of the Dolomites.

From Padova, I travelled north by train to the town of Belluno, capital of the Province of Belluno, in the Italian Alps. I was met by Dr Nathan Deutsch, a Canadian researcher who specialises in community-based natural resource management, and now lives in Belluno with his wife and family. Before arriving in Italy, Nathan and I had been in contact several times about the possibility of jointly researching into the regole. Nathan’s input has proven invaluable, as not only does he speak Italian but he has also conducted a small amount of explorative research into the regole on previous occasions.

From Belluno we drove to Padova University’s forest research centre, in the small town of San Vito di Cadore. I am based here for the duration of my stay in the Dolomites. San Vito is cloistered in the heart of the Boite Valley, which, if you follow it northwards for 15 kilometres or so, leads to the town of Cortina in the broader, bowl-shaped Ampezzo Valley, famed for its scenic beauty.

The Boîte valley showing the town of San Vito

The Boîte valley showing the town of San Vito

The valley slopes of the Dolomites region, often gentle, sometimes steep, are a mosaic of spruce, pine, larch, fir, and beech, interspersed with areas of open grazing pasture and soft-green meadow. This is the original collective property of the regole – their “patrimonio antico” (ancient patrimony) – an agro-silvo-pastoral landscape that has been jointly managed and utilised by the village communities in this area, in some cases for many hundreds of years. Above the valleys, the vast stone outcrops of the Dolomites rise up, towering over their surroundings like giant snow-capped sentinels.

Having already made contact with several of the regole in the area prior to my visit, the first task for Nathan and I was to work out a clear research agenda, and to identify particular case studies. After agreeing on an approach, we used what knowledge we had of those regole for whom we had contacts, and decided to focus on the regole pertaining to three geographical areas in particular.

The first of these is Cortina, which encompasses a federation of eleven individual regole, known as the Regole d’Ampezzo, that have formally come together in order to govern their territory in conjunction with the local municipality, and within the wider mandates of institutions that include the Region of Venice, the State, and the European Union. The Regole d’Ampezzo were one of the first, and still the most prominent, regole to reassert themselves after the historical changes which for several hundred years proved so hostile to regole and other mountain community institutions (as described in the previous blog instalment).

Perhaps the most notable feature of the Regole d’Ampezzo is that they are in charge of managing a Natural Regional Park that comprises the whole northern section of their territory, and which today is recognised as a World Heritage Site. The territory surrounding Cortina has also for many years been a popular tourist destination, and since the middle of the last century has established itself as a retreat for the rich and famous. Alongside the ski slopes, fancy hotels, and second homes, a different form of tourism has also emerged, one based more on the socio-cultural features of the area and immersion in nature.

The Cortina

The Cortina

The second case study is Comelico, an area in a neighbouring valley that is home to sixteen regole. However, unlike in Cortina, for various reasons that we are keen to explore, the regole of Comelico have not formally joined forces. Indeed, they appear very different in a number of key ways. Not least among these, reports portray them as more insular and less open to working both with each other and with outsiders. Furthermore, unlike Cortina, which has been a popular tourist destination for sixty years or more (it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956), it is only since the late 1980s, with the development of a new road, that Comelico has become more easily accessible. Nonetheless, changes are underway and these regole represent an interesting point of comparison with Cortina’s.

The final case study is San Vito, with a geographical domain that incorporates the combined territory of three neighbouring regole. Although much smaller, this case appears interesting for a number of reasons. Among these is San Vito’s proximity to Cortina, which must have affected its development trajectory and the sorts of challenges it has faced, as well as new management initiatives that are being undertaken or that have been proposed by the regole. These include the management of certain areas of forest in the regole’s territory, parts of which have come under private ownership but where it appears that this land could be more effectively managed at a larger scale.

The next step is to arrange and conduct interviews with key representatives from the three case studies. These should help to confirm or question the relevance of the issues we have decided to look into, as well as raise questions around other issues that we have perhaps not yet considered. In the meantime, however, I think I might go look at some mountains…


Click here for the next blog in this series, on community forest governance structures in the Italian Dolomites, and how they’ve changed over the years.


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