14 2 5 3 77 Alpine Nature 2030 Creating ecological connectivity for generations to come 2 5 Netzwerk Naturwald An innovative network of protected areas in the Northern Limestone Alps Christoph NITSCH National Park O ö Kalkalpen Ges m b H Molln Austria In 2010 the Northern Limestone Alps region in the heart of Austria was honoured as one of ve Pilot Re gions for ecological connectivity in the Alps within the Platform for Ecological Connectivity of the Alpine Convention The region is a worthy recipient of this award and can be justi ably proud of it Three inter nationally accredited protected areas re ect the great richness of natural gems here two of them are national parks Kalkalpen National Park and Gesäuse National Park both IUCN category II and one is the only wilder ness area in the heart of Europe Wilderness Dürren stein IUCN category I In 2012 these three protected areas gathered together within Netzwerk Naturwald which means network of natural forests Under the lead of Kalkalpen National Park this Netzwerk Naturwald adopted the role of trailblazer in establishing an innovative collection of protected areas on a regional level Initially signi cant data collection was required for modelling a network supporting pres ervation of biodiversity This network was based on less mobile inhabitants of natural forest like bats xylobion tic insects and specialised birds and aimed to connect the core habitats of the protected areas via a corridor of selected stepping stones Since then the stepping stone concept has been effectively implemented This innovative concept aims to connect habitats of the protected areas with a long term perspective By full conservation of carefully selected stepping stones embedded in a matrix of sustainably used forests the maximum enhancement of connectivity can be gained with limited funding It is an important approach within Netzwerk Natur wald to combine conservation measures with sus tainable land use in a clever recipe As forestry is an important economic factor in this structurally under privileged region far from the urban areas further implementation of large strictly protected areas would likely be unpopular with a majority of the people living in this region However regional popular support for conservation measures is one of the key elements for successful long term conservation policies Therefore a well considered choice of areas dedicated to connec tivity is necessary To nd the most effective stepping stone areas modelling within specialised GIS based software was performed and the results nally led to a prioritised list of potential stepping stone areas The results of planning work were published in a proposal that focuses not only on the environmental protection and conservation but also on the potential of the re gion as an outstanding example of sustainable nature based regional development Implementation of Netzwerk Naturwald s plan was also innovative All activities were based on voluntary participation via bilateral contracts In this way three stepping stones identi ed as prior ity areas were conserved for the long term About 130 hectares were removed from forestal use perma nently and in exchange for this landowners received a one time payment So these areas have been dedi cated to ecological connectivity perpetually without concern for future nancing as would be the case with comparable short term contracts Areas remain property of the previous landowners but are taken out of forestal use This brings several administrative and nancial advantages not only for Netzwerk Naturwald but also for the landowners involved The rst of these contracts was completed in autumn 2014 in cooperation with the Styrian federal state for ests SLF It involved a stepping stone of about 40 hec tares within natural forest in Styria on a direct route from Kalkalpen National Park to Gesäuse National Park In June 2015 together with the competent Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture Forestry Environment and Water Management BMLFUW and the Austrian State Forests ÖBf AG two more stepping stones were created All three areas are important links in the eco logical network connecting the outstanding habitats in the protected areas Both landowners are important partners within Netzwerk Naturwald as about two

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