Switzerland

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  • Date: 7/16/2014

“Its founding was a pioneering achievement” 

Interview with: Heinrich Haller, Director of the Swiss National Park

The Swiss National Park is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Which do you feel have been the biggest changes it has undergone over the past few years?

There haven’t been many changes in terms of nature – with just a few exceptions, that side of things develops rather slowly. What has changed, however, is how we operate: The last 20 years have seen our workload triple and our staff double. Associated with this is a striking increase in the services we offer, particularly with regard to research and education.

Why does Switzerland need the National Park? And what roles does it play?

The Swiss National Park (SNP) is our country’s most important nature reserve, the first national park in the Alps and as a wilderness area it enjoys the highest degree of protection. In its capacity as an outdoor laboratory, the park is an ideal place for conducting research; as a refuge for intact nature it offers unique experiences and great educational potential. The SNP is also essential for tourism in the region.

How can you check animal populations? Are animals in the park selectively culled or is this also something that is left up to nature?

A reliable monitoring method is used to count selected species of animals and other things found in nature. No steps are taken to regulate populations because the SNP’s philosophy is to “let nature take its course”. And we’ve only had good experiences with this approach. I should mention, however, that the park’s many red deer, most of which only live in the SNP for six months in the summer, are hunted and regulated outside the park after they migrate in the fall.

How important is the park for research on the habitats of flora and fauna?

The SNP is one of the world’s most thoroughly researched areas. Quite a large number of the findings are of fundamental importance, and not just for the areas within the park itself. For instance, research performed at the National Park has achieved trailblazing results that receive a great deal of international attention and which have contributed to our understanding of the natural development of vegetation, the forest vs. deer debate as well as environmentally-friendly ways of handling residual water from water power plants.

Have you seen any significant climate changes in the National Park?

Climate warming is ubiquitous. We’ve discovered that several different species of animals are currently living at higher average altitudes than they did just a few decades ago. While there’s still a bit of space for upward shifts in the Engadin, that’s not always the case in some other areas. These findings are signs of a fundamental, widespread change that will impact us humans quite directly in a variety of ways.

Do you think the Swiss population has become more aware of the importance of protecting our natural habitats over the past few years?

Yes, in fact I’m quite certain of that. One expression of this is the creation of the Swiss Parks Network; no less than 14 regional nature parks have been established in our country during the past seven years. Ecology is a subject that currently permeates all of society and influences nearly every political party. Living our lives with a greater focus on environmental friendliness will pay off in the future. After all, nature is nothing less than the basis of our existence.

How do you increase public awareness of nature and the environment?

With the amazing wealth of experiences that can be found at the SNP (which speak volumes) and numerous offerings which extend from excursions to cultural events. Right now I’d recommend attending the outdoor spectacle LAINA VIVA. Performances are scheduled between mid-July and mid-August in Zernez and will feature a surprising portrayal of the unbelievable story of how the Swiss National Park was founded.

How do you convey an understanding of the park to the younger generation and get them to appreciate its value?

Here, too, we have quite a range of options offered including the Champlönch Children’s Trail (with a digital guide) and other adventure trails or the Dis d’aventüra (Adventure Days) and winter activities. Local school groups are invited to take part in the latter two. Our goal is to ensure that youths from the Engadin and Val Müstair have two to three (positive) experiences at the SNP during their time at school.

Where do you find the funding you need to finance the National Park’s further development? Are you planning any more major investments?

Over the past few years we have carried out elaborate projects like the National Park Centre and special activities commemorating the park’s 100th anniversary. These activities received not only public funding but a large amount of it came from businesses and foundations. As an institution with a systematic focus on top-notch quality and an excellent reputation, we are capable of finding sponsors who are able to make substantial contributions toward the SNP’s projects.

 

What is the biggest motivational factor behind your commitment to the National Park?

 

The SNP is firmly ingrained in who I am, for me it’s more than just a job. This unique area already fascinated me more than 40 years ago as a field researcher. Since then, the SNP has become my home and I’m still thankful every day that I have the honor of being able to work here – together with an excellent team. The National Park’s founding 100 years ago was an unprecedented pioneering achievement; a timeless masterpiece born of a commendable spirit. Having the chance to attend to this masterpiece for a while and help it evolve fills me with a profound sense of satisfaction.

 

Heinrich Haller

Heinrich Haller
Director of the Swiss National Park