Marta Gandolfi, Autonomous Province of Trento, Forests and Wildlife Department
Claudio Groff, Member: European Brown Bear Expert Team and Human–Bear Conflicts Expert Team IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Paolo Pedrini, MUSE – Science Museum of Trento, Vertebrate Zoology Research Section

Brown bears (Ursus arctos) have always been present in the Alps, but in the late 1990s only few free-ranging individuals remained in Trentino (Northern Italy, Central-Eastern Alps).  Thus, in the early 2000s, 10 bears were reintroduced, within a LIFE Project, from Slovenia. Since then, the brown bear population has grown to about 60 individuals, inhabiting the western part of Trentino and coexisting with people and human activities. This successful establishment of a new bear population has required an efficient and effective communication strategy, which the Autonomous Province of Trento has worked on since the beginning of the reintroduction project, trying to constantly improve it during the years, with new activities and tools.
Communication about large carnivores is essential for their conservation worldwide. People often have an exaggerated sense of fear and alarmism about large carnivores, which is harmful to conservation efforts that rely on acceptance of their coexistence in human-populated areas. An efficient communication strategy has to deal with this misinformation, trying to minimize its occurrence and its impact.
Attempts to adapt and improve communication while the Trentino bear population grew have occurred in 3 phases over the past 20 years.

First phase
During 2002–2009, the first few years after the brown bear reintroduction, communication efforts were directed at informing people about bears and the newly bolstered population in the territory. This phase focused on the dissemination of facts and information about the ecology, distribution and history of the species.

In 2003, the first communication project was called “Let’s know the brown bear!”.  It included activities and initiatives to inform the community (young and adult) about the brown bear, its biology and main characteristics. It included didactic activities, laboratories for schools, and informative materials targeted at different groups. The same year we created a dedicated web site (www.grandicarnivori.tn.it) on large carnivores in Trentino, with many pages devoted to brown bear ecology, conservation and management.
In 2004, the first “Protocol of communication in critical situations” was launched.  The purpose was to spread information related to certain critical situations (e.g. bear attacks on humans, accidents with problematic bears, etc.).  This was intended to counter false alarmism, which was expected to occur.

Second phase
During this phase (2010–2015), we addressed the issues associated with a rapidly growing bear population.  This necessitated direct information channels with local authorities and local public. It began with the publication of the PACOBACE (Action Plan for the Conservation of the Brown bear in the Central-Eastern Alps), with the aim of informing people about the management aspects expected with the brown bears in Trentino. We also focused on fact-checking and creating relationships and dialogue with the local journalists.

In 2011, a “Round Table with Breeders, Beekeepers and Farmers” was created, from which we organized public meetings with these important stakeholders. Then a “Round Table of Participation and Information”, was established to meet all the stakeholders (private associations, parks, mountain clubs, touristic agencies, others) working for bear conservation. Last, a “Round Table for the Communication on Brown Bear” was created, gathering all the local institutions working to communicate about brown bears.
The 3 Round Tables continue to meet several times each year.

Third phase
Since 2016 our communication efforts have been based on a new “Brown Bear Communication Plan” aiming at a wider scale.  It contains a comprehensive information strategy including innovative actions planned at many different levels.

The new Communication Plan (technically started in 2017), involves the Press Office and the Forest and Wildlife Department of the Autonomous Province of Trento, the Science Museum of Trento, and Adamello Brenta Natural Park, and aims to enhance social acceptance of the bear. The plan provides information deeper into the community with more attention to some critical aspects, such as the best human responses in case of bear encounters and how to act when frequenting bear territory. Some improvements have already been made, such a revision of the web site, with upgrades and new sections, including a “true or false news?” page for fact checking and a “map of females with cubs” (https://grandicarnivori.provincia.tn.it/Orse-con-piccoli). It also includes specific training courses for journalists, teachers, environmental guides, touristic operators; new informative signs in the field telling people they are entering into a bear area; new educational activities (“large carnivores at school” laboratories) and more. Moreover, we keep networking and sharing ideas with all the institutions working on brown bear conservation in Trentino and also abroad, together with continuing local Round Tables. The public events (which began in the 1980s, well before the reintroductions) will start to be organized differently for different stakeholders. New actions are planned, such as the creation of a new logo, new concept and coordinated theme and many other new project ideas which will be implemented in the near future.

Scheme of the communication tools adopted in Trentino (I)

Scheme of the communication tools adopted in Trentino (I)

Creating a new, thriving brown bear population in Europe was relatively easy insofar as moving bears into the area and letting them do their thing, but managing the human responses has been a challenge that has required continual effort, innovation, and adaptation.

Acknowledgements
The Forest and Wildlife Department works with many local institutions (MUSE – Science Museum of Trento, Adamello Brenta Natural Park, SAT (Alpine Club), WWF Trentino, Trentino Marketing, Trentino Hunters Association, FEM – Edmund Mach Foundation), volunteers and other people interested in brown bear conservation, which, according with their aims and at different levels, help to inform the community about brown bears. This network has proven to be very important for the effectiveness of the Communication Strategy. Our thanks go to all of them.

Marta Gandolfi

Autonomous Province of Trento, Forests and Wildlife Department
MUSE – Science Museum of Trento, Vertebrate Zoology Research Section
Trento, Italy
E-mail: marta.gandolfi@muse.it

Claudio Groff

Member: European Brown Bear Expert Team and Human–Bear Conflicts Expert Team IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Autonomous Province of Trento, Forests and Wildlife Department
Trento, Italy
Email: claudio.groff@provincia.tn.it

Paolo Pedrini

MUSE – Science Museum of Trento, Vertebrate Zoology Research Section
Trento, Italy

originally published in International Bear News 2018 Fall Vol. 27 No. 3 on pages 42-43