The case study region is located in the Central Valais, a continental mountain area in the Swiss Alps. It includes the economically growing urban center Visp, the touristic Saas valley and the remote Baltschieder valley, and has a total of 11 municipalities. It covers an area of 443.3 km2 and it is home to 15,346 residents. Unproductive land accounts for 62% of the area, while 20% is covered by forest and 16% is cultivated by agriculture.
Exploring which policy strategies can balance the supply of and demand for mountain ecosystem services in the future? Mountains provide many ecosystem services to both, people living in and outside the mountains. In the Swiss Alps study area, the number of farms abandoned is increasing and traditional farming systems are in decline. Therefore, as in many European mountain regions, the provision of essential services is at risk. At the same time, touristic activities and settlement development enhance local demand for ecosystem services. New and integrated strategies in agricultural, forestry and spatial planning policy are needed that counteract this mismatch in the future.
Our research activities will support a planning and decision-making process in the case study that (i) is transparent and backed by society, (ii) integrates and coordinates different sectoral policies as well as the broader public and experts, and (iii) develops flexible spatially explicit regional solutions to push new adaption strategies for maintaining a sustainable level of ecosystem services. Thus, our actions contribute to the development of more efficient and effective policy and Ecosystem Services management options in the region (operational benefits) and to the engagement and the sensitization of a wider audience (reputational benefits).
The outcomes will contribute to an improved understanding of the interlinked social-ecological dynamics in mountain regions characterized by high touristic activities, settlement expansion, and a mismatch between a high demand for cultural Ecosystem Services and a decreasing number of farmers cultivating the traditional landscape. Once tested in other mountain regions with similar societal and institutional setting, our results could lead to generalized resilience-building policy strategies for mountain systems.
Direct contact with practitioners in the field is crucial to engage the broader public.~Including local knowledge, perceptions, values and thoughts is essential for developing regional policy strategies.~