On Wednesday, April 5, a man was killed by a bear in Caldes, Trentino, something that has never been recorded before in Italy. The death of Andrea Papi, a 26-year-old mountain jogging enthusiast, sparked a very heated debate – something all too predictable to those who have followed in recent years the fraught issue of the coexistence of humans and large wild animals in the Autonomous Province of Trento, led by the Lega’s Maurizio Fugatti. According to the Lega side of the debate, such coexistence is impossible, in their fully anthropocentric view that says the only living beings that deserve protection are humans.
On Sunday, Fugatti’s party colleagues made a concerted effort to shift all the responsibility onto ISPRA, the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, one of the most important scientific institutions in the country:
“What happened in Caldes is a tragedy foretold, and ISPRA is the first that must be put on the stand. The Province of Trento had asked for urgent action against problematic large carnivores and the need to implement a bear containment plan as soon as possible, given their numbers, which have now become excessive taking into account the nature of the territory. But ISPRA has always stood in the way and ignored the appeals,” wrote the Lega’s group leaders in the Environment Committee in the Chamber, Gianpiero Zinzi, and in the Senate, Tilde Minasi, in a note also signed by deputy Vanessa Cattoi and senator Elena Testor.
“The ministerial institute has not given even minimal consideration to the proposals of the Province that sought to respond to the needs of the territory, but in fact tried to hinder the start of the test plan by proposing criteria that are not at all applicable in Trentino,” continues the statement by the parliamentarians, who are accusing ISPRA of being a useless institution. “The truth is that up until now, ISPRA has not been protecting the safety of citizens. We are faced with an endless series of bureaucrats who don’t make decisions, wash their hands of them, and people’s lives are caught in between.”
However, the Lega campaign has another agenda: to entrust “the management of large carnivores to individual territories.” Il manifesto asked ISPRA for a comment, but the institution preferred not to intervene so as not to fuel an acrimonious debate that is more political than scientific.
On Sunday, Fugatti signed a bear culling order, a response that smacks of retaliation. According to the National Animal Protection Board (ENPA), the Trentino president’s intention is to “exterminate the bears in the region.” It’s hard to explain otherwise the explicit authorization to kill the bear involved in the death of Andrea Papi as well as three other specimens (for reasons unclear), but also “to slaughter the bear population of Trentino, killing 50 specimens and reducing it to half,” explains a statement from the organization, whose legal department is following the evolution of the affair with extreme concern and is ready to appeal in court against any decision that might break the law.
According to ENPA, the war between Fugatti and the bears began in 2011, when the Lega politician tried to organize a banquet with bear meat. Today, according to ENPA, “the Province of Trento bears a clear political responsibility for the events in Caldes, given the fact that all the preventive systems that could have prevented this tragedy were not set up,” namely the development of ways of coexistence with the local community, which also involve communication and information. To understand this point of view, one needs to change one’s vantage point and also put bears at the center, not only humans.
According to Massimo Vitturi, head of the Wildlife Division of LAV, “the responsibility for this death lies with the Province of Trento, which for 24 years has not educated citizens on how to live with bears in the territory. It has not educated them on how to behave when encountering a bear, or on waste management and setting up anti-bear bins.”
These are two completely opposed ways of understanding the world. In order to seek common ground, Legambiente has asked the Environment Ministry to set up a conference between the ministry, the regions, the authorities of the protected areas and NGOs as soon as possible, because improving management and coexistence are the great challenge to be faced together. “This is the only way to prevent the start of a new witch hunt with bears as the target, with the risk of fueling and increasing fear in local communities and among tourists,” commented Legambiente’s national manager of protected areas and biodiversity, Antonio Nicoletti, and the president of Legambiente Trento, Andrea Pugliese.
Legambiente recalled that this is the first recorded case in Italy of a bear attack that ended with loss of life in the last 150 years, while there have been seven officially recorded episodes of bear attacks in the Italian Alpine area in recent years and a few dozen direct contacts between the animals and humans. According to Legambiente, it’s important to wait for the outcome of the official ISPRA report that will clarify the sequence of events in order to take the most appropriate action: for instance, it is crucial to understand whether the man who was killed hit the bear with a stick to protect himself, triggering the animal’s violent reaction.
The Lega is making a mush of things: linking the presence of predators to the depopulation of the mountain territories (actually caused by the absence of essential services) and confusing the need to protect mountain agriculture and livestock breeding with the culling of protected species such as wolves and bears. The Lega’s point of view, summed up in one sentence: “We want people from Trentino and tourists to experience our forests in absolute safety.” To them, natural environment only has a right to exist if it is domesticated. Because for many people, the only ones who matter are us, human beings that are at the same time cause and victim of the sixth mass extinction.