How stable are visions for protected area management? Stakeholder perspectives before and during a pandemic.
Envisioning processes enable protected area managers to chart a course for future management to reach desired goals, but unexpected changes that could affect future visions are not usually considered. The global COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to explore changes in stakeholder visions, the values that underpin the visions, and their perceptions of landscape changes and the underlying drivers (e.g. climate change, mass tourism and demographic trends). Through a mixed-methods approach in this post-evaluation study, we gathered comparative data on these issues from stakeholders in the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park, Spain, between July 2019 (pre-pandemic) and October 2020 (mid-pandemic). Our qualitative analysis demonstrates that pre-pandemic, differences in visions for protected area management were largely spurred by different perceptions of drivers of change, rather than differences in values or perceived landscape changes, which were similar across different vision themes. One year later, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of stakeholders reported that their values, visions and perceptions of drivers did not change despite this large-scale disturbance. Of the 20%-30% of stakeholders that did report changes, visions generally shifted towards greater prioritization of biodiversity and nature conservation as a result of heightened perceptions of the impacts of drivers of change associated with an increase in the numbers of park visitors. These drivers included mass tourism, mountain recreation, lack of environmental awareness, and change in values and traditions. Our findings reinforce the importance of adaptive and inclusive management of protected areas, including enhancing transparency and communications regarding factors driving change in the landscape, and integration of local and traditional knowledge and stakeholder perceptions of changes and drivers. Furthermore, management plans integrating stakeholder values have the potential to stay relevant even in the face of wildcard events such as a pandemic. To enhance the relevancy of visions and scenarios in conservation and land-use planning, scenario planning methodologies should more strongly consider different potential disturbances and how drivers of change in the near and far future can be affected by wildcard events such as a pandemic.