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Creation of Guria National Park

© Ilia Akobia

The mountain landscapes of western Georgia’s Guria Province are one of the few areas in the South Caucasus where old-growth forests are still well represented. The habitats and species associated with these forests–and the pastures and hay meadows adjacent to them–led to the region being delineated as one of the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) in WWF’s Ecoregional Conservation Plan (ECP) for the Caucasus. Called the Bakhmaro Key Biodiversity Area, this area represents an important part of the ECP’s Western Lesser Caucasus Conservation Landscape extending in an arc over northeastern Turkey and southwestern Georgia. The decision to create a new national park was prompted by these characteristics and WWF-Caucasus is working towards the creation of Guria National Park in close cooperation with the Georgian Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture and through financial support from the Sweden. 

The creation of Guria National Park will contribute greatly to a future ecological corridor in this conservation landscape through the connection of existing protected areas. This corridor will support an increase in populations of large mammals, such as the Caucasian Red Deer, Roe Deer, Brown Bear, Lynx, etc., as well as protecting this unique landscape from intense human pressure that the Guria mountain landscape currently experiences, including the fragmentation and degradation of forest and pastures landscapes.

The establishment of a national park will directly impact Ozurgeti and Chokhatauri municipalities and will increase the value of the region in multiple ways. On one hand, the unique biodiversity of Guria’s forests and pastures will be preserved, and on the other hand, the national park will help local people–who depend on natural resources for their livelihoods–to develop alternative and more sustainable sources of income, primarily through developing the tourism potential. This, in turn, will have a positive impact on the social and economic situation of the local population, while also protecting and preserving key landscapes and species. 
As part of the creation of Guria National Park, WWF-Caucasus will collect and analyze the information needed for designing the national park and carry out surveys to obtain information about species and habitats. This will include meetings with local people to collect information about how they use the area’s natural resources and their degree of dependency on them. The project will also include a multi-dimensional poverty analysis to provide more detailed information on the different dimensions of poverty in the park area. The information gathered will be used to design Guria National Park boundaries (approximately 30,000 hectares in the Bakhmaro Key Biodiversity Area), as well as prepare legal drafts of the laws related to the creation of park, which will then be submitted to the Georgian Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture.
WWF-Caucasus will also implement  a process called Financial Participatory Approach, where communities in the project area propose and select community development activities related to the creation of the park, ensuring their involvement and input contributes to the success of the national park. This includes creating a vision of healthy and productive landscapes and encouraging locals to prepare for opportunities that the establishment of Guria National Park will offer, both on an ecosystem conservation level, but also on an economic level.
Over time, Guria National Park will safeguard biodiversity and ecosystems, help to eliminate unsustainable use of natural resources in the region, restore degraded ecosystems, and halt the fragmentation of habitats. The national park will promote the development of sustainable tourism in the region, bringing alternative income and benefits to local communities. 

“Creation of Guria National Park” project is being implemented by the WWF Caucasus  Programme Office together with the Ministry of Environment and Agriculture of Georgia and the Agency for Protected Areas, with the financial support of the Embassy of Sweden in Tbilisi