What's about Mountain Wilderness France – Interview with Vincent Neirinck*

The mountain area in question, for sustainable management of Mont Blanc

Victim of its success, the mountain sector, and in particular the Mont Blanc area, is prey to various threats threatening its fragile balance. While all the other major world summits enjoy effective protection and classification, the Mont Blanc Massif is the only one that does not. Let's take a look around.

Founded in 1987 in Italy during a meeting in Biella, Italy, the NGO Mountain Wilderness brings together climbers, researchers and activists and is very active in nearly 20 countries, mainly in Europe and Asia. The French section of Mountain Wilderness was created in September 1988 during the Evian Congress. Its action aims to put in place framework laws and recommendations relating to mountain protection and sustainable management policy. As always for NGOs, it therefore delivers an enormous work of perseverance to local authorities in order to fight against the growing artificialisation of the mountains. As long as political decisions are not taken or not implemented, the fine commitments remain a dead letter.

The association's actions therefore aim to:

  • ensure that natural balances are maintained;
  • question unreasonable practices;
  • propose gentle approaches to the mountains, in particular by supporting a more diversified mountain economy and ecomobility.

As Vincent points out, it is a question of distinguishing between action for preserved and protected mountain areas. The aim of specific actions in the field is also to raise awareness and open dialogue between the actors concerned. The actions of the movement are therefore marked by campaigns to question existing ski lifts, over-pitching cliffs in the high mountains, ferratas vias…
One of the main tasks for Mountain Wilderness France is to protect the Mont-Blanc massif. The tasks are therefore difficult in the face of unreasonable commercial and management practices, such as the practice of heli-skiing, which is prohibited in France, the extension of infrastructures or the removal of obsolete installations. Not to mention the educational side to deliver to trekking agencies, but also to the general public and local authorities and the problems have their roots in cultural habits first.

Mont Blanc is a world in itself and talking about its protection requires a coherent and respectful shared management of the living environment of its inhabitants between France, Italy and Switzerland, which does not exist for the moment. This lack of common ambition weighs heavily on the massif: it becomes an element of consumption marked by greenwashing where the real consideration of climate change is not on the agenda.

But Mont-Blanc does not suffer but conditions the climate. 17 000 hectares of ice, both a water tower and a reserve of humidity, the Mont-Blanc massif blocks global warming. Its deep and steeply sloping glaciers are more resilient than elsewhere. The subtle interactions between orientation, slope, altitude, latitude, solar energy distribution and precipitation are at the origin of many very different microclimates from one valley to another. This territory is thus a unique treasure – an essential laboratory for studying climate change.

A second asset, that of the economy and tourism: at the height of the heat waves, the alpine landscapes preserve their “foaming” waterfalls and their “tumultuous” torrents. Five million people benefit each year, the “Sea of Ice” being the most visited glacier in the world.

The Mont-Blanc massif is a geographical entity for fauna and flora; it is surrounded by deep valleys, difficult to cross and marked by a very strong altitudinal amplitude (800 – 4 800) and by an original division into many valleys with multiple slopes. It is a bio-geographical crossroads where the respective flora, fauna and habitats of the western and eastern Alps converge.
The highest massif in the Alps, it will serve as an observatory and an altitude refuge if global warming takes on threatening proportions. An elevation of 300 metres of ecosystems is already measured over about 50 years.

It is therefore urgent to act for its protection by conducting coherent and coordinated sustainable management policies on both sides of the French, Italian and Swiss borders.

*Co-director of Mountain Wilderness France, in charge of land use, protected areas and motorised leisure.
Many thanks to Vincent Neirinck who kindly devoted some time and gave us his point of view.