Brown bear Ursus arctos * distributional range in Greece consists of two major separate population nuclei, located approximately 200 km apart in the north-western and north-eastern part of the country, respectively in the Peristeri-Pindos range and the Rodopi mountain complex over a total surface of 13,500 km2 of species permanent presence.
This represents the southernmost distributional edge of the species range at a European (continent) scale, thus of outstanding bio-geographic importance. Overall data on brown bear status and in Greece over the last 10 years as well as recorded brown bear signs of presence and activity (a large part of them acquired through previous LIFE projects) show that bear-human interference is becoming a rather pre-occupying and compromising issue. Three main factors seem to be at the origin of this phenomenon which has slowly become a problem:
Positive trends in local bear sub-populations related either to previous successful conservation efforts in Greece or/and to an increase of reproductive success and litters’ survival rate in relation to food quality and availability, both having resulted in an expansion of the bear range into areas of species historical range (especially in Pindos population nucleus) bringing the species total range at circa 21,000 km2. Most of these “newly” re-colonized brown bear habitats are at relatively low altitude landscapes with mainly agricultural land use, mixed with small but highly valuable patches of forests and numerous small villages forming a complex mosaic.
The second factor could be habitat fragmentation, disturbance and barrier effect as well as the related side effects on bear spatial behaviour and population connectivity, caused by transportation infrastructure construction. The newly constructed high-speed motorway (Egnatia Highway), which cuts through some of the most important bear habitats of the country in the northern Pindos Mountains including part of the area targeted by the project is the most outstanding example.
An increasing negligence and lack of rational management of a certain category of human related food resources such as: domestic garbage, refuse and waste which are chaotically dispersed in many sectors of the bear habitat also in the area targeted by the project and which are at the origin of shaping a bear “habituated” or “problem” behaviour.
The above three factors are mainly responsible for generating human-bear conflict situations, which if not appropriately managed are likely to jeopardize all previous efforts that have been deployed in order to bring and to maintain the species at an adequately favourable conservation status.