Monday, December 7, 2020

A vote for conservation

The upper Baltschiedertal
Photo courtesy of Alpine Light & Structure

A somewhat encouraging story from the Alps

In the 1960s, a huge construction boom all but overwhelmed Switzerland. Large tracts of once pristine landscape went under concrete and urban sprawl. In 1972, the Swiss government passed emergency legislation requiring the cantons to designate protected areas.

Not everyone got the message. Down in the Baltschiedertal, a remote mountain gorge above the Rhone Valley, a power company made the inhabitants an offer that was difficult to refuse. If they agreed to a dam being built across their valley, they would get 100,000 Swiss francs a year in compensation. 

As a counter-offer, a grouping of conservationists offered a one-off payment of 300,000 francs. There was an initial meeting with the village authorities. At first, the villagers were critical of the conservationists’ offer. They needed an income, and besides, what about the jobs from the hydro scheme?

Then an elderly mountain guide took the floor. "Är chaschi nit vorstellu, mit emene Gast am Morgu hinter ins Telli z' löufu und ds Bächj nimme keru rüschu,” he said – I can’t imagine setting off in the morning with my client to go up the valley and not be able to hear the stream rushing. 

At that, the villagers had a change of heart and decided to keep their valley the way it was.


«Wir waren die Feuerwehr»: 50 Jahre Stiftung Landschaftsschutz Schweiz (We were the fire brigade: fifty years of the Swiss Foundation for Landscape Conservation), Die Alpen, journal of the Swiss Alpine Club, issue 10/20. 

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