Centre for International Environmental Studies
19 January 2023

New CIES Visiting Fellow

Interview with Visiting Fellow Valeria Mendez at CIES

Valeria Mendez

Can you describe the topic of your research at Sapienza University of Rome and how you discovered your interest in it?

Wilderness areas are exceptionally important for biodiversity conservation, being crucial areas for the conservation of terrestrial mammals and retaining the last ecosystems of high ecological integrity worldwide. At the same time, these areas support the cultural integrity of many Indigenous People and Local Communities worldwide. Despite this, wilderness areas are the most threatened areas due to overexploitation of natural resources and land use change.

With the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, governments made a step toward the recognition of the value of wilderness at the international level. However, this achievement also aroused some criticism. In fact, wilderness conservation is sometimes regarded as a postcolonial, discriminatory practice and it is blamed to fuel inequities for Indigenous People and Local Communities.

With my project, titled "Beyond wild: indicators for a fair conservation of wilderness areas under the post2020 Global Biodiversity Framework", I aim to develop a monitoring protocol to assess the environmental and social outcomes of area-based conservation in wilderness areas. The protocol, while allowing to extract important data about the effectiveness of wilderness conservation, will help to better understand the threats to wilderness conservation, promoting accountability and transparency.

What fascinates me about wilderness areas is that they show us that living in harmony with nature is possible. The challenge that our society is facing today is to protect this evidence and learn from it.

What is your methodological approach to your research question?

The research is structured in three steps. As a first step, I’m undertaking a bibliographic transdisciplinary research for the identification of wilderness conservation targets and the initial selection of pertinent indicators. During this initial step I’m investigating and selecting existing parameters used to monitor the effectiveness of area-based conservation in wilderness areas from a biologic and socio-economic perspective. Parameters and indicators that will end in the first draft of the protocol are being selected based on their pertinence to the aim of the project, covering biological and societal targets highlighted in the literature.

Secondly, I will reach out to experts, practitioners and activists that work with/in/on the field for feedbacks on the drafted monitoring protocol. The aim of this step is to reshape indicators to fit in the wilderness context and bridge interdisciplinary gaps.

Finally, I will be putting all the information together. Hopefully, all this process will help me to deliver a monitoring protocol that allows us to match different purposes, capacities and needs, while retaining a common underlying logic, similar criteria and a common assessment method.

How are you hoping to advance your research during your time as a Visiting Fellow at CIES? 

The interdisciplinary nature of my project, which is set at the crossroad between conservation biology and socio-political studies, will strongly benefit from the set of expertise of the researchers at the Centre for International Environmental studies, especially gaining from their experience.

Specifically, I’m confident that my time at the CIES will help me strengthen my research skills in conservation biology, by broadening my perspective on other related fields such as political ecology, environmental governance, and the human dimensions in conservation.