Political Ecology at the Riedberger Horn
Dr. Andreas Benz
Niklas Völkening, M.Sc.
For years, a planned skilift project on the Riedberger Horn in Upper Allgäu has been raging a bitter dispute between advocates and opponents of the project. A so-called ski swing will be used to combine the existing small ski areas of the municipalities of Balderschwang and Grasgehren-Obermaiselstein into a 'lift network'. The planned expansion plans the construction of a 1.6 km long gondola lift and the new development of 3.3 km of ski slope. The affected area is partly located in a protected area of the highest protection level C, until recently protected by the international Alpine Convention, in which any infrastructure expansion is prohibited. The area also represents one of the few remaining retreats for endangered black grouse. The 1972 Bavarian Alpine Plan, which transposes the International Alpine Convention into Bavarian law, has never been touched in its more than four decades of existence. For the ski lift at the Riedberger Horn, a change was made by the Bavarian state government for the first time, which removes the project area at the Riedberger Horn from the protection zone C in order to facilitate the construction of the lift.
Environmental protection organizations such as the Federal Nature Conservation Union (BN), the Federal Association for Bird Protection (LBV) and the German Alpine Association (DAV) fear a precedent that could trigger a dam failure in further planned infrastructure projects in protected areas and have announced lawsuits against the decision. By contrast, the inhabitants of the affected municipalities are in favor of the project by a large majority. Hoteliers, innkeepers and lift operators see the planned project as the only way to survive the growing competition with the expanding Austrian ski resorts. The controversy surrounding the lift project on the Riedberg Horn has long since taken on supraregional dimensions: politically, the dispute over the local communities, the county level and the Bavarian state policy as far as Berlin to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, media report long ago supraregional newspapers such as the time, the taz and the South Germans Newspaper. The controversy surrounding the Riedberg Horn has since become a symbol of the expansion of infrastructures at the expense of nature and landscape and for a regional development policy at the expense of environmental protection.
In this project, from the perspective of political ecology, which understands nature as a "battlefield of diverging interests," this conflict is analytically considered. In doing so, an impartial, objective view "from the outside" should be maintained on this emotionally charged political argument in the approach to the conflict. In addition to taking stock of the conflict so far, the actors involved and their interests as well as the applied political, legal, discursive and media strategies and the conflict dynamics with their changing strategic alliances are to be examined. The conflict at the Riedberger Horn can serve as a lesson in the anatomy and dynamics of political-ecological conflicts in general and allows deep insights into the political fabric of controversial regional planning projects.