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Angelo Merlino is the new president of the Madonie Park. Interview

At the beginning of June, the procedures for the appointment of the Presidents of the regional parks of Sicily were completed. Dr Angelo Merlino was placed at the helm of the Madonie Park. He is the youngest President among those nominated and his university education took place at the Department of Agriculture of the Università degli Studi Mediterranea di Reggio Calabria, where in 2012 he obtained his master's degree in forest and environmental sciences with honors, honors and the solemn commendation paid to him by the commission. The experimental thesis had been carried out in the Madonie Park, having had the title: "Degradation indexes for oak woods". Specializing further with the PhD (University of Tuscia), dr. Merlino then continued as an expert on the subject and research fellow in his didactic and scientific collaboration with the Mediterranean University of Reggio Calabria. At the Department of Agriculture he worked in particular in the AGR / 10 sector (Rural buildings and agro-forestry territory) and in the RurAL (Rural Architecture and Landscape) working group, dealing with advanced geomatics techniques applied to the detection and analysis of natural resources and of the forest landscape. His recent appointment therefore lies along a coherent and excellent training path, for the results achieved. As President of the Madonie Park he will be able to further exploit the skills acquired, to the benefit of the communities he has been called to serve. Sincere congratulations to Dr. Merlin for the important appointment and best wishes for a good job from our Department.

We propose a short interview with dr. Angelo Merlino, created immediately after his appointment as President of the Madonie Regional Park.

Q: Dr. Merlin, If you were to condense your idea of ​​park management in one word, which word would you choose?
AM: Generally, when one thinks of a natural park, the first word that comes to mind is "conservation". It is a right word, appropriate, but often misinterpreted in concrete actions, because it ends up knowing about "freezing", "crystallization", "immobility". I would choose the word "change" instead.

Q: We are blown away ... Why exactly this word?
AM: Because the same natural resources that a park must protect are living organisms and systems. Life is a dynamic of change. Preserving life then poses the challenge of knowing how to manage change according to healthy dynamics. The word "change" is also linked to the need for a new vision that actively calls communities into question. The park must not be seen as an entity that paralyzes the action of communities, which acts only by "binding". Instead, it must offer itself as a laboratory for sustainable development, a privileged area for experimenting with possible futures, a prefiguration of tomorrow's society. With Covid we have understood that there will only be one tomorrow if man knows how to reconcile with nature. The Park will be able to do much to help this path. We all have to change something to do it.

Q: In the Madonie Park there are many natural resources to be protected, which are the most important?
AM: The most important I would say are the "unique" ones, the most precious for the conservation of biodiversity. Just one example: many important endemisms fall within the park, the main one being the Abies nebrodensis. A very rare tree species, in danger of extinction, of which there are only thirty individuals in the world and they are all in the Madonie Park, in the Vallone Madonna degli Angeli, in the territory of Polizzi Generosa. No less important are the broom of De Marco (Genista demarcoi), the oak of Pomieri, to get also to the moth Parnassius apollo siciliae, a diurnal butterfly that populates the mountain meadows. Many other forms of biodiversity are present and it is difficult to list them all. On this front it will be necessary to mobilize a lot of energy, not only in the management field, but also for the study, monitoring and research, knowing that there is already a great deal of attention from our international scientific community towards our resources. If I had to choose a second keyword, I would say "knowledge". We need to know our resources better in order to protect and enhance them. We already have four words: change, knowledge, protection, enhancement.

Q: As President, how do you see the park? Have you already thought about the first activities to be put in place?
AM: My personal vision of a park is that of a tapestry. When we look at a tapestry we are delighted by the beauty of the front, of the visible side. Often, however, we are not clear that the intertwining of the threads on the back side, which is not visible, determine their beauty. The expert who appreciates the quality of the tapestry looks at it from behind, taking the point of view of the craftsman who made it. I would like to do the same thing. Since the communities do the Park, my first activities will be to get to know all the components that "are behind", the structuring ones, starting from the employees, from the mayors of the municipalities that fall there, from the reality of associations, from the agencies educational, comparing myself with the different categorical points of view and with all the stakeholders, the so-called stakeholders, who love the park. You learn to speak by listening. This is also the case for acting. First of all, I want to listen.

D: Her university education and work led her out of Sicily, as is the case with many islanders. What impression does it make you now preside over the Madonie Park, in your homeland? Will your experiences elsewhere be useful?
AM: I too, like many others, had to go outside for study reasons, but it was not a dramatic experience, quite the opposite. I was born and raised in the province of Messina, but I did my higher studies at the Mediterranean University of Reggio Calabria. It was the closest location with Degree courses in Forest and Environmental Sciences. I had heard a lot of good and I got my master's degree there. For me it was an exhilarating training experience that gave me solid foundations, so much so that I was able to improve with the Doctorate in Viterbo and return to Reggio Calabria, to the Department of Agriculture, to continue collaborating in research with the same teachers that had trained me. The appointment to the Madonie Park was like a return home, not only geographically, but also scientific: I had developed my degree thesis right there, in the Madonie Park. Now, it is in Sicily that I have to bring what I have learned elsewhere. For work I had the opportunity to visit woods and parks all over Italy. I have known many "good practices" that we must not be ashamed of importing, because they are consolidated experiences of which good results have already been seen. For this reason it is also necessary to collaborate with the other Park Authorities, starting from the Sicilian ones. I already have an idea in this sense that could be easily applied ... but I don't want to reveal anything at the moment.

Q: The communities that live in parks have often fragile economies, to which tourism brings some oxygen. The health emergency also hit there. What do you expect for after Covid-19?
AM: Summer has already arrived and economic activities, now that in Italy the health situation appears less dramatic, seem to be having a slow recovery. It is important that the mountains are not further depopulated. Tourism has helped populations to live better, but it is among the sectors that suffered most in the emergency. The park is a good attractor for forms of sustainable tourism, tourism without confusion, without crowding, who loves tranquility and is a friend of nature. In the usual alternative between sea and mountain I think that this year the mountain will have some more admirers. However, we must be ready with a well-organized offer and be good at letting the beauty of the landscape, natural resources, products and culture of our territories be enjoyed in the right way. This applies to all Sicily and we must do our utmost to confirm what Goethe wrote "Italy without Sicily leaves no image in the spirit. It is in Sicily that the key to everything is found ”. The tourist who looks superficially at Sicily tends in turn to imagine it as a region of sunny beaches. But the heart of Sicily are its mountains and its woods. This is where the key to the island is located. And on everything.

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