Profits vs. Preservation:
How can shepherds balance the social and ecological costs of livestock grazing on Naxos?
Ecosystem services provided by Mediterranean rangelands are threatened by subsidies favoring overgrazing.
By considering the ecological evidence, stakeholder perspectives, and underlying drivers of overexploitation, this case aims to communicate the ecological and social consequences of livestock grazing on the rangelands of Naxos, a Mediterranean island that is part of Greece. Readers will explore the objectives, worldviews, and values that shape the priorities of shepherds, government agencies, and ecologists, resulting in the island’s current livestock management plan (or lack thereof). Naxos showcases a set of challenges regarding best livestock management practices that extend well beyond the Mediterranean Basin to much of the planet’s drylands. Nonetheless, the area does have a high proportion of endemic species, as well as particular cultural norms and economic imperatives, so its governance diverges somewhat from that of mainland Greece. Preservation of biodiversity is challenged by competing priorities including maximization of profit and a legal framework aiming to assist the poor. This means that shepherds are forced into a system of overexploitation by remote but insidious drivers including consumption patterns, inequitable subsidies, and inefficient government bureaucracies.
Two University of Michigan investigators visited Naxos during the summer months (May–July 2017), when conditions become increasingly hot and arid—also when vegetation becomes sparse, and shepherds struggle to maintain the vitality of their herds. This case is informed by their interviews with various stakeholders, including shepherds, ecologists, and managers. Taking into consideration experimental and observational data, can we recommend a solution that promotes the best outcomes for the greatest number of stakeholders and the island’s ecosystems?