Mateo-Tomás, P., Gigante, F.D., Santos, J.P.V., Olea, P.P. & López-Bao, J.V. (2022). The continued deficiency in environmental law enforcement illustrated by EU sanitary regulations for scavenger conservation. Biological Conservation, 270: 109558.
Enforcement is critical to guarantee the effectiveness of environmental laws for nature conservation. Erroneously assuming an equivalence between the formal implementation of environmental legislation on paper and its practical enforcement in reality can result in biased conclusions with potential to ill-inform conservation actions and influence stakeholder perceptions. Here, using as an illustrative example the implementation of European sanitary regulations EC 1069/2009 and EU 142/2011 to manage livestock carcasses for wildlife conservation in Spain and Portugal, we demonstrate how the legal implementation of these regulations does not mean effective enforcement and compliance in practice. When interviewed, more Portuguese farmers declared to leave carcasses in the field without official authorization, than their Spanish counterparts, who were legally allowed to do so. This unforeseen result was further supported by GPS-tracked vultures feeding on livestock carcasses available in the Portuguese countryside, contrasting to what would be expected considering the sanitary regulations approved at each country at the time of this study. Accordingly, while agreeing with the global trend for weak enforcement and compliance with environmental legislation, our results provide additional evidence against assuming that the formal implementation on paper of environmental laws equals their real implementation on the ground. We highlight the need to systematically assess (not assume) observance of and compliance with environmental legislation and propose some ways to improve enforcement using as an example the above referred sanitary regulations. Communication-based interventions to publicize the regulations, reducing bureaucratic burden, and on-ground monitoring to assess observance and compliance have strong potential to enhance enforcement. Overlooking implementation gaps can give rise to biased interpretations on the effectiveness of these legal tools with consequences at both, the scientific and conservation arenas.