Posted on October 26, 2009 by Tia Lalani

Dr. Glen Hvenegaard spent last summer with his research assistant, Jodi Rintoul, investigating the conservation benefits of wildlife festivals.

By Nhial Tiitmamer
Dr. Glen Hvenegaard, Augustana’s Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, spent last summer with his research assistant, Jodi Rintoul, investigating the conservation benefits of wildlife festivals in Canada after winning a research grant from the prestigious Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). The project will last for three years and will inventory about 85 wildlife festivals across Canada. Specifically, the project will be evaluating conservation objectives, analyzing mechanisms, documenting outcomes and explaining consistencies or inconsistencies of these objectives, as well as outcomes.

“I will determine the extent to which wildlife festivals in Canada, one subset of ecotourism, promote, facilitate and advance the conservation of their local wildlife species,” said Dr. Hvenegaard. “The results will improve our understanding of complex tourism-conservation interactions and will offer new perspectives for marketing, planning, and management conducted by wildlife festival organizers and other ecotourism operators in Canada and around the world.”

According to Dr. Hvenegaard, wildlife festivals in North America increased from 10 to 240 festivals between 1992 and 2002. For him, wildlife festivals play many important roles in society. These roles include enhancement of a community’s image, generation of economic benefits, provision of recreational opportunities, development of local sense of community, and awareness about local wildlife among the people.

Rintoul, a fourth year biology student at Augustana Campus, helped Hvenegaard create an inventory of all the wildlife festivals in Canada. She also helped “develop a questionnaire to understand the dynamic of these festivals.”

“Jodi dug into literature and produced some of the best practices and some of the theories around conservation and tourism. She did a great job. It is great working with undergraduate students. This shows how great Augustana students are in doing research,” said Hvenegaard.

Hvenegaard’s next step is to increase responses to surveys and go to the festivals. “We need to visit some of the festivals to interview people in-depth and see some of the projects in place and to make some comparisons,” he said. He will also visit festival areas to witness if these festivals have benefited wildlife population in terms of conservation of their habitats.

Hvenegaard is using this research as a case study to represent a larger concept of ecotourism.
“Ecotourism is really a fast growing concept, a stronger segment of tourism. Ecotourism is supposed to provide educational benefits, community benefits and conservation benefits,” he explained. “Some of those have not been tested very well and so I am hoping to test that concept of conservation benefits.” The concept of conservation benefits is based on an idea that people can be motivated by the economic benefit of wildlife tourism to support the conservation of wildlife. In other words, they can influence their political leaders to create more protected areas as a result.

Hvenegaard will focus on Canada; however, he will use similar studies in the United States to make a comparison. The US has some of the biggest wildlife festivals which attract tens of thousands. Hvenegaard has been working with a group around Camrose about wildlife stewardship and green steward and they have decided to hold a festival in the area. Asked how wildlife festival works, he said, “Typically [people] come for two or three days. They participate in activities. They go to talks; [they] go on a walk with a naturalist. Sometimes, there is a competition, like a bird watching competition to see as many bird species as possible.”

“It will be interesting for me to see how this research is being translated into practice,” he said.

Many studies have looked at economic impacts of these festivals but there is a huge gap when it comes to conservation benefits. So this research will be able to narrow this gap. In the end, Hvenegaard will recommend a number of best practices on how these festivals can achieve the objectives of wildlife habitat conservation in Canada.

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