Points of View


Wildlife Viewing: a Management Handbook . Manfredo, M. J. , editor . 2002 . Oregon State University Press , Corvallis , OR . 332 pp . $24.95 (paperback) . ISBN 0-87071-548-8 .

A spate of books on nature or ecotourism, I must admit, has left me a little jaded about what another on the subject could have to offer. As a scientist studying wildlife and wildlife viewing, I have been disappointed by selective or biased treatment, esoteric subject matter, or provincial geographic coverage in such publications. I was, however, thoroughly pleased after reviewing WildlifeViewing: a Management Manual.

The public's interest in experiencing wildlife in its native surroundings, whether on weekend outings to a national wildlife refuge or state park or in organized groups traveling to distant places such as the Galapagos Islands, has never been greater. National statistics in the United States and Canada show viewing and photographing birds, for example, to be the fastest-growing area of wildlife appreciation. So a book entitled Wildlife Viewing: a Management Manual should be of interest to a large number of people, especially wildlife managers. This book comes at a critical time when managers and their administrators badly need advice on how to provide these experiences on public lands without undue disturbance and harassment of wildlife. A major strength of this book—one that separates it from others in the genre—is its success in integrating and balancing human needs and desires with the imperatives of biological conservation that underlie wildlife-viewing programs. As the culmination of over 25 years of studying a subdiscipline that has come to be called “human dimensions,” the authors provide a comprehensive, nuanced guide for government planners, natural resource academics, and private operators dealing with public land issues.

A central organizing theme for the book is the management system called experience-based management (EBM), defined by the editor as a “theory of human motivation that defines recreational demand in terms of desired psychological outcomes, activities and settings associates with participation.” The authors explain in convincing detail how this process offers a more systematic and deliberative process to managers and stakeholders by identifying goals and obtaining agreement about desired outcomes to prevent premature focus on action in the planning process.

This is the most comprehensive, science-based treatment of the professional management required for wildlife-viewing areas. The authors present theory and empirical results of the social, biological, and organizational aspects of the planning and managing of wildlife viewing, mainly on public lands in the American West. They provide exceptional breadth and depth on a range of related and relevant topics, from the history and growth of wildlife viewing and its cultural value to Americans, to the ever-more severe threats to habitat, to challenges of finding ways to fund viewing programs. Useful statistics on sources of funding and on changes in public demand provide a strong rationale for states that have floundering programs to seize the initiative and develop funding. Examples of successful cooperative programs are outlined, complete with rationales and plans for action.

The book proceeds in a logical and highly readable fashion. A theoretical basis for human behavior and choices is presented in a crisp, concise format, easily assimilated into team planning. This “handbook” provides practical advice on citizen involvement in the early stages of the planning process, in particular on how people with disparate values and often conflicting beliefs can work toward a common goal.

I found four aspects of this book to be unique contributions that should be especially appreciated by managers attempting to plan viewing programs. Topping my list was the scholarly chapter by Bruce Gill, rich with insights for managers about the value of wildlife viewing and the adaptive behavior of wildlife. His wide-ranging synthesis and recommendations reflect a deep concern for the needs of wildlife. As a professional wildlife biologist, he provides useful information on every page in crisp and enjoyable prose.

Gill's assessment and critique of the attitudes of people are equally perceptive and well targeted. Why has wildlife viewing been so slow to emerge? The cause, he suggests, rests on the subjective values of wildlife professionals who hold to an “artificial and unrealistic standard of naturalness.” These values lead to attitudes that discourage overt manipulation of wildlife viewing and irrationally condemn viewing as an activity that disturbs wildlife. Gill points out that the same managers who have captured, collared, prodded, and killed wildlife “in the interests of science” resist disturbance from viewing (p. 242). Impacts from humans, he notes, are virtually everywhere, and those from viewing, if done thoughtfully, may be positive for wildlife, habitats, and public enjoyment and support. I wish Gill had gone on to assess the potential for viewing to make up for decliningparticipation in hunting and thus to support conservation of natural ecosystems among the broader public.

Second, chapter 7 takes a hard-nosed look at current citizen participation in planning processes and makes suggestions for improving judgments where public sentiment is diametrically opposed to planning. Deer management in eastern states is a high-conflict issue for which a novel approach succeeded in balancing the legitimate needs of interest groups. Each stakeholder was asked to come up with a solution that met the needs of all concerned. Similarly, wildlife viewing, and bear viewing in particular, could benefit immensely from this kind of level-headed, process-oriented approach.

Third, the authors call our attention to sociological studies of the deeper meaning of wildlife to diverse groups, pointing to abundant opportunities for preservation-oriented management, especially in national parks. Research is highlighted indicating that when learning is a primary motivation for wildlife viewing, the public is receptive to factual and conceptual learning. The list of motivations for recreation fills a page, underlining the need for policy makers to attain a greater understanding of participants' experiences on public land. I found this chapter a refreshing substitute for public processes that aim for the narrow goal of adjudicating among a few vocal, selfish groups. The emphasis in Wildlife Viewing on multiple experiences, especially the spiritual dimensions and planning founded securely on biological conservation, provides hope for a new vision of citizen involvement aimed at protecting a range of wildlife species while preserving native ecosystems for future generations.

Fourth, economic aspects of viewing programs are reviewed and carefully interpreted, recognizing community development opportunities, especially in depressed resource-extraction areas. Again, the need for innovation and active management to replace traditional attitudes is emphasized. National statistics on public participation in and large personal expenditures on trips to appreciate wildlife are summarized in a convincing fashion. Manfredo's earlier studies of the economic potential of wildlife viewing for faltering economies of the Pacific Northwest have been vindicated in both coastal Alaska and British Columbia, where demand exceeds supply at numerous bear-viewing sites. The book missed an opportunity to review studies of visitation figures for Katmai's Brooks River bear-viewing area, one of the most visited sites in the world for seeing brown bears fishing for salmon among hundreds of visitors. Missing is peer-reviewed scientific documentation of bear and human interactions that has been carried out at Katmai since 1983, which would have added substantial credibility and depth to the book. Instead the editor included a descriptive chapter on an Alaskan wildlife refuge that has capped its visitation since 1973, which is not as persuasive in demonstrating the adaptability of bears to large numbers of people as the well-managed program at Katmai National Park.

This handbook will make an excellent text for a graduate course in recreation management or adjunct reading for courses in wildlife behavior and its application to conservation biology. Wildlife biologists and managers from the Arctic Circle to New Mexico will find it an indispensable guide to the scientific literature and can use it as a handbook for planning meetings with stakeholders. It provides methodology for designing effective viewing programs that have minimal impact on wildlife and major benefits for protecting prime habitats as part of larger ecosystems.