Unique CSU training brings together international conservation and tourism specialists

by Erin Hicks

group of trainees in front of Yellowstone national park sign
29 participants from 19 countries participated in the Center for Protected Area Management’s Vth Planning and Managing Tourism in Protected Areas Mobile Seminar.

Twenty-nine participants from 19 countries from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Americas attended Colorado State University’s Center for Protected Area Management’sFifth Annual Mobile Seminar in Tourism and Protected Areas, co-sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service International Programs. The group visited significant protected areas throughout the West including Yellowstone, Badlands, and Grand Teton National Parks and Black Hills National Forest while learning about planning and managing tourism in protected areas from expert instructors with over a century of combined experience.

training group viewing wildlife through spotting scopes on side of road
Participants toured Yellowstone National Park with Yellowstone Forever while learning about the park’s wildlife-visitor interaction issues and discussing the organization’s function as a well-developed “friends group” of the park.

Learning in national parks and forests in the western U.S.A. is a hallmark feature of this U.S. Forest Service Office of International Programs co-sponsored course. In addition to gaining insights from their instructors, participants exchanged their experiences and shared personal lessons from working in their countries’ protected areas.

Balancing conservation and tourism around the world 

Putting aside land for conservation and tourism purposes was a radical idea in 1872 when Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first, was founded. The challenge of balancing these two seemingly divergent goals still resonates today for protected area managers around the world. 

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, over 15% of the world’s land surface is comprised of protected areas. Nature-based tourism, which occurs both in and around protected areas, is a booming industry creating countless jobs and improving local livelihoods while helping fund conservation. However, if not managed well, tourism can have detrimental effects on the natural and cultural conservation goals of protected areas and local community welfare. 

Better than a classroom 

The seminar provides unique learning opportunities that ignite an internal spark within the course’s participants, a flame of inspiration that burns beyond the seminar’s conclusion, empowering them to apply what they have

women from training class on horseback
Bibhu Gautam, a Documentation and Communications Officer for Federation of Community Forestry Users of Nepal, traveled 32 hours to participate in the 17-day seminar.

learned when they return to home, and in turn, help better balance their conservation and tourism goals. 

The participants’ diverse professional experience as park superintendents, university faculty, and site-specific and national agency specialists contributed to a unique learning environment where, for 2.5 weeks, participants were able to create new friendships and exchange ideas. 

For many participants, the seminar was their first opportunity to visit the U.S.A. Bibhu Gautam, from Nepal, endured 32 hours of travel, to participate. “The things that I have learned in this seminar are more effective than any classroom courses or university degree [could] provide,” Bibhu shared at the seminar’s end. 

Putting learning into action

The seminar not only disseminates knowledge and experience, but also inspires participants to increase their impacts in their home parks, institutions, and countries. Before returning home, each participant creates an individual action plan to map out actionable steps for implementation when they return home. 

A few months after the course, Moira Bursic of Croatia, a World Wildlife Fund Prince Bernhard Scholarship recipient, strengthened volunteer programs in Brijuni National Park, where she works as a biologist. Expanding the park’s volunteer program is crucial for her 14-island park, which is highly dependent on tourism funding operations. 

training group sitting at tables listening to lecture
Charbel Hanna, a Project Management Specialist for USAID Lebanon, implemented part of his action plan by holding rural tourism meetings to support twenty-two rural tourism organizations.

Charbel Hanna began hosting meetings under the rural tourism framework funded by USAID in Lebanon. “I have participated in roundtables and presentations and shared the knowledge I have acquired during the Tourism Course. These roundtables have supported twenty-two rural tourism organizations increase their visibility and access the market in Lebanon and abroad in addition to facilitating the exchange of ideas about the technical needs of these organizations and how to address them, and developing project implementation milestones.” 

Than Soe Oo, Program Manager at the Myanmar Environment Rehabilitation-Conservation Network and Assistant Chief Technical Advisor of a Grant Program for Heritage Parks for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is working with wardens of four ASEAN Heritage Parks to build visitor centers to provide environmental education for tourists. Than has worked closely with the wardens to demonstrate the importance of capacity building for visitor center design and implementation so the centers will offer attractive exhibits that meet park objectives. 

The group, the most diverse in the seminar’s history, bonded quickly and keeps in touch digitally. Alumni have been checking-in nearly every day to share landmark events in their personal and professional lives, exchange ideas, discuss their action plans, and cheer each other on via course forums on Facebook and WhatsApp. The seminar may be over, however the fire of inspiration that was ignited still burns hot.

group of training participants listening to lecture outside
Than Soe Oo, Program Manager at the Myanmar Environment Rehabilitation-Conservation Network has returned to his country to work on the implementation of visitor centers after participating in the mobile seminar.

CPAM, in collaboration with the USFS-IP, looks forward to kindling more sparks of inspiration for participants of its sixth annual seminar from September 6 through 22, 2018. Applications are available here through May 11, 2018. 

If you are a CSU undergrad, CPAM also offers paid internship opportunities for students to gain professional work experience in Rocky Mountain National Park. Please see the following link for more information: https://warnercnr.colostate.edu/cpam/internships/

CSU’s Center for Protected Area Management is housed in Warner College of Natural Resource’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources.