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The value of wildlife

February 15, 2012

With the economic value of wildlife as its special focus, a seminar called ”LARGE 2012” was held at the Museum of Modern Arts in Stockholm, Sweden on January 31, organised by the Swedish Ecotourism Association together with the ”Big Five” national large carnivore information center.

Among the speakers on this ”opportunity-based seminar” were:

Sweden’s Minister of Trade and Commerce, Ewa Björling who opened by saying that in order to reach the government’s goal to increase tourism to Sweden with 100% until 2020, we will need to explore all avenues to reach there. Including getting rid of different ”internal trade barriers” for tourism and looking at new ways of using our resources tourism-wise.

Frans Schepers, Rewilding Europe was the Keynote speaker of the day, and he presented the Rewilding Europe initiative, and its focus on letting nature take care of itself connected with building the business case for wild nature and wildlife. This was the first time that Rewilding Europe was presented in Sweden in front of a national audience.

Derek Goldman, Montana, presented the audience with a number of very interesting facts and numbers from the Yellowstone area and the USA. He showed that by 2006 ”Wildlife watching” turned the Number One outdoor recreational activity in the USA, involving 71 million Americans, 348 million wildlife watching days and a spending of a staggering 45 Billion USD (US Fish and Wildlife Service) per year!

Wildlife watching was the number one, hiking the number two and bicycling number three. Yellowstone NP has 3,6 million visitors per year, the bear was the number one animal the visitors came to see, and the wolf was the number two. Tourism in Yellowstone was a 1,3 Billion USD business already in 2005.

Torsten Mörner, Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management, showed some of the numbers around hunting tourism worldwide and in Sweden, showing that this is a growing business that turns around serious money, but he said that the carnivore issues were to be taken under consideration too and that their association wanted the carnivore population numbers to be lowered.

Fredrik Myhr, Exclusive Adventures, showed how his hunting tour operation created real value for the local community in the wilderness area where he takes out his guests. He was also positive towards venturing into the field of wildlife watching during the rest of the year, outside the hunting season. He runs bear hunting safaris and would be happy to try also bear watching tours.

Stefan Fölster, Chief Economist at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, pointed out that the entrepreneur is the critical party when it comes to tourism development and that if entrepreneurs develop or not is very much connected to an enabling or a disabling environment in his/her near surroundings, especially at the municipality and county administrative levels. He pointed at that creativity will bring a lot of new tourism products connected to wildlife – why not night-vision goggle-safaris in the darkness, as done elsewhere in the world?

Jan Olsson, safari tour outfitter from ”Landskapet JO”, Sweden, told us about his experiences developing a boat-based business in a World Heritage Site in Vattenriket, a big swamp and wetland area in Skåne, with eagle-watching and catfish safaris now reaching a turnover of about 200 000 Euro per year.

Daniel Oleuka, Maasai nature guide and local politician, Kenya talked about his life and daily work, where they tend their cattle among elephants, lions, hyenas, leopards, buffalo, snakes and many other dangerous animals around. He also explained what tourism meant to them and the difference in that they now have more influence over the income flows from tourism.

Anna Gillgren, Director of the Strömsund Kommun Tourism Board who spoke about the predators and especially the bear as a strong tourism resource but also a source of problems in her area. She believes that bear watching might become one of the spearhead attractions in her region, which has more bears than any other in Sweden.

David Bernvi, White shark tour operator, Sweden/South Africa showed how shark watching tourism has grown exponentially and lead to the comeback of not only white sharks but also other shark species.

Marcus Eldh, Wolf safari tour outfitter, Bergslagen, Sweden explained how his business has grown and developed, he now organises wildlife watching to many species and for people from more than 75 countries. Moose, beaver and wolf were his three most important species.

Anders Ståhl, tour outfitter at Wolftracker, in Dalarna, Sweden described his business’ development over the years and his connection to big European wildlife watching tour operators like Naturetrek, UK.

Pauline Palmcrantz, Chairman of the Swedish Fäbodbrukarnas Association described the problems and the anguish for her and her colleagues, raising sheep and cattle of old traditional breeds while having especially wolves around their grazing area.
She asked if the carnivores were more important than her business, with age old traditions?

Berit Wallin Håkansson, representative from the Swedish Sheep Breeders Association voiced similar opinions, she asked the audience if anyone present could come with a good solution for how to avoid losing sheep to carnivores? She was tired, she said, of all ”quick-fixes” proposed  – with fencing, guard dogs, shepherds, flutter cloth, etc.

Osvald Jonsson, Chairman of the Gran Sameby Saami reindeer herders’ Community, Lapland, Sweden voiced interest in wildlife watching as a natural supplement to what they are doing with the reindeer. He runs a successful mountain horse riding business with his wife and think they could for sure show also some of the wildlife for wildlife watchers. He said his community had more problems with the industrial forestry’s clearcuttings than with the predators, but that at the same timeother Saami communities had completely unacceptable amounts of predators on their lands, losing up to 80 % of the year’s calves to wolves and bears. He said we need to strike a balance.

He wanted to start up wolverine watching in his area and also moose watching, if he could get one of the members in his community to refrain from hunting in that valley – most others have accepted it.

Johan Lewenhaupt, land owner, journalist, hunting tour outfitter and member of the board of the Swedish Ecotourism Association who meant that wildlife has hitherto been underestimated as a resource for tourism, both on the hunting side and the wildlife watching side, but that this should be the start for some real development in both these fields. He likes to both look at, to photograph, to shoot and to eat wildlife.

Carl-Gustaf Thulin, Director of the Fish and Game research department at the Svenska Lantbruksuniversitetet, Umeå, Sweden who presented how and why the European bison could and should be reintroduced in several areas in Sweden, aiming for a really wild-living population.

This all in front of a 100+ audience, with representation from several parties in the Swedish parlament, senior officials within wildlife management, tour operators, regional tourism boards and others.

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