Eco-tourism and Wildlife

Written By: Bob Barnes
Barnes Environmental Consulting
North Bay, Ontario
NOTO Allied Member
Originally Published in the August 1991
issue of The Outfitter Magazine.


In the world of tourism, it seems no matter where we turn, the words “eco-tourism” and “non-consumptive tourism” are the new buzz words. Although indications are that this new tourism focus is gaining in popularity, there may be a reluctance for an established operator who has traditionally relied on hunting and fishing to restructure operations in the hope of cashing in on this new environmental phenomenon.

Fishing and hunting will always be popular with northern Ontario tourists and outfitters and it would be ludicrous to think otherwise. So herein lies the dilemma: how does the established operator continue with what he/she knows best and still cash in on the eco-tourism customer? Perhaps the best and safest approach to the topic of diversification would be to adopt a gradual, phase-in attitude. This approach refers to the development of complimentary packages that reflect both crowds. In these terms both the camera and the fishing rod may compete for priority on the monthly balance sheet.

In dealing with wildlife, most of what we have read on soft experiences in nature (another trendy phrase for eco-tourism) relates to someone taking pictures of whales, seals, elephants or caribou. This seems like a pretty hard act to follow considering the elusive habits of most northern Ontario wildlife, who do not generally appear in great numbers even if we do catch a glimpse. Maybe it is because we have not used our imaginations enough to create wildlife opportunities in our own back yards, which has discouraged some from capitalizing on wildlife beyond hunting.

If operators are interested in diversification, then how their package is structured and how their package is marketed are of primary importance. The example, in the same brochure, or at the same booth, do you target a sensitive audience who is invited to photograph a bear and at the same time do you target the traditional bear hunter? It is one thing to diversify your operations but quite another to offer two non-complementary focuses at once.

Most camps have at some time or another dealt with moose or deer hunters and are familiar with the animals’ habits and territories. Why not broaden your involvement with that important commodity and expand into offering excursions geared at calling moose in the autumn or tracking moose and deer in the winter yards. Winter door feeding could also be added to this category. For those camps that are situated within a no hunting area or have their allocation tags drastically reduced, this may be an alternative means of getting back into the moose and deer business.

There is a tremendous opportunity to attract wildlife to the tourist and provide them with the chance to observe, photograph, follow tracks and study habits. Link up with your local trapper and make a deal whereby the trapper will help establish bait stations along trails, roads and lake shores. These wildlife attractors have been used by trappers for years and do work. Marten, fisher, fox, wolf, lynx, coyotes, hawks and owls come readily to bait stations and could provide your guests with a whole new experience

There are ways of ensuring the trapper will co-operate with you on this new focus so that the effort is beneficial to all parties. If approached properly, guests will not be turned away with the arrangement. In fact, guests could feel they are a part of the effort if they are involved, for example, in replenishing bait at the stations.

The beaver is our national animal and is as Canadian as you can get, so let us capitalize on this and market the beaver to our advantage. Focus on the typical beaver lodge set in a beaver pond site with the typical dam. We all know beaver are found inside the lodge and that should spark our interest. Why not erect an observation/interpretation site at the house? There are ways of observing beaver inside the lodge without disturbing the animal or the lodge. The smells and sounds from within the lodge would also help create the perfect setting for interpretation discussions on the animal. Again it would be advisable to link up with your local trapper to foster the idea of mutual benefit.

Where can the tourist go in northern Ontario to experience some of those traditional activities everyone associates with life in the northern woods? I am speaking of such things as making a pair of snowshoes, tanning hides by traditional methods, smoking meat and fish, making a birch bark canoe, sleeping in a tepee or canvas tent in mid winter, or cooking traditional foods over an open camp fires.

Some of these unique activities could be marketed as complimentary add-ons to an existing operation and would be an ideal way to involve local native people to help provide the native component to a northern experience. The public has recently developed a new awareness of native peoples and are keen to gain as much of an insight as possible into their culture and lifestyle.

Some of the things I have mentioned would require special talents that might not be found in your area today. If an operator or a number of operators require those talents in order to develop an experience package, there are ways of ensuring the required talent materializes with minimal financial contribution on the part of the operator(s).

Face it, the environmental movement is here to stay and so too are the new tourism opportunities associated with it. Without realizing it, many established tourist operations have been providing a variety of wildlife/scenery viewing opportunities to their guests long before someone came up with the trendy phrase “eco-tourism”. In that regard, it is largely a matter of repackaging what an establishment has to offer and throwing in a bit of diversification in order to attract the customer with a focus on eco-tourism.

Consideration as to when a specific package was offered might allow your operation to capitalize on both the traditional customer and the new “environmentally conscious” customer we associate with the term eco-tourism.

Like the saying goes, “with every challenge there’s an opportunity”. If this recession can be called a challenge then there has to be an opportunity out there somewhere! Maybe diversification is that opportunity. 


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