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Introducing Wolfgang Haider - One Man's Recreation is Another Man's Research

bridges vol. 21, April 2009 / News from the Network: Austrian Researchers Abroad

By Juliet M. Beverly

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Dr. Wolfgang Haider

Every week is Bike to Work Week for Wolfgang Haider, associate professor of resource and environmental management at the School of Resources and Environmental Management (REM) at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. "I ride the bicycle to work almost on a daily basis - it's a workout and a commute all at the same time," says Haider, who estimates his commuting route is about 13 kilometers, or 8 miles, from his home to his office on campus. Haider's daily commute is what many people would only consider as a weekend activity. Not so for Haider. Even after arriving at his desk on campus, Haider's thoughts and actions continue to focus on biking and other outdoor and recreational activities such as hiking or fishing: He studies and models the decisions and behavior of people in recreational activities.

Haider, who received his M.Sc. in geography and history at the University of Vienna , is from the Austrian city of Eisenstadt. He attributes much of his affinity for geographical studies to growing up in the '60s in a small town in Austria and being sports and outdoors oriented. "Certain directions of thinking are ingrained in somebody - either you have it, or you don't have it. Being fascinated with geography was something I just had from when I was little," Haider says. After his studies in Vienna, he became a high school geography teacher.  But Haider wasn't interested in settling down in this career. "That wasn't in my psyche to settle down. I was looking for something else," Haider said. That "something else" happened to lead him to Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, where he received his M.A. in geography. Following his passion, he went on to receive his Ph.D. from McGill University in geography as well.  

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Gone fishing

 The Centre for Tourism Policy and Research
British Columbia, Canada, contains 13.5 million hectares of protected areas, which include national parks and provincial parks. With many natural resources and a growing tourism industry, this Canadian province is an ideal environment for the Centre for Tourism Policy and Research (CTPR).

CTPR is within the School of Resources and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University. Focused on graduate level education in tourism with an emphasis on sustainable resource and business management practices, CTPR’s environment-oriented programs make it one of the few institutions with this focus in British Columbia.

The Centre has two locations that suit its tourism activities: Graduate programs and research initiatives are at Simon Fraser’s Burnaby Mountain campus – near the mountain forestry and coastline – for resource-centered tourism studies; and professional development programs are located at Simon Fraser’s Harbour Centre campus in Greater Vancouver – near federal agencies, businesses, and tourism associations.

Prior to his current position, he worked in the Center for Northern Forest Ecosystem Research in the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. It was here that Haider begat the identity of "social scientist." "When I got the job at the Ministry of Natural resources, it was advertised as ‘tourism scientist,' but nobody knew what that was," he laughs. "They needed a social research scientist to address the tourism-forest land use conflicts. I decided to call myself a much broader social scientist because it allowed me to do all sorts of different research within the ministry." Now, in the position that he's held since 1998 at REM, Haider is also a team member of the Center for Tourism Policy and Research (CTPR) at REM. At CTPR, Haider focuses on several aspects of human dimensions research - a quantitative way to describe how a person or a group of people think and behave - in resource management and planning. He specializes in protected areas planning and management in national parks, nature conservation, outdoor recreation and tourism, and landscape perception. Haider does much of his work using choice modeling - a way to model the decision process of an individual or a group in a particular scenario.

Haider is particularly excited about a new project on recreational fishing experience and its impact on lake ecology. In collaboration with researchers from the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin, Germany, Haider will explore new dimensions of integrating ecological research with social research to model recreational fishing. Take, for example, the following scenario: What type of experience would a fisherman prefer in a trade-off scenario - an experience in which he caught fewer large fish or an experience in which he caught many smaller fish?

Several trade-off scenarios of this type are set up side-by-side in a questionnaire with different combinations of fishing regulations, such as restrictions on the type of fish that can be caught or the method used to catch fish. Based on the selections of the respondents, it can be determined which groups prefer the experience of reeling in a larger fish (even if they could only catch a few of this size) and which groups prefer to catch many smaller fish (if they can't catch as many larger ones in certain regulated settings). The questionnaire can help to determine which regulations should be put into place to control the effect of fishermen on the lake ecology. Such models help policy makers and recreation managers predict human behaviors and interactions with an ecosystem.

Modeling choice behavior and climate change research

With the growing concern over effects of climate change on the natural environment, modeling choice behavior has become an increasingly important part of research on global warming effects. Having solid models of what people are willing to do - and pay for - is crucial for decision makers. Just last summer, Haider and his colleagues conducted a choice study that was part of a larger NOAA project. It focused on "willingness to pay for climate change mitigation of coral reefs in Hawaii," and included a survey panel group of 1000 Americans and 48 possible hypothetical scenario combinations of coral reef conditions in 30 years. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument , a Hawaiian conservation area and the study's research focus, is the largest conservation area in the US and one of the largest in the world.

Haider and his colleagues investigated the existence value - inquiring about the existence of healthy or unhealthy coral reefs and the willingness to start paying now for mitigation to reduce climate effects. "The willingness to pay is enormous," says Haider about the outcome of the study. "However, there were also about 20 - 25 percent in the sample that vehemently opposed paying anything because the respondents think it's the government's job to look after these things and taxpayers should not be held accountable for this. But the vast majority of Americans are willing to pay significant amounts of money for climate change mitigation for coral reefs in Hawaii."

National Parks and Protected Areas

The creation of conservation areas and national parks began in the US in 1872, with the formation of Yellowstone National Park - the first national park in the world. As countries develop and urban areas spread, there is a fast-growing demand for recreational activities space, and as environmental perils persist there is a demand to protect that space. Although it seems that there is increasing willingness to pay for eco-friendly environmental measures, the challenge for public policy is how to safeguard the future resources for recreational activities and preserve environmental heritage.

Images from the First National Parks
  in the

US, Canada and Austria
Grand Prismatic Spring_small.jpg
Grand Prismatic Spring
in Yellowstone National Park, US.
Peyto Lake_small.jpg
Peyto Lake and Peyto Glacier
in Banff National Park, Canada.
Weissee Lake_small.jpg
Weißsee Lake
in Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria. 

 "When it comes to protected areas, we really have very different historical approaches between Europe and North America. Because national parks are the flagship of protected area strategies, it is basically a North American invention," says Haider, stating that North America has fairly large resources of land that are hardly settled or not settled at all - which could account for the lack of comparable national park development in much of Europe. The US has had a history of congressionally designated protected areas since 1832, when President Andrew Jackson set aside the natural area that later became Hot Springs National Park . It was the federal governing of protected areas that made the US approach unique. In Europe, national parks are often owned by private landowners, charities, farmers, or some park authorities and local or provincial government.

Haider states that Europe began pushing national park development concepts most notably between the '70s and '80s, citing as an example the 1981 establishment of Austria's first national park, Hohe Tauern . Europe, and the world, began to take note of the damaging results of industrialization on the environment. In 1972 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO ) sought to identify and preserve cultural and natural heritage, worldwide, that was thought to be of significant value to all humanity. This mission was embodied in an international treaty called the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage . State Parties - countries that adhere to the World Heritage Convention - have the benefits of access to the World Heritage Fund and are offered expert technical training to the local site management team of the property (click here to see the list of State Party properties). Another move toward national park protection for Europe can be attributed to the EU biodiversity policy. In 1992 the governments of the European Union adopted the Habitats Directive, created to protect seriously threatened habitats and "Special Protection Areas ." This legislation is complementary to the Birds Directive of 1979, which requires "Special Areas of Conservation ." The special protection and conservation areas make up a network of locations called Natura2000 - analogous to the US Endangered Species Act of 1973 .

Although Haider views Europe as playing some catch-up in national park advancement - Europe contains 359 national park areas, North America has 430 - North America's development of its national parks may also be an indication that it has reached a plateau in the research areas necessary for park resource and recreation management.

"When we compare North America and Europe, North America has built a tradition, a strong paradigm, with this type of social science research. Strong paradigms are not necessarily the ones that are the most innovative," said Haider, observing that Europeans conceptualize their parks and protected areas problems on needs-bases, which he believes sets the stage for new methods and theories - such as the integrated research approach he's working with at the Leibniz-Institute with the human dimensions and ecology. "It's not good enough, necessarily, to rely on the choice model and think ‘this is how people behave.' The challenge for research now is how does the behavior affect the planning and how can we map out our preferences," remarked Haider on the future of social science research. "This is where there is room for the new work, innovation, and integrated research that people are talking about, but very few have done it."  


This article is based on an interview conducted by the author, Juliet M. Beverly, with Dr. Wolfgang Haider, associate professor at the School of Resources and Environmental Management (REM) at Simon Fraser University.


European National Parks

Kelly, Joe, Wolfgang Haider, Peter W. Williams, and Krista Englund. "Stated Preference of Tourists for eco-efficient destination planning options ." Tourism Management, vol. 28, issue 2 (2007): 377-390.

National Park Service


Rudolphi, Wictoria, and Wolfgang Haider. "Visitor management and ecological integrity: one example of an integrated management approach using Decision Analysis ." Journal for Nature Conservation, vol. 11, issue 4 (2003): 346-354.

World Heritage

Sidebar references:

BC Park Statistics

Center for Tourism Policy and Research
http://www.sfu.ca/~dossa/ {/access}

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