1 Tahrcountry Musings: Sports and nature conservation

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sports and nature conservation

Here is a good article on sports and nature conservation written by Sue Mainka, IUCN’s Head of Science and Knowledge Management. I found it very interesting

Sports and species – like oil and water or a good mix?
By Sue Mainka, IUCN’s Head of Science and Knowledge Management.

Sports are a universal part of human society with, apparently, more than three billion people following or playing football (that’s soccer to North Americans) and, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, 75 million tennis players worldwide. How does this huge facet of society affect biodiversity conservation and can we harness all that enthusiasm in the name of nature? We looked at a few recent reports on both individual sports and mega-sporting events to try answer these questions.
Catherine Pickering and colleagues looked at the environmental impact of three different outdoor sports – hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding – in Australia and the USA. The types of impacts across all three sports were quite similar and included loss of vegetation, soil erosion, trail degradation and introduction of invasive alien species. There was a difference in intensity with horseback riding often having greater impact likely due to the weight of your average horse vs. your average human +/- bike. However, the authors note that there is still little research on relative impacts across outdoor sports, especially in protected areas, and more work should be done to help managers develop and implement programmes that can minimize such impacts.
Meanwhile Veronika Braunisch and her colleagues report on a new technique to evaluate the impact of free-ranging winter sports activities on mountain biodiversity. With the Black Grouse as their indicator species and using aerial photographs, they compared locations of these grouse with locations for off-piste skiers and people who were snowshoeing. They determined that only 23% of winter habitat for the grouse was free of human disturbance showing that winter sport infrastructure is not the only issue when looking at biodiversity impacts. Braunisch also points out that another factor to consider is the increased stress caused by proximity to people and the consequent increase in energy costs for species during winter, an already stressful time.
Lincoln Larsen and his colleagues looked at the potential influence of participation in outdoor recreation in promoting what they termed ‘pro-environmental behaviors’. The pro-environmental behaviors that they chose to assess, namely taking personal action such as recycling, reading environmental literature and contributing to/ being a member of an environmental group, were linked with participation in outdoor recreation although the strength of that association did differ across demographic groups surveyed.
Two reports provide feedback on some of the best known mega events today. Justine Paquette and her colleagues report on how environmental sustainability has been integrated into the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) developed an environmental policy in 1992 and the first Games that explicitly included sustainability were the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994. Paquette reports that the IOC policies to support integration of sustainability into Olympic planning and operations are in place and that most bids today do include environment as an explicit element of their proposal. However, as a local organizing committee moves from bid to development and implementation, environmental sustainability often suffers due to resource and capacity limitations.
According to Harald Dolles and Sten Söderman, the FIFA World Cup first explicitly addressed environmental sustainability much later than the Olympics – namely for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The German World Cup set targets for five key environmental issues - water, waste, energy, transport and climate - however some targets, such as those for energy, were not fully met. The authors raise thought-provoking questions relating to such sporting events and the environment. Firstly, is it really the mandate of a sporting organization to integrate environmental issues and secondly, how can we mainstream global scale environmental visions into local organizational and development needs.
Sports fans and athletes of all types would seem to be a ripe audience for environmental conservation communication and action. At individual levels, they are having an impact on the very environment they use while participating in sports. They should be enthusiastic participants in conservation given guidance on ‘good environmental conduct’. At team and mega-event levels, the global attention to sustainability is starting to trickle down but it seems that local constraints and priorities still determine how well sustainability actions are implemented. Surely such events, and associations that support them, could more actively and consistently pursue environmental sustainability agendas along with integrating monitoring and lessons learned from one event to the next? Many of us are both conservationists and sports enthusiasts, and, in the end, it will be up to us to promote better environmental stewardship at all levels of sports.
References Cited
1)Pickering CM, Hill W, Newsome D, et al (2010). Comparing hiking, mountain biking and horse riding impacts on vegetation and soils in Australia and the United States of America. J. Env Management 91: 551–562.
2)Braunisch V, Patthey P, And Arlettaz RL (2011). Spatially explicit modeling of conflict zones between wildlife and snow sports: prioritizing areas for winter refuges. Ecological Applications 21: 955–967.
3)Larson L, Whiting J, and Green G. (2011). Exploring the influence of outdoor recreation participation on pro-environmental behaviour in a demographically diverse population. Local Environment 16(1): 67-86.
4)Paquette J, Stevens J, and Mallen, C (2011) The interpretation of environmental sustainability by the International Olympic Committee and Organizing Committees of the Olympic Games from 1994 to 2008, Sport in Society, 14: 3, 355 – 369.
5)Dolles, H, and S. Söderman (2010). Addressing ecology and sustainability in mega-sporting events: The 2006 football World Cup in Germany. Journal of Management & Organization 16: 587–600.

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