A West Virginia University professor who will focus on the increased visitor use in protected areas and greenspaces in Austria during the COVID-19 pandemic—including the negative effects — has been awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship for the fall 2021 semester.
Robert Burns, professor at the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, will study at BOKU, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria.
“The world’s protected area settings are so critical to people, yet the potential of negative impacts is so great,” he said. Burns is the director of the Division of Forestry and Natural Resources and a professor of recreation, parks and tourism resources.
Burns noted that national parks in the United States have been overrun with people seeking something to do during the pandemic. Austria has also experienced an increase in visitors.
“Managers must strike a careful balance between encouraging visitors to use protected areas to alleviate stress and benefit their health, while keeping visitor impacts to acceptable levels,” he said. “The latter helps to protect the condition of the natural resources and reduces the potential for disease transmission.”
The United States employs laws, policies and other governance elements to influence and determine forest conservation and sustainable resource management. Contrary to the United States, Austria focuses on a relationship-based management process to manage its forests.
“In the U.S., managers have a large number of federal regulations to comply with, while the European approach allows for more flexibility,” he said. “In contrast, U.S. regulations and frameworks provide better tools for transparent measurement and accounting for objectives. Collectively, advancements in these fields could help to define common indicators and standards on both sides of the Atlantic.”
In addition to understanding the impacts of increased visitor use, Burns is also interested in increasing diversity among visitors.
The United States has been very successful in attracting high numbers of people to parks whereas Austria has been successful in attracting more diverse people. Part of his research will be understanding how Austrian management is so successful in doing that.
“I would like to see more of a focus on people related to forest management. I want to see a diverse landscape where we have more women and more people of color using the forests,” he added.
Burns believes this opportunity to examine American and European cultures may help define the strengths and weaknesses of each management strategy, eventually resulting in an international management benchmarking effort – something that hasn’t been done before. That would provide recommendations tailored to location and culture, while addressing common issues that affect recreation sites throughout the world.
“It’s a great opportunity to extend my knowledge of how a different nation manages similar settings,” Burns said. “I’m going to take some of what I know from the U.S. forest system and apply it there. I’ll learn as much as possible about how they’re using their forests and bring it back to the U.S.”
The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program. It provides opportunities for continuing education, advocacy and service for a peaceful and interconnected world.
CONTACT: Lindsay Willey
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Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
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