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The Mountain Pine Beetle: A Study of Tourism Businesses’ Perceptions of the Risk of Ecological Disturbances

Ignatius P. Cahyanto, Lori Pennington-Gray, Jeffrey Wehrung


Recent increases in forest insect activities pose a potential risk to the ecosystem and often have social and economic consequences. In areas dependent on outdoor recreation and tourism, businesses such as parks, accommodations, restaurants, and attractions are central stakeholders in forest management, and it is important for policy makers to craft more effective policies that incorporate business needs. Management agencies understand the need to adapt the standard management strategies to focus on prevention, early detection, and prompt response. Yet, heterogeneity among stakeholders in terms of values, ideologies, capacity, and vested interests, make it difficult to get broad participation in management practices. The present study examines the attitudes and perceptions of tourism and outdoor recreation businesses regarding the mountain pine beetle (MPB, MPB Dendroctonus ponderosae) infestation in the Black Hills Forest, South Dakota, U.S. Despite significant efforts to stymie the infestation, the beetle has changed the forest ecosystem by killing pine trees. The dead trees have not only changed the aesthetic landscape but also have presented a safety hazard and financially impacted local businesses. The Health Belief Model served as a theoretical framework for this study. Data were generated from 417 businesses, such as accommodations, restaurants, convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs), and attractions, using a targeted online survey. While in general, owners and managers of tourism businesses in the Black Hills felt that the MBP had affected their business operations, the study found substantial variation in the range and degree of perceived impacts and potential risks. The use of the Health Belief Model facilitated the understanding of variations in support and participation in combating MPB activities among tourism businesses, with those having greater knowledge of MPB, higher perceived severity, higher self-efficacy, and higher perceived benefits being more likely to engage in the recommended ecological management activities. The level of perception was also influenced by the location of the business with relation to recent MPB outbreaks. The study highlights that in order to increase participation in combating the pine beetle outbreak, policy makers must develop programs that not only improve awareness but also increase stakeholder self-efficacy and the perceived benefits of participation. Management strategies should also be adaptable to a more local context in order to accommodate differences in risk perceptions related to an ecological disturbance.

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Health Belief Model; mountain pine beetle; recreation; risk perception; South Dakota; tourism

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