2018 Ecotourism Symposium

2018 Symposium


See the Center's ecotourism work

Great Plains Ecotourism Coalition


The Center is accepting papers for this conference, please use the below button to submit an abstract by Nov. 15, 2017.

Submission form


Nebraska Tourism Commission
Heartland Byways
University of Nebraska at Kearney

A Conference on Tourism and Conservation in the Great Plains

Great Plains Symposium: April 18-20 | Kearney, Neb.

For those who have experienced it, the Great Plains’ rolling grasslands, charismatic wildlife, and boundless scenery fill the heart with wonder. The Plains are filled with fascinating biodiversity and wonderful opportunities for exploration while also harboring critically endangered habitats.

The people who live and work on the Plains have created diverse cultures and communities. We argue that conservation that works with business, landowners, and communities is a way forward in preserving our rural communities and dwindling wild places. For many locations around the globe, nature-based tourism has provided a way to enrich human communities while protecting cultural heritage and natural areas. It's already happening in the Great Plains here and there, as events like the Sandhill crane migration gain popularity and efforts like the American Prairie Reserve gain footing. The Center's ongoing ecotourism project seeks to explore, promote, and strengthen these operations.

This conference will explore how tourism on private lands can be a force for conservation in the Great Plains as well as assist landowners and build thriving rural communities. It will feature sessions for business leaders, ranchers, conservationists, community partners, and governmental organizations as well as wider-ranging discussions about how to preserve and sustain the stunning bounty of Great Plains ecology.

This large-scale conference will examine both local and global models of conservation and tourism. The Nebraska Tourism Commission's annual Agri/Ecotourism Workshop and the Heartland Scenic Byways Annual Conference will join their conferences with this event.

Along with a slate of impactful speakers, the conference will include hands-on opportunities to see and learn about regional ecotourism attractions during a series of special 'field trips.'

Conference registration will be live soon! Until then, click the button below to get updates on the conference.


Featured speakers

Joel Sartore
Joel Sartore, Keynote

Joel Sartore is an award-winning photographer, speaker, author, teacher, conservationist, National Geographic fellow, and regular contributor to National Geographic magazine. His hallmarks are a sense of humor and a Midwestern work ethic. Joel specializes in documenting endangered species and landscapes around the world. He is the founder of the Photo Ark, a 25-year documentary project to save species and habitat.

“It is folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity,” he says. “When we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves.”

Martha Kauffman
Martha Kauffman, Managing Director, World Wildlife Fund's Northern Great Plains Program

Kauffman manages an area that encompasses five states and some of the least understood terrain in the 'Lower 48.' She works with local ranchers, Native American tribes and government agencies to increase protection for the landscape, create economic incentives for conservation, and restore native species including iconic and rare animals such as bison, prairie dogs, and the most endangered mammal in North America, the black-footed ferret.

Nils Odendaal
Nils Odendaal, CEO, NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia

Nils Odendaal is a native Namibian and has been involved in conservation for more than 20 years. He first worked for Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation in north-western Namibia focusing on community-based natural resource management. He has been involved with the NamibRand Nature Reserve for the past 13 years. First as the Reserve’s control warden and later as CEO. He is also one of the founders of the Greater Sossusvlei-Namib Landscape Association.

Dan Flores
Dan Flores, Author, “American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains”

Flores is a writer and historian who specializes in environmental and cultural history of the American West. Before his retirement, Flores held the A.B. Hammond Chair in Western History at the University of Montana in Missoula. He’s the author of “American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains,” which won the 2017 Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize.

Okwa Sarefo
Okwa Sarefno, owner and operator, Nature Leadership, Botswana, Africa

Okwa Sarefo is the creator of Nature Leadership, a small adventure touring and guiding company. Sarefo has been guiding in Botswana for the last 18 years. Over the last 4 years he ventured into training other guides. The company exhibits a friendly and forward-thinking attitude that recognizes the need to shift with ever-changing customer needs. Sarefo's philosophy is to emphasize an exclusive experience with a small number of people to view nature on foot or the silent mokoro (canoe).

Sarah Sortum

Sarah Sortum
Ecotourism manager and operator, Calamus Outfitters, Burwell, Neb. & GPEC consultant

John Janovy

John Janovy
Professor Emeritus, Biology, UNL. Janovy is the author of 17 books, including the forthcoming Africa Notes: Reflections of an Ecotourist.

Dipra Jha

Dipra Jha
Director of Global Engagement, Hospitality, Restaurant & Tourism Management, UNL. Jha, a recognized expert in luxury hospitality and tourism strategies, was the first Professor in Residence at the Venetian-Palazzo resort in Las Vegas.

Michael Forsberg

Michael Forsberg
Forsberg is an award-winning photographer of Great Plains nature and wildlife, co-founder of the Platte Basin Timelapse project, and a faculty member in IANR at the University of Nebraska.

Anthony Schutz

Anthony Schutz
Associate Professor, UNL Law. Schutz, a Nebraska native, is a nationally-recognized authority on the often-intertwined subjects of agricultural, environmental, and natural resources law and of state and local government.

Rebekka Herrera-Schlichting

Rebekka Herrera-Schlicting
VisionMaker Media. Former Great Plains Graduate Fellow Schlichting, a recent UNL Journalism graduate, helped lead the award-winning “Wounds of Whiteclay” report. An enrolled member of the Ioway tribe, she's working to spread ecotourism ideas to Indian tribes in the Plains.

Dean Jacobs

Dean Jacobs
Traveler, author, photographer. Jacobs, a Nebraska native, has traversed across the globe exploring over 50 countries on a low budget adventure, propelled by a desire to understand the world we share.

Larry Borowsky

Larry Borowsky
Interpretative writer. Borowsky has more than 20 years’ experience developing interpretive text and interactive media for museums and historic sites. He has also worked with several of Colorado’s scenic and historic byways.


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