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Indigenous peoples live in fragile environments, such as rain forests and mountain ecosystems, which are increasingly threatened by encroaching, unsustainable developments such as mining, logging, oil exploitation and tourism.

The Rethinking Tourism Project (RTP), a project of non-profit-making Tides Center, works in collaboration with indigenous partner organizations and communities to strengthen indigenous peoples’ capacity to analyse tourism development, create self-development projects that protect biological diversity, culture and economic assets, and create a network of indigenous peoples who are knowledgeable about and working on tourism issues.

RTP, which started in the autumn of 1995, provides educational resources and organizes workshops, information exchange, leadership development, networking and ongoing technical assistance and support to indigenous communities. In 1996, RTP workshops included more than 400 participants working in diverse fields related to tourism, appropriate technologies, sustainable communities, self-reliant economies and indigenous peoples. Research focuses on positive tools and innovative information that support community self-reliance. Examples include mapping, community and environmental indicators and assessments, land use planning (native trusts, land and water rights), support for local and subsistence economies, indigenous training programmes, indigenous ecological education, and more. RTP has also developed a considerable resource library.

For more information, please contact Ms Deborah McLaren, Director, Rethinking Tourism Project, 1761 Willard Street NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA.
Tel.: (+1 202) 979 1251;


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The stress of ecotourism goes beyond just the natural world. It can greatly disrupt the local people and social structure. In remote locations it is difficult to bring the benefits of tourist dollars to the more traditional people without disrupting their way of life. Even accommodation for a small amount of tourists can have profound effects on village life. In the forests of Peru some tribes will trade elaborate traditional cloaks, which take three months to make, for a machete or an axe. Tourists who will pay far more for the same item bring about a profound change in the economic make-up of the village.

Local peoples’ use of the forest for fuelwood, meat, agriculture and selling exotic species sometimes comes into conflict with the tourists’ wishes to keep the land pristine. To protect the tourist industry, regulations are made that protect locals from using these forest resources. They are often unprepared for work in tourism or related industries and are left with no alternatives but impoverishment and resentment. Original inhabitants are pushed out of the area while outsiders move in to try to profit from the tourism.

A tremendous amount of planning and organization is needed to attract enough tourists to make money and still maintain the unspoilt forest with its indigenous communities. Opening up an area to tourists without forethought can quickly destroy the forests on which the tourism is based.

One example of a tourist project that has been planned with care is Alta Floresta, a town in the Brazilian highlands, which is the home of an innovative research centre and ecotourist project. The research centre is set up to study sustainable ways of using the forest and to teach people in the area how to use these new practices. The project is centred on community involvement, setting up schools, hospitals and training programmes. Local people are trained in sustainable farming practices and the harvesting of non-timber forest products. In addition, instead of being forced out of the economy, they are trained to work in the tourist centre and lodge, becoming an integral part of the whole project. The tourist centre also educates travellers on the biology of the rain forest and causes of its destruction. This project is a positive example of how an ecotour centre can be set up. (Source: Can Ecotourism Save the Rainforests?)

For more information, please contact Rainforest Action Network, 221 Pine Street, Suite 500,
San Francisco, CA 94104, USA.
Fax: (+1 415) 398 2732;


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The tropical forest has supported nature-oriented tourism for a number of years. As an example, ecotourism represents millions of dollars annually to the Costa Rican economy. Supported by Costa Rica’s network of parks and biological reserves, it is the third largest source of foreign exchange. (Source: Forestry issues – non-wood forest products. Forestry Advisers Network [CFAN], CIDA.)

For more information, please contact Senior Adviser, Forestry and Conservation, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), 200 Promenade du Portage, Hull, Quebec, Canada K1A OG4.
Fax: (+1 819) 953 3348;

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Tourism in protected areas may be a valuable example for sustainable development and could influence the practices of other economic sectors, acting as a means to show how different policies can work together in an area.

A trial using tourism as a tool for sustainable development is being carried out by the French Federation of Nature Parks in ten pilot parks. These pilot parks are now completing an evaluation survey which is helping them take stock of the sustainable tourism projects that have been carried out or are in the planning stages. However, the trial already reveals that the approach is too static and does not accurately reflect the progress of current sustainable development. A simple assessment is being devised, therefore, geared towards the principles of sustainable development and capable of helping partners take decisions and foresee the effects of their actions.

The evaluation must be carried out over a certain period, and must measure the balance between the short, medium and long terms, check its effectiveness in relation to local issues, identify the players’ roles, measure the balance between investment and results and verify that benefits and actions are shared fairly. In the long term, the sustainable tourism charter will become a tool for evaluating the policies carried out in the areas under protection.

A despoiled environment, a deteriorated quality of life and an unbalanced economy have a direct impact on the quality of the tourist experience.

The evaluation’s strictness is of prime importance. The charter’s credibility and the federation’s ability to extend the programme to other European Union member countries depend on it. (Extracted from: Tourisme au naturel, No. 4, August 1997 [Charte Européenne du Tourisme Durable dans les Parcs Naturels et Nationaux].)

For more information, please contact Fédération des Parcs naturels régionaux de France, 4 rue de Stockholm,
75008 Paris, France.
Fax: (+33 1) 45227078.

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En la IV Reunión del Consejo de Cooperación Amazónica, celebrada en Santafé de Bogotá, en mayo de 1990, fue creada la Comisión Especial de Turismo de la Amazonia (CETURA) del Tratado de Cooperación Amazónica (TCA) con la finalidad de establecer mecanismos adecuados de cooperación para la planificación y el desarrollo de la infraestructura necesaria para el fomento turístico de la Región Amazónica.

Algunas de las atribuciones de esta comisión son, entre otras, promover el turismo ecológico amazónico; identificar los posibles efectos de la actividad turística sobre los recursos naturales y las comunidades indígenas para que sean tenidos en cuenta en la planificación y el desarrollo de proyectos; promover el intercambio de experiencias, investigaciones y estudios en el campo de las inversiones, líneas de crédito, ingreso y salida de fondos. transferencias e insumos en el campo turístico entre los países miembros; incentivar a los organismos de formación y capacitación, en especial a los miembros de la Asociación de la Amazonia UNAMAZ, la creación de programas de estudio en el área del turismo amazónico. (Fuente: Comisión Especial de Turismo de la Amazonia: antecedentes constitutivos. Actas y anexos de las reuniones. Tratado de Cooperación Amazónica – Secretaría Pro Tempore, Lima, Perú 1997.)

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Forest wildlife is important to the rural communities of both industrialized and developing countries. Wild animals, from insects to primates, supplement the diets of many millions of people in the tropics; indeed for a great many people, wild animals are the main source of animal protein. In addition, birds and mammals provide sport-hunting and income in forests from the tropics to the boreal zone. But the time when people lived in a natural, sustainable relationship with forest wildlife has long passed.

Evidently, even at the level of simple hunting and gathering, the uncontrolled use of wildlife is sustainable only when people exist at low densities, are not highly selective of species, and spread the harvest either by constantly moving or by settling in small, well-spaced communities. This is now a rare combination of circumstances. In some parts of the tropics the remnant forests are virtually scoured on a daily basis by people in search of forest produce, including wildlife. The existence of markets and a cash economy, even of the most basic kind, add to the pressures on profitable species. The use of wildlife, like the use of other forest products in modern times, needs to be managed for sustainability.

It might be imagined that a community forestry scheme would, if only incidentally, help to conserve wildlife. It may be the case, however, that a wildlife utilization scheme could help to conserve the forest. It depends on what value people place on wildlife. In some parts of the world, people consider the loss of wildlife meat to be the worst impact of local forest destruction.

The greatest challenge of "conservation through use" is to make the best use of local wildlife resources within the proportions that are delivered by nature. A major problem centres on the temptation to favour the preferred species at the expense of others in the wild; that is for management to follow the path of specialization and reduction of diversity. From a conservation viewpoint, the sustained use of animals in the wild is preferable to their domestication or commercial production in captivity. There is no need to protect natural habitats for animals which are bred in captivity and it is doubtful whether domestication has improved the security in the wild of any existing domestic animal.

The conservation value of planned utilization of wildlife is most clearly seen in those circumstances where broad habitats have been kept largely intact for the benefit of "useful" species: wetlands for ducks, waterways for fish, belts of forest cover for deer and other game. There is nothing new in these strategies but we have been slow to appreciate the possibilities of this basic approach in our search for solutions to modern conservation problems. "Conservation through use" did not become fashionable as long as the emphasis was on strict protection. But only about 3 percent of the earth’s surface has been set aside for the strict protection of wildlife and the natural environment and it is not enough. Other, additional, strategies are needed.

Zones adjacent to wildlife reserves, national parks and similar protected areas are the obvious locations for wildlife utilization schemes. Provided that these outer zones (often called buffer zones) remain ecologically more similar to the protected area than to the agricultural or grazing lands beyond, they are likely to harbour some of the wildlife which survives mainly within the protected area. For territorial species, the buffer zones can be regarded as sinks into which animals will disperse when the more favourable territories are all occupied. These "surplus" animals might then be cropped without depleting the main breeding population. That is the theory. In practice, it is all too common to find that the zonation of protected areas is not adequately enforced, or was never properly planned or established to begin with.

The "use it or lose it" philosophy will not be appropriate everywhere. When markets are involved, sustainability depends not only on ecology but on the interaction of ecological, socio-economic, community and institutional factors. Inevitably, controls and restrictions will have to be accepted in any plan for sustainable use. Zonation needs to be carefully planned and clearly understood by the local people.

Among foresters, the preoccupation with timber production has gradually broadened in recognition of the wider needs of local communities. Community forestry, by whatever name it is known, is intended to provide for these wider needs, including the need for non-wood products. And yet the value of wildlife still seems to be underestimated or even overlooked by planners – a fact which prompted the recent production of an FAO Community Forestry Note on the subject (What about the wild animals? Wild animal species in community forestry in the tropics. Community Forestry Note No. 13. FAO, 1995; see also Non-Wood News No. 3). Instead of being included in the plans for community forests, wildlife seems to be regarded by planners as something that might, with luck, provide an extra bonus. There are a great many people living in and around forests who would prefer wildlife to be taken more seriously. (Source: Melvin Bolton, ed. 1997. Conservation and the use of wildlife resources. Chapman & Hall, London.)

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