Archive | Ecotourism

Groups Urge Serengeti Protection

LONDON, Aug. 25 (UPI) — British wildlife groups say they are urging the government of Tanzania to reconsider plans to build a highway through the heart of Serengeti National Park.

The Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London recommend that alternative routes be used that can meet the transportation needs of the region without disrupting the greatest remaining migration of large land animals in the world in world’s best-known wildlife sanctuary, a WCS release said Wednesday.

At issue is the proposed Arusha-Musoma highway slated for construction in 2012 that would bisect the northern portion of the park and jeopardize the annual migration of wildebeest and zebra, a spectacle comprising nearly 2 million animals.

“The Serengeti is the site of one of the last great ungulate migrations left on Earth, the pre-eminent symbol of wild nature for millions of visitors and TV viewers, and a hugely important source of income for the people of Tanzania through ecotourism,” Dr. James Deutsch, Executive Director of the WCS’s Africa Program, said.

“To threaten this natural marvel with a road would be a tragedy. We implore the Tanzanian government — known around the world for its commitment to conservation — to reconsider this proposal and explore other options.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Animals, Conservation, Ecotourism, Other, Transportation0 Comments

Putin Visits Gray Whale Study Site

MOSCOW, Aug. 25 (UPI) — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin joined scientists studying endangered gray whales during a visit Wednesday to Kamchatka Island.

The scientists are trying to determine whether the whales that feed in Olga Bay in the Kronotsky Biosphere Reserve are a remnant of a Korean population of gray whales almost wiped out by whaling in the 19th century or are California gray whales, ITAR-Tass reported. California gray whales breed off southern California and northern Mexico, migrating to arctic waters in the summer.

Putin made four attempts to use a crossbow designed to get a skin sample for DNA testing. He said he finally hit a whale the fourth time.

“I had the sporting feeling,” he said. “I missed the target thrice, but hit it the fourth time.”

The president described the area as “extreme” but beautiful. He said the government should begin encouraging ecotourism by expanding transportation to the Pacific coast of Russia.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Ecotourism, Other, Transportation0 Comments

Tri-Cities Washington: Environment Blossoms in Shadows of Giant Nuclear Site

If you’re into nature, it’s tough not to love the the Tri-Cities area in Washington. Peering out from the Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve to Red Mountain and Rattlesnake Mountain is inspiring, if nothing else. With the Tri-Cities area beneath you, it’s tough to imagine that you’re looking out onto one of the world’s largest environmental clean-up projects.

The Tri-Cities area in Southeastern Washington includes the cities of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland. Earlier this month, The New York Times called our attention to the area, leaving us wanting to know more about the The Hanford Reach National Monument.

In it’s name, it sounds innocent enough. But the monument consumes an environmental nightmare of sorts… the 586-square-mile Hanford Site. Administered by the United States Department of Energy, the Hanford site played a vital role in the development of the world’s first atomic bomb and produced more than half of the United States’ plutonium used in nuclear weapon production through the 1980s.

Now, the Tri-Cities area is home to renowned vineyards, golf courses and rivers – and despite the Hanford Reach National Monument, it’s population and tourism continues to grow.

Jeff Schlegel, a writer for The New York Times article referenced above profiled his journey of the Tri-Cities area and his tour of the Hanford as part of the “American Journeys” feature from the Times.

Here is an excerpt of his, describing the area surrounding the nuclear reactors:

The Hanford Reach National Monument in the arid steppe of south-central Washington is a nature lover’s dream with the Columbia River flowing wide and free below chalk-white cliffs, an abundance of birds, and populations of deer, elk and coyotes…

…The Hanford Reach National Monument, which on a map looks like a crab’s claw clutching the Hanford Site, was left untouched because it was a buffer zone. Recreational activities here include hunting, fishing, hiking and boating, but the park’s Web site warns, “Visitors should be prepared for minimal signing and primitive facilities.”

For now the best way to explore the monument is by boat. Our jet boat tour left the Richland waterfront and whizzed upriver. We stopped to marvel as American white pelicans floated in the air with their nine-foot wingspans. Deer, coyotes and a porcupine in a tree were spotted on the Columbia’s left bank, which is Hanford Site property.

“Plants and insects are found here that don’t exist anywhere else,” said the boat’s captain, Ray Hamilton. “And, no, they aren’t mutations.”

Wildlife and Ecotourism of the Columbia River
If you’re looking for a historical vacation filled with natural beauty and opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors – Tri-Cities Washington and the Columbia River may be an excellent choice for you.

m2s photo
The Columbia River, by Matt McGee (pleeker on Flickr)
Used under Creative Commons License

The area is rich in opportunities for hikers, kayakers and nature enthusiasts. In fact, here’s a list of what we’ve been able to discover about the region…

Trees
There is a wealth of native trees to the area. One great place to get started is the Yakima Area Arboretum who catalogs their list of trees here. Other native trees of Eastern Washington include:

  • Black Cottonwood trees
  • Interior Douglas Firs
  • Netleaf Hackberry Trees
  • Oregon White Oaks
  • Ponderosa Pines
  • Quaking Aspens
  • Water Birch Trees
  • Western Larches

Wildlife
While we weren’t able to find any zoos in the area, many web sites indlucing the Audobon Society helped us to create a list of native wildlife to the area which include:

  • Black Bear
  • Bushy-Tailed Woodrat
  • California Bighorn Sheep
  • Columbian Ground Squirrel
  • Deer
  • Eastern Washington Coyote
  • Elk
  • Moose
  • Nuttall’s Cottontail Rabbit
  • Pacific Tree Frog
  • Side-Blotched Lizard
  • Western Fence Lizard
  • Western Toad
  • Yellow Pine Chipmunk
  • Yellow-Bellied Marmot

Trails, Museums and Expeditions
If you’re looking to head out on foot or paddle the Columbia River or its many tributaries, there are many options for you. The Tri Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau lists out the following options for those looking to learn more about the area’s heritage and ecotourism:

  • Friends of Our Trail
  • Hanford Reach National Monument
  • Historical Presentations
  • Lewis & Clark Attractions
  • Lewis & Clark report
  • Museums & Interpretive Centers
  • Sacagawea Heritage Trail
  • Sacajawea Park Report
  • Sacajawea Report
  • Sokulk Report
  • The Reading Room

Finally, if you’re thinking about kayaking around the Tri-Cities area, look no further than Columbia Kayak Adventures who offers us this information:

There are many locations one can put a kayak in the water near Richland, Kennewick and Pasco. North Richland launches are great for paddling upriver and around the many islands that make up McNary Wildlife Refuge. There are often populated heron rookeries on some of these, plus lots of other birdlife to view.

To paddle around the Yakima Delta, launch on either the east (Marina side) or west of Bateman Island. The delta is an area of islands, channels and wildlife – dear, beaver, herons, hawk and many more can be seen here. The east launch gives access to the west side of Bateman, or you can go up the Yakima into the Chamna area.
Other nearby areas to explore are off any of the riverfront parks, Clover Island, and Yakima River.

The following is a list of launch sites:

    Near Town:

  • Bateman Island: Launch west of Bateman Island for easy access to Yakima Delta; launch east at Marina to go around Bateman into Delta, up or down the Columbia.
  • Leslie Groves: Launch just south of beach area; north or south are good access to Nelson, Gull, and many more islands.
  • Saint Street Dock: Go upriver to go around islands.
  • Above WSU-Tri Cities – Off 1st Street & Waterfront Drive
  • Yakima – Twin Bridges, Van Giesen St.
  • Chiawana Park
  • Clover Island
    Put-Ins (Easy Day Trips):

  • McNary Wildlife Refuge – Off Hwy 12
  • Walla Walla River Delta
  • Snake – Charbonneau Rec Area, Levey Park
  • Hanford Reach
  • Potholes
  • Lake Roosevelt
  • Umatilla Wildlife Refuge

For more information on the Tri-Cities area, please see the following resources:
Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau
City of Kennewick
City of Pasco
City of Richland

Posted in Ecotourism, Museums, Nature & Ecosystems, Nuclear, Other1 Comment

Eco-ploration in Montana

Ranch Rider’s Rocking Z Ranch uses waste
vegetable oil to power an irrigation pump, saving
more than 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year.

Editor’s Note: Ecotourism can take many forms – activist tours, where the line between work and vacation is blurry; adventure tours, where the tourist braves white water in a canoe, or thin air and freezing temperatures on a mountain trek, or any number of other challenges of nature; visits to pristine places, where one can view the most beautiful and unspoiled regions on earth, hopefully through their tourist dollars helping to fund the preservation and restoration of these places, and finally; low impact tourism, where the traveler stays in accomodations and enjoys means of transit that leave no footprint.

These distinctions are somewhat arbitrary, of course, since many tour operations combine all four of these characteristics of eco-tourism in varying degrees. Ranch Rider, a company marketing a huge collection of tourist destinations in the rugged heartland of North America in and around the massive Rocky Mountain range, has begun to see their affiliates systematically convert their operations to increasingly sustainable, clean and organic practices. From the food being prepared, to the fuel being used, to the stewardship of the land surrounding these resorts, these ranches been consciously evolving how they run their businesses with an eye to the much vaunted “triple bottom line,” paying equal attention to people, planet, and profit.

Being located in remote, mountainous areas in close proximity to wilderness, these tourist ranches are already familiar with sustainability in ways urban dwellers don’t often as easily assimilate. Harsh winters, unforgiving landscape, often intermittant water supplies, and other realities of nature inculcate a resourcefulness and responsibility towards the earth intrinsically. And what is invariably the case when sensible sustainability is implemented is what helps the earth will automatically help the bottom line, in addition to granting the tourist an experience that provides not only relaxation, but the comforting knowledge their experience is contributing to the preservation and restoration of nature. – Ed “Redwood” Ring.

Ranch Rider’s Siwash Lake Ranch has been
awarded Five Green Keys by the Hotel Association
of Canada, only given to hotels that exemplify the
highest standards of environmental responsibility.

In the old days, cowboys explored and exploited the vast open ranges of the country, embodying the frontier spirit of the Wild West.

Our attitude towards the environment has since changed, and now, a new generation of ranches offered by Ranch Rider seeks to co-exist harmoniously with nature.

These “green ranches” practice a more sustainable style of ranching through energy-saving techniques and conservation initiatives. The Siwash Lake and the Rocking Z are examples of how ranchers can be great stewards of the earth, ensuring that future generations can still enjoy the scenic beauty of the Wild West.

Many wilderness ranches claim to be off grid, but there’s no greenwash at the Siwash Lake in British Columbia, as the ranch has recently been awarded with a 5 Green Key eco-rating by the Hotel Association of Canada. The prestigious accolade is given to a hotel that exemplifies the highest standards of environmental and social responsibility in all areas of operations – the Siwash Lake Ranch employing cutting-edge technologies and eco-friendly policies.

While guests are out eco-ploring on unspoiled wilderness trails, the luxury ranch is working behind the scenes to ensure a seamless green stay for its guests. Siwash Lake runs on solar power and a combined diesel generator – the latter charging up the battery bank on cloudy days, or when city slickers who can’t resist curling irons and hairdryers stay at home on the range.

Always mindful of being environmentally friendly and energy efficient, the ranch uses propane, a clean fuel, for cooking and for heating hot water. In addition, guests lounging by the cosy fireplace are sure to find comfort in the fact that the wood is beetle-killed pine – Siwash ensuring that their waste wood is put to good use. Biodegradable chemicals, energy saving light bulbs and emission controlled wood stoves are further initiatives that have been brought to the fore by the eco-friendly ranch ensuring would be cowboys and girls minimise their impact in the West.

Eco-gourmands can have their taste buds tickled by the Siwash Lake’s 2-acre organic garden, a source of fresh greens, edible flowers and herbs. The ranch produces its own beef and pork, which is again organic and all the chickens at Siwash produce free range eggs. However it’s not just the hearty Western cooking that has a green stamp of approval as everything is 100% natural and even the water comes from the ranch’s own well! The water goes through a low power, high-tech filtration system, including UV light treatment, to make it 100% potable and pure, with no chemicals added into the process.

Situated in the heart of Cariboo Country, ethical ranchers can experience the wonders of the natural grassland on horseback, by canoe or on foot – numerous bird and wildlife stopping by to greet wilderness ranchers. (7-nights with Ranch Rider from £1,939pp, excludes transfers as car hire recommended.)

Bedroom
Energy saving light bulbs and wide windows minimise
the use of electricity at the Siwash Lake Ranch.

The Rocking Z in Montana might seem like an ordinary guest ranch at first sight, but ask the owners about their deed of conservation and you might see it differently. The ranch now uses solar and straight waste vegetable oil power to irrigate the land – saving over 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 600 gallons of petrol per year. The ranch also uses pure bio diesel for its tractors and earth moving equipment making the Rocking Z a truly green home on the range.

As part of their conservation commitment, the owners recently struck up a partnership with the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Foundation. The latest initiative, at the Little Pickly Pear Creek, has helped to lower stream temperatures by 2 degrees; ensuring a more amenable habitat for the resident rainbow trout who now thrive in their natural environment. The owners have also committed the ranch with a deed of Conservation, working closely with Montana’s Land Reliance to protect and conserve the ecologically and agriculturally significant land, as a living resource for future generations to enjoy.

Green moves implemented by the ranch include, the recycling of glass, aluminum, tin and all metals; and the composting of all waste foods and bio-degradable material ensuring everything comes back full-circle. A significant proportion of the ranch’s produce is also organically grown by local farmers, helping the Wolf Creek community with their livelihood. Ethical stewards, who are constantly looking for ways to further their green commitment, the owners of the Rocking Z have yet more plans in store, and in 2009 they are hoping to install a wind charged generator – making this the perfect stay for forward thinking ranchers.

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Posted in Chemicals, Composting, Conservation, Ecotourism, Electricity, Nature & Ecosystems, Other, Policies & Solutions, Recycling, Solar, Wind0 Comments

EcoWorld's 2008 EcoTour Survey

THE GRAND OASIS: ECOWORLD’S TOP ECO-TOURS FOR 2008
Gorilla with Baby Gorilla
Visit a family of gorillas on your next family vacation.
(Photo: Terra Incognita Ecotours)

Have you ever looked a beautiful pristine place shining brightly on your computer’s screensaver and thought how much you would like to be there right now?

For some people, a couch, cold drink and a decent video rental make up the key ingredients for their perfect vacation. What is a vacation anyway? The dictionary defines the word as “time away from work”, but for many of us, the ideal vacation doesn’t just mean a quick escape from the job, but an escape from the day to day lives we’ve become accustomed to. Working the 8-5 jobs leaves many drained and wondering what else the world has to offer. A plastic plant gathering dust next to the computer screen we stare at all day is never going to satisfy the need for a healthy dose of nature.

Nominated as “Best Tour Operator” in the 2006 First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards, Terra Incognita Ecotours, is a tour operator that has left many clients impressed. Terra Incognita founder, Gerard Caddick, spent many years working to conserve endangered species in South America before starting a business in the travel industry. Caddick’s tours include trips to Rwanda where visitors can spend the day with wild gorillas, to Costa Rica where it is rare to leave without having seen toucans, parrots and monkeys in the jungle canopy or Borneo where orangutan’s and elephants are a common sight.

Gerard Caddick, explains what makes eco-tours special ones: “I would say that what makes our trips different is that we’re focused on taking people to natural areas to experience the wildlife and cultures that occur there. So its very different form a beach vacation or cruise. There is an educational component where you learn about wildlife and nature issues.”

The Terra Incognita website provides a list that defines an ecologically responsible tour:

Minimize impact,

Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect,

Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts,

Provide direct financial benefits for conservation,

Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people,

Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate,

Support international human rights and labor agreements.

Small Sloth
Have this little fellow join you for breakfast.
(Photo: Terra Incognita Ecotours)

There really is something out there for anyone. A jungle safari might appeal to the more adventurous while a laid back cruise would seem more appealing to someone who just wants to sit back and relax.

The difference between an eco-tour and booking a trip on your own is that an eco-tour allows the traveler to give something back to the country that they visit.

“We made the decision early that that everyone’s involvement [in the local culture and habitat protection] would be a monetary donation,” says Caddick, “On every trip that we offer, there is a component of the tour costs that goes to a local conservation organization. Our logic was that we are targeting the baby boomer generation that has more money than time. People want to do the right thing, but they don’t have the time to do conservation or volunteer work, so they provide funding and get involved in that sense.”

Some examples of where tourist dollars go when traveling through Terra Incognita include: Project Angonoka to protect the most endangered tortoise in the world-the ploughshare,which is found solely in Madagascar (http://www.biaza.org.uk/public/pages/conservation/projects/angonoka.asp),
to the Belize zoo, to the Tropical Education Center and to the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) where veterinarians have the risky job of roaming through the jungles and treating injured gorillas. The MGVP project can be proud of having increased the Mountain Gorilla population by 17% in the past 20 years. (http://mgvp.32ad.com/)

A lot of thought is put into where Terra Incognita donates this money. “We like to find local conservation organizations,” continues Caddick, “We never give a whole lot of money, meaning it is not in the millions, so we want to make sure that what we give is wisely spent.”

Terra Incognita’s most popular and unique tour is the trip to visit the incredible Gorilla in Rwanda: “Sitting face to face with a mountain gorilla is a life changing experience,” says Caddick emotionally, “everyone we’ve taken to see these gorillas has been moved by the whole experience. I’ve seen grown men weep. Imagine coming face to face with something three times your size and marveling at how incredibly gentle and compassionate these creatures are. The Mountain Gorilla tour involves waking up at 5am where the lodge owner knocks on your door with tea or coffee at hand. Breakfast starts at 5:30am and the group heads out to start the trek through the jungle at 6am. There are seven Gorilla families in the area, and each visitor is assigned a group. It takes 1-3 hours to reach the gorillas and one hour is spent with them when they are found. They only have human interaction 1 hour a day. After the experience, you go back to the lodge and relax till the cocktail hour starts at 6pm and dinner at 7pm.”

A major concern for travelers is their budget. As with anything, careful research will provide a travel solution for everyone.

Italian Shore Village
Smart growth cluster-homes, ala Italia.
(Photo: A Closer Look Travel)

Kara Black, the owner and manager of A Closer Look Travel (http://www.acloserlook.travel/), recently became focused on sustainable travel. Black decided to specialize in social change travel and runs one of the few travel agencies that specialize in eco-tourism. Black explains how varied eco-tours can be: “The prices of eco-tours are diverse; you can find luxury deluxe ecotourism or you could do a home-stay which is extremely in expensive.”

St. John Island Vacations (http://www.caneelbay.com) is an example of a luxury vacation. As with anything, you get what you pay for, and being pampered, fed, massaged and entertained at the one of the most beautiful island escapes in the world does not come cheap.

Ecotourism does not mean that your trip involves backpacking through rugged terrain or working in a rural village to earn your keep. These are options, but not what defines eco-tourism.

A Closer Look Travel offers other types of tours to individuals wishing to make a direct impact by staying with local families and working in the area to pay for their stay. Kara Black explains that “you could stay in a ghetto in Brazil or in the Dominican Republic. Of course you would be housed in fairly safe accommodations and get tours of the living conditions of the people that live there so it is not a white washed tour. You would have the opportunity to purchase a well for a family that provides much needed water, or work in a health clinic or in a school to help educate local children. An example of a typical day on one these adventures include staying on the outskirts of the poor area in a sort of Bed and Breakfast, where you take a group transport to a clinic and work on a variety of tasks like talking with parents, observing the situation and assisting in ways where you don’t need medical expertise. You listen to people who work there, learn what their issues are and end up being donors to these programs. After a morning working at a clinic you would have lunch off site and then take a group bus to say, local archeological caves. Afterwards everyone enjoys time shopping at the beach district and receives a nicer meal for dinner. These types of tours are offered all over the world such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, the Dominican Republic, South and Central America and Honduras.”

Penguins in Patagonia
Penguins in Patagonia.
(Photo: A Closer Look Travel)

There are also opportunities to work with local habitats by planting trees or monitoring wildlife. Black continues to describe a tour that would appeal to travelers who want to completely immerse themselves in nature: “In the Earth Watch expedition up the Amazon, travelers stay in huts owned by the local tribes. You get to these huts by a dug out canoe boat. When you stay in your hut you hope you can sleep in because at night you stay up late studying cicadas via black light. During the day you go on wildlife excursions, and then you come back and enjoy dinner made from food grown locally. Afterwards you will stay up for several more hours and attract insects with the black light to count them.”

Tropical forests or third world countries are not the only popular travel destinations offered through Black’s travel agency: “You can stay at a ranch in Hawaii on the side of a volcano while reforesting native trees, another one of our trips includes a stay on a hilltop castle in Tuscany where guests learn how to do all the organic farming and learn how to sustainably harvest everything. You learn a lot about the history of the area and how locals live their lives.”

Unfortunately, even ecotourism can have negative impacts if not managed properly. The psychology behind travel has changed tremendously over the years. In the past, people did not give a second though about trampling through jungles or riding jeeps across the Sahara. As traveling became easier and the world smaller, many people decided to take advantage of the situation and sought adventure in pristine jungles, deserts and oceans. Over time, these areas degraded and the environmentally conscious noted changes in the land, an increase in pollution and changes to the local society as a whole. Hotels along beaches, garbage at camp sites, eroded paths in jungles, the overuse of water at golf resorts and the displacement of locals are all negative impacts of the non-environmentally conscious tourist.

To read detailed accounts of the negative impacts of tourism visit UNEP at http://www.uneptie.org/pc/tourism/sust-tourism/env-3main.htm or Tourism Concern at http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/index.php?page=home.

Bearing in mind that the tourism industry has grown substantially in the past 20 years, the answer to the predicaments mentioned above are to change the way we travel, rather than to eliminate tourism to certain destinations completely. In fact, 10.8 billion dollars were spent by international tourists traveling to the U.S in the month of September 2007. This huge sum is proof of what a large market tourism is.

Highlands of Peru
The breathtaking highlands of Peru
(Photo: Eco Tours Online)

Egyptian born Kareem Hagar tried escaping the overpopulation and pollution caused by the tourism industry by visiting sites that tourists did not know about. In an effort to preserve the few areas in Egypt that were still intact he and his friend, Anthony Chamy, were inspired to create EcotoursOnline after moving to Canada. http://ecotoursonline.ca/.

“We never really considered this product to be a business at first,” says Anthony. “Kareem and I were raised in Egypt and a lot of the places we went to as kids are ruined now. Kareem went out on his own trying to find deserted beaches and oasis in the desert in an attempt to escape mass tourism in the area- the areas just lost their charm. I started tagging a long with him and soon year after year the group got bigger as more people joined who were interested in visiting areas unknown to tourists. When the groups got to be as large as 10-15 people, we saw potential for a product.”

Hopeful that they could protect the areas that remained, the duo started up a company with the purpose of educating the public about the importance of preserving the variety of archaeological wonders and cultures in Egypt.

“We found local people with the same passion for their country,” continues Anthony, “and we used their contacts and experience to create a unique itinerary. Visitors will have the chance to spend time with family and kids. Of course we are going to see the sights-the pyramids-but that’s just a side, where seeing what the country and it’s people are really like is the main issue. Our groups have been invited to weddings and dinners. A lot of our activities will also be participative tourism. Half a day might be spent with a fisherman where we help him built a boat He gets paid for his time and can sell the boat we helped make later on. We help you find hidden treasures and by traveling with us you’re no longer a tourist, you become a friend.”

Madagascar Thread Store
Colorful threads from Madagascar -
wear these to work on Monday!
(Photo: Eco Tours Online)

Chamy and Hagar knew that preventing tourism completely was not the answer to preserving an area: “We have a big responsibility with this business. People are going to travel anyway. If we don’t take them they will end up going on their own. We show them a different side of the country and educate them so they learn to travel with respect for the future. People are spending thousands of dollars when they travel and this money is usually taken OUT of the country where the money is spent. These tourists completely ignore local culture where the only contact they have are with local housekeepers or servers…A lot of people do not know how bad things are for the country. In Cancun, for example, you don’t know what you’re doing wrong when you spend 600 dollars and are sunning yourself on a major hotel’s beach resort. We want to make it obvious.”

Another argument against ecotourism is that it is just the first step in the slippery slope to mass tourism. By sending people to pristine areas, they gain popularity and more people end up visiting the area. However, by creating an industry from a rain forest by providing trails or a bird watching tower, it is in the local’s interest to preserve the area rather than to destroy it in favor of a golf course or logging.

Caddick expresses a similar opinion: “There probably is some truth to [ecotourism evolving into mass tourism]. The more popular gorilla trekking is, the more people go there, the more lodges are built and the more of an impact there is. But I think the best way to engage and empower people to be concerned and be advocates for the environment is to educate them and have them enjoy these places. We can’t just lock them away. If people aren’t inspired and touched by it they can’t protect it. [Why would they want to?] You don’t want to love a place to death, but how does one set that level? You are going to have an impact whether it is just one person or thousands, but you don’t want to see places get locked away where only scientists have access to certain areas. If no one experiences it, then no one is going to want to protect it. It is a double edged sword.”

EcoWorld’s 2006 EcoTour survey “A Vast & Beautiful Planet,” describing some of the ecotours available on the planet. Since then, ecotourism has become even more popular. This is good news, but with an increase in popularity, potential travelers need to be careful when researching their options to ensure that ecotourism is not just a name in the company but the real thing.

Another thing to remember is that even though ecotourism is not the traditional tour or what many of us are used to, it is a great and affordable option to see parts of a country we would never find on our own. Many tours also offer travelers the opportunity to change the itinerary to enjoy areas you are specifically interested in. Kara Black has the following the advice: “People should not be scared of sustainable travel options. It’s a lot like normal travel and people can have the same kind of comfort and meet a lot of the same goals but they can actually add some richness to the experience as well. You can have a luxurious experience or a rustic one. You do run into a lot of bugs in the tropics&but it can be just as comfortable as your other travel arrangements if you plan ahead. [Plus, it wouldn't be the tropics without all the cool insects]”

For a detailed list of Eco-tours visit the Ecotourism Directory at:

http://www.ecotourdirectory.com/.

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Posted in Conservation, Ecotourism, Education, History, Nature & Ecosystems, Organizations, Other, People, Sustainable Travel0 Comments

Rebuttal to Al Gore's Inconvenient "Truth": One-sided, Misleading, Exaggerated, Speculative, & Wrong

Editor’s Note: One of the most powerful political speeches we’ve seen in recent years, if ever, is the passionate critique of the media leveled by Al Gore. This “other” latest cause of the esteemed former Vice President is unerring in its truth, and unsparing in its victims. Gore quite accurately presents today’s media as lapdogs of the entertainment industry. In the same speech, Gore goes on to correctly indict technology for enabling marketing and manipulation as much as it has enabled communication and enlightenment.

Al Gore is a man whose spirit has been reforged and hardened in the crucible of great aspiration and cruel disappointment. Had he shown such genuine soul back in the year 2000, he might have won big, instead of losing a close Presidential race on technicalities. But is Gore’s great other cause, where he demands from today’s media renewed accountability, skepticism, independent verification, in-depth analysis, integrity and relentless investigation, something in conflict with his greatest cause, his campaign to convince us to curtail CO2 emissions?

Global warming skeptics aren’t saying Al Gore is wrong, or if they are, that isn’t all they’re saying. They’re simply asking everyone who jumps onto this bandwagon, uncritically generated by the credulous, sensation-addicted media who Gore decries, to think carefully about all consequences of anti-CO2 policies.

Is the emphasis on eliminating CO2 distracting us from other environmental problems? What ever happened to the Aral Sea, drained nearly dry in the years since it was the poster child for Al Gore’s first major environmental book, “Earth in the Balance?” What about the oceans whose fisheries are being strip mined to exhaustion by fleets of factory ships with sonar and driftnets 50 miles long? What about forests from Indonesia to the Amazon to the Congo, who are being urgently felled so “carbon neutral” biofuel might grow?

There is never too much skepticism in the world according to Al Gore, media critic. Al Gore, the anti global warming crusader, might remember this, and celebrate healthy debate not only as to how much and why the earth warms, but what to do about it. From that perspective, this spirited rebuttal to points Al Gore makes in his book “An Inconvenient Truth” are welcome and necessary. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Al Gore’s “Truth” – One-Sided, Misleading, Exaggerated, Speculative, Wrong
by Marlo Lewis, Jr., December 23, 2006
Cars on Freeway

Al Gore’s book on “The planetary emergency of global warming and what can be done about it,” purports to be a non-partisan, non-ideological exposition of climate science and moral common sense. In reality, An Inconvenient Truth is a colorfully illustrated lawyer’s brief for global warming alarmism and energy rationing.

It is a J’Accuse hurled at fossil fuel energy-based civilization, especially the United States, and above all the Bush Administration and its purported allies in the U.S. oil and auto industries.

We do not expect lawyers to argue both for and against their clients, nor do we expect “balance” from political party leaders. However, although Gore reminds us – in the film version of An Inconvenient Truth – that he “used to be the next President of the United States,” and concludes both the book and the movie with a call for “political action,” he presents AIT as the work of a long-time student of climate science, a product of meditation on “what matters.” He asks his audience to expect more from him than the mere cleverness that can sway juries or win elections.

What we get instead is sophistry. In AIT, the only facts and studies considered are those convenient to Gore’s scare-them-green agenda – and in many instances, Gore distorts the evidence he presents.

Nearly every significant statement Gore makes regarding climate science and climate policy is either one sided, misleading, exaggerated, speculative, or just plain wrong. The present OnPoint summarizes my findings. An Inconvenient Truth does the following:

Cow in Field
More Cows

ONE-SIDED

Never acknowledges the indispensable role of fossil fuels in alleviating hunger and poverty, extending human life spans, and democratizing consumer goods, literacy, leisure, and personal mobility.

Never acknowledges the environmental, health, and economic benefits of climatic warmth and the ongoing rise in the air’s carbon dioxide (CO2) content.

Never acknowledges the major role of natural variability in shrinking the snows of Kilimanjaro and other mountain glaciers.

Never mentions the 1976 regime shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a natural ocean cycle, which is a major cause of recent climate change in Alaska.

Presents a graph tracking CO2 levels and global temperatures during the past 650,000 years, but never mentions the most significant point: Global temperatures were warmer than the present during each of the past four interglacial periods, even though CO2 levels were lower.

Never confronts a key implication of its assumption that climate is highly sensitive to CO2 emissions – that absent said emissions, global climate would be rapidly deteriorating into another ice age.

Neglects to mention that, due to the growth of urban heat islands, U.S. cities and towns will continually break temperature records, with or without help from global warming.

Neglects to mention that global warming could reduce the severity of winter storms – also called frontal storms because their energy comes from colliding air masses (fronts) – by decreasing the temperature differential between colliding air masses.

Highlights London’s construction of the Thames River flood barrier as evidence of global warming-induced sea-level rise, but does not mention that London is sinking two to six times faster than global sea levels are rising.

Ignores the large role of natural variability in Arctic climate, never mentioning either that Arctic temperatures during the 1930s equaled or exceeded those of the late 20th century, or that the Arctic during the early- to mid-Holocene was significantly warmer than it is today.

Cites a study that found that the number of recorded wildfires in North America has increased in recent decades, but not the same study’s finding that the total area burned decreased by 90 percent since the 1930s.

Fosters the impression that global warming can only be good for bad things
(algae, ticks) and bad for good things (polar bears, migratory birds) – depicting nature as a morality play.

Cites a study by Isabella Velicogna and John Wahr, of the University of Colorado, that found an overall loss in Antarctic ice mass during 2002-2005, but ignores a study by University of Missouri professor Curt Davis and colleagues that found an overall ice mass gain during 1992-2003. Three years worth of data is too short to tell anything about a trend in a system as vast and complex as Antarctica.

Cites a recent study by John Turner of the British Antarctic Survey that found a 0.5° Celsius (C) to 0.7°C per decade wintertime warming trend in the mid-troposphere above Antarctica, as measured by weather balloons, but fails to mention that the same study found much less warming – about 0.15°C per decade – at the Antarctic surface, or that NASA satellites, which also measure troposphere temperatures, show an Antarctic cooling trend of 0.12°C per decade since November 1978.

Misanthropically sees “success” not in the fossil fuel energy-based civilization that has enabled mankind to increase its numbers more than six-fold since the dawn of the industrial revolution, but in the recent reduction of global population growth rates.

Compares Haiti – which suffers from deforestation – unfavorably with neighboring Dominican Republic – which enjoys lush forest cover – to illustrate the impact of politics on the environment, but ignores another key implication of the comparison: Poverty is the environment’s number one enemy.

Notes that “much forest destruction” and “almost 30%” of annual CO2 emissions come from “the burning of brushland for subsistence agriculture and wood fires used for cooking,” but never considers whether fossil fuel energy restrictions would set back developing countries both economically and environmentally, by leading to more such burning.

Neglects to mention the circumstances that make it reasonable rather than blameworthy for America to be the biggest CO2 emitter: the world’s largest economy, high per capita incomes, abundant energy resources, markets integrated across continental distances, and the world’s most mobile population.

Impugns the motives of so-called global warming skeptics but never acknowledges the special-interest motivations of those whose research grants, direct-mail income, industrial policy privileges, regulatory power, prosecutorial plunder, or political careers depend on keeping the public in a state of fear about global warming.

Castigates former White House official Phil Cooney for editing U.S. government climate change policy documents, without ever considering the scientific merit of Cooney’s decisions to delete certain passages as “speculative.”

Waxes enthusiastic about cellulosic ethanol, a product with no commercial application despite 30 years of government-funded research, and neglects to mention that corn-based ethanol, a product in commercial use for a century, is still more costly than regular gasoline despite oil prices exceeding $70 a barrel.

Misrepresents the major auto companies’ position in their lawsuit to overturn California’s CO2 emissions law by neglecting to mention that CO2 standards are de facto fuel economy standards and that federal law prohibits states from regulating fuel economy.

Blames Detroit’s financial troubles on the Big Three’s high-volume production of sport utility vehicles, even though U.S. automakers probably would not exist today had they been “ahead of their time” and pushed hybrids during the 1990s, contrary to consumer demand. AIT says nothing about the biggest cause of Detroit’s falling capitalization – unaffordable payments for employee benefit packages negotiated decades ago.

Touts Denmark’s wind farms without mentioning any of the well-known drawbacks of wind power: cost, intermittency, avian mortality, site depletion, and scenic degradation.

Never addresses the obvious criticism that the Kyoto Protocol is all pain for no gain and that any policies far-reaching enough to noticeably slow warming would be a “cure” worse than the alleged disease.

Claims a study by Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala of Princeton University shows that “affordable” technologies could reduce U.S. carbon emissions below 1970 levels even though the authors specifically note that their study does not estimate costs. AIT also neglects to mention that Socolow and Pacala’s study is a response to a 2002 study by Martin Hoffert of New York University and 17 other energy experts who concluded that, “CO2 is a combustion product vital to how civilization is powered; it cannot be regulated away.”

Smokestacks from Coal Powerplant
Coal Plant

MISLEADING

Implies that a two-page photograph of Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina shows that the glacier is melting away, even though the glacier’s terminal boundary has not changed in 90 years.

Implies that, during the past 650,000 years, changes in carbon dioxide levels preceded and largely caused changes in global temperature, whereas the causality mostly runs the other way, with CO2 changes trailing global temperature changes by hundreds to thousands of years.

Belittles as ideologically motivated the painstaking and now widely-accepted methodological critiques by Ross McKitrick of the University of Guelph in Ontario and Steve McIntyre of the Hockey Stick reconstruction of Northern Hemisphere climate history.

Cites increases in insurance payments to victims of hurricanes, floods, drought, tornadoes, wildfires, and other natural disasters as evidence of a global warming-ravaged planet, even though the increases are chiefly due to socioeconomic factors such as population growth and development in high-risk coastal areas and cities.

Distracts readers from the main hurricane problem facing the United States: the ever-growing concentration of population and wealth in vulnerable coastal regions, which is partly a consequence of federal flood insurance and other political subsidies.

Ignores the societal factors – such as poverty – that typically overwhelm climatic factors in determining people’s risk of damage or death from hurricanes, floods, drought, tornadoes, wildfires, and disease.

Implies that the 2006 tropical cyclone season in Australia was unusually active and, thus, symptomatic of global warming. In contrast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes the season as “near average.”

Re-labels as “major floods,” a category defined by physical magnitude, a chart of “damaging floods,” a category defined by socioeconomic and political criteria.

Re-labels as “major wildfires,” a category defined by physical magnitude, a chart of “recorded wildfires,” a category reflecting changes in data collection and reporting, such as increases in the frequency and scope of satellite monitoring.

Conflates the Thermohaline Circulation (THC), a convective system primarily driven by differences in salinity and sea temperatures, with the Gulf Stream, a wind-driven system energized primarily by the Earth’s spin and the lunar tides, exaggerating the risk of a big chill in Europe from a weakening of the THC.

Presents a graph showing the number of annual closings of the Thames River tidal barriers from 1930 to the present, even though the modern barrier system was completed in 1982 and became operational in 1984. This apples-to-oranges comparison conveys the false impression that London faced no serious flood risk until recent decades.

Blames global warming for the decline “since the 1960s” of the emperor penguin population in Antarctica, implying that the penguins are in peril, their numbers dwindling as the world warms. In fact, the population declined in the 1970s and has been stable since the late 1980s.

Implies that a study finding that none of 928 science articles – actually abstracts – denied a CO2-global warming link, shows that Gore’s apocalyptic view of global warming is the “consensus” view among scientists.

Reports that 48 Nobel Prize-winning scientists accused President Bush of distorting science, without mentioning that the scientists acted as members of a “527″ political advocacy group set up to promote John Kerry’s 2004 campaign for president.

Implies that the United States is an environmental laggard because China has adopted more stringent fuel economy standards, glossing over China’s horrendous air quality problems.

Northern Ice Cap 2005
Northern Ice 2005 (blue area)

EXAGGERATED

Exaggerates the certainty and hypes the importance of the alleged link between global warming and the frequency and severity of tropical storms.

Hypes the importance of NOAA running out of names (21 per year) for Atlantic hurricanes in 2005, and the fact that some storms continued into December. The practice of naming storms only goes back to 1953, and hurricane detection capabilities have improved dramatically since the 1950s, so the “record” number of named storms in 2005 may be an artifact of the resulting data. Also, Atlantic hurricanes continued into December in several previous years including 1878, 1887, and 1888.

Never explains why anyone should be alarmed about the current Arctic warming, considering that our stone-age ancestors survived – and likely benefited from – the much stronger and longer Arctic warming known as the Holocene Climate Optimum.

Portrays the cracking of the Ward Hunt ice shelf in 2002 as a portent of doom, even though the shelf was merely a remnant of a much larger Arctic ice formation that had already lost 90 percent of its area during 1906-1982.

Claims that polar bears “have been drowning in significant numbers,” but this is based on a single report that found four drowned polar bears in one month in one year, following an abrupt storm.

Claims that global warming is creating “ecological niches” for “invasive alien species,” never mentioning other, more important factors such as increases in trade, tourism, and urban heat islands. For example, due to population growth, Berlin warmed twice as much during 1886-1898 as the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates the entire world warmed during the 20th century.

Blames global warming for pine beetle infestations that likely have more to do with increased forest density and plain old mismanagement.

Presents a graph suggesting that China’s new fuel economy standards are almost 30 percent more stringent than the current U.S. standards. In fact, the Chinese standards are only about 5 percent more stringent.

Northern Ice Cap 2030 Projection
Northern Ice 2030 (blue area)

SPECULATIVE

Warns of impending water shortages in Asia due to global warming but does not check whether there is any correlation between global warming and Eurasian snow cover (there isn’t). If Tibetan glaciers were to melt, that should increase water availability in the coming decades.

Claims that CO2 concentrations in the Holocene never rose above 300 parts per million (ppm) in pre-industrial times, and that the current level – 380 ppm – is “way above” the range of natural variability. Proxy data (leaf stoma frequency) indicate that, in the early Holocene, CO2 levels exceeded 330 ppm for centuries and reached 348 ppm.

Claims that a Scripps Oceanography Institute study shows that ocean temperatures during the past 40 years are “way above the range of natural variability.” Proxy data indicate that the Atlantic Ocean off the West Coast of Africa was warmer than present during the Medieval Warm Period.

Blames global warming for the record number of typhoons hitting Japan in 2004. Local meteorological conditions, not average global temperatures, determine the trajectory of particular storms, and data going back to 1950 show no correlation between North Pacific storm activity and global temperatures.

Blames global warming for the record-breaking 37-inch downpour in Mumbai, India on July 26, 2005, even though there has been no trend in Mumbai rainfall for the month of July in 45 years.

Blames global warming for recent floods in China’s Sichuan and Shandong provinces, even though far more damaging floods struck those areas in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Blames global warming for the disappearance of Lake Chad, a phenomenon more likely stemming from a combination of regional climate variability and societal factors like population increase and overgrazing.

Claims that global warming is drying out soils all over the world, whereas pan evaporation studies (which measure the rate of evaporation from open pans of water) indicate that, in general, the Earth’s surface is becoming wetter.

Presents one climate model’s projection of increased U.S. drought as authoritative even though another leading model forecasts increased wetness. Climate model hydrology forecasts on regional scales are notoriously unreliable. Most of the United States, outside the Southwest, became wetter during 1925-2003.

Blames global warming for the severe drought that hit the Amazon in 2005. However, RealClimate.Org, a web site set up to debunk global warming “skeptics,” concluded that it is not possible to link the drought to global warming.

Warns of a positive feedback whereby carbon-induced warming melts tundra, releasing more CO2 locked up in frozen soils. An alternative scenario is also plausible: The range of carbon-storing vegetation expands as tundra thaws.

Claims that global warming endangers polar bears even though polar bear populations are increasing in Arctic areas where it is warming and declining in Arctic areas where it is cooling.

Blames global warming for Alaska’s “drunken trees” – trees rooted in previously frozen tundra, which sway in all directions as the ice melts – ignoring the possibly large role of the 1976 PDO shift.

Blames rising CO2 levels for recent declines in Arctic sea ice, ignoring the potentially large role of natural variability. AIT never mentions that wind pattern shifts may account for much of the observed changes in sea ice, or that the Canadian Arctic Archipelago had considerably less sea ice during the early Holocene.

Warns that meltwater from Greenland could disrupt the Atlantic thermohaline circulation based on research indicating that a major disruption occurred 8,200 years ago when a giant ice dam burst in North America, allowing two lakes to drain rapidly into the sea. AIT does not mention that the lakes injected more than 100,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater into the sea, whereas Greenland ice melt contributes only a few hundred cubic kilometers a year.

Warns that global warming is destroying coral reefs, even though today’s main reef builders evolved and thrived during periods substantially warmer than the present.

Warns that a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 levels to 560 ppm will so acidify seawater that all optimal areas for coral reef construction will disappear by 2050. This is not plausible. Coral calcification rates have increased as ocean temperatures and CO2 levels have risen, and today’s main reef builders evolved and thrived during the Mesozoic Period, when atmospheric CO2 levels hovered above 1,000 ppm for 150 million years and exceeded 2,000 ppm for several million years.

Links global warming to toxic algae bloom outbreaks in the Baltic Sea that can be entirely explained by record-high phosphorus levels, record-low nitrogen-to-phosphorus levels, and local meteorological conditions.

Asserts without evidence that global warming is causing more tick-borne disease (TBD). A 2004 study by Oxford University professor Sarah Randolph found no relationship between climate change and TBD in Europe.

Blames global warming for the resurgence of malaria in Kenya, even though several studies have found no climate link and attribute the problem to decreased spraying of homes with DDT, anti-malarial drug resistance, and incompetent public health programs.

Insinuates that global warming is a factor in the emergence of some 30 “new” diseases over the last three decades, but cites no supporting research or evidence.

Blames global warming for the decline “since the 1960s” of the emperor penguin population in Antarctica based on a speculative assessment by two researchers that warm sea temperatures in the 1970s reduced the birds’ main food source. An equally plausible explanation is that Antarctic ecotourism, which became popular in the 1970s, disturbed the rookeries.

Warns of “significant and alarming structural changes” in the submarine base of West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), but does not tell us what those changes are or why they are “significant and alarming.” The melting and retreat of the WAIS “grounding line” has been going on since the early Holocene. At the rate of retreat observed in the late 1990s, the WAIS should disappear in about 7,000 years.

Warns that vertical water tunnels (“moulins”) are lubricating the Greenland Ice Sheet, increasing the risk that it will “slide” into the sea. Summertime glacier flow acceleration associated with moulins is tiny. Moulins in numbers equal to or surpassing those observed today probably occurred in the first half of the 20th century, when Greenland was as warm as or warmer than the past decade, with no major loss of grounded ice.

Presents 10 pages of before-and-after “photographs” showing what 20 feet of sea level rise would do to the world’s major coastal communities. There is no credible evidence of an impending collapse of the great ice sheets. We do have fairly good data on ice mass balance changes and their effects on sea level. NASA scientist Jay Zwally and colleagues found a combined Greenland/Antarctica ice-loss-sea-level-rise equivalent of 0.05 mm per year during 1992-2002. At that rate, it would take a full millennium to raise sea level by just 5 cm.

Forecasts an increase in U.S. renewable energy production during 1990-2030 more than twice that projected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Northern Ice Cap 2095 Projection
Northern Ice 2095 (none left)

WRONG

Claims that glaciologist Lonnie Thompson’s reconstruction of climate history proves the Medieval Warm Period was “tiny” compared to the warming observed in recent decades. It doesn’t. Four of Thompson’s six ice cores indicate the Medieval Warm Period was as warm as or warmer than any recent decade.

Calls carbon dioxide the “most important greenhouse gas.” Water vapor is the leading contributor to the greenhouse effect.

Claims that Venus is too hot and Mars too cold to support life due to differences in atmospheric CO2 concentrations (they are nearly identical), rather than differences in atmospheric densities and distances from the Sun (both huge).

Claims that scientists have validated the “hockey stick” reconstruction of Northern Hemisphere temperature history, according to which the 1990s were likely the warmest decade of the past millennium and 1998 the warmest year. It is now widely acknowledged that the hockey stick was built on a flawed methodology and inappropriate data. Scientists continue to debate whether the Medieval Warm period was warmer than recent decades.

Assumes that CO2 levels are increasing at roughly 1 percent annually. The actual rate is half that.

Assumes a linear relationship between CO2 levels and global temperatures, whereas the actual CO2-warming effect is logarithmic, meaning that the next 100-ppm increase in CO2 levels adds only half as much heat as the previous 100-ppm increase.

Claims that the rate of global warming is accelerating, whereas the rate has been constant for the past 30 years – roughly 0.17°C per decade.

Blames global warming for Europe’s killer heat wave of 2003 – an event caused by an atmospheric circulation anomaly.

Blames global warming for Hurricane Catarina, the first South Atlantic hurricane on record, which struck Brazil in 2004. Catarina formed not because the South Atlantic was unusually warm (sea temperatures were cooler than normal), but because the air was so much colder it produced the same kind of heat flux from the ocean that fuels hurricanes in warmer waters.

Claims that 2004 set an all-time record for the number of tornadoes in the United States. Tornado frequency has not increased; rather, the detection of smaller tornadoes has increased. If we consider the tornadoes that have been detectable for many decades (category F-3 or greater), there actually has been a downward trend since 1950.

Blames global warming for a “mass extinction crisis” that is not, in fact, occurring.

Blames global warming for the rapid coast-to-coast spread of the West Nile virus. North America contains nearly all the climate types in the world – from hot, dry deserts to boreal forests to frigid tundra – a range that dwarfs any small alteration in temperature or precipitation that may be related to atmospheric CO2 levels. The virus could not have spread so far so fast if it were climate-sensitive.

Cites Tuvalu, Polynesia, as a place where rising sea levels force residents to evacuate their homes. In reality, sea levels at Tuvalu fell during the latter half of the 20th century and even during the 1990s, allegedly the warmest decade of the millennium.

Claims that sea level rise could be many times larger and more rapid “depending on the choices we make or do not make now” concerning global warming. Not so. The most aggressive choice America could make now would be to join Europe in implementing the Kyoto Protocol. Assuming the science underpinning Kyoto is correct, the treaty would avert only 1 cm of sea level rise by 2050 and 2.5 cm by 2100.

Accuses ExxonMobil of running a “disinformation campaign” designed to “reposition global warming as theory, rather than fact,” even though two clicks of the mouse reveal that ExxonMobil acknowledges global warming as a fact.

Claims that President Bush hired Phil Cooney to “be in charge” of White House environmental policy. This must be a surprise to White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairman James Connaughton, who hired Cooney and was his boss at the CEQ.

Claims that the European Union’s emission trading system (ETS) is working “effectively.” In fact, the ETS is not reducing emissions, will transfer an estimated £1.5 billion from British firms to competitors in countries with weaker controls, has enabled oil companies to profit at the expense of hospitals and schools, and has been an administrative nightmare for small firms.

Claims U.S. firms won’t be able to sell American-made cars in China because Chinese fuel-economy standards are stricter, even though many U.S.-made cars meet the Chinese standards.

Conclusion: Vice President Gore calls global warming a “moral issue,” but for him it is a moralizing issue – a license to castigate political adversaries and blame America first for everything from hurricanes to floods to wildfires to tick-borne disease. Somehow Gore sees nothing immoral in the attempt to make fossil energy scarcer and more costly in a world where 1.6 billion people still have no access to electricity and billions more are too poor to own a car.

Nearly every significant statement that Vice President Gore makes regarding climate science and climate policy is either one sided, misleading, exaggerated, speculative, or wrong. In light of these numerous distortions, “An Inconvenient Truth” is ill-suited to serve as a guide to climate science and climate policy for the American people.

Marlo Lewis

About the Author: Marlo Lewis, Jr. is a Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where he writes on global warming, energy policy, and other public policy issues. Originally published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute on September 28, 2006, this is a brief overview of author Lewis’s critique of An Inconvenient Truth. Republished with permission. For further documentation, please read the Lewis’s upcoming full-length monograph, “A Skeptic’s Guide to An Inconvenient Truth.”

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Posted in Birds, Careers, Cars, Coal, Drought, Ecotourism, Effects Of Air Pollution, Electricity, Energy, Global Warming & Climate Change, History, Natural Disasters, Other, Policies & Solutions, Population Growth, Regional, Science, Space, & Technology, Tidal, Wind3 Comments

EcoWorld's 2005 Eco-Travel Survey

A VAST & BEAUTIFUL PLANET: EcoWorld’s Survey of Top Eco-Tours
African Man on the Savannah
Africa, vast and ancient, beckons the traveler
Campi Ya Kanzi: Chyulu Hills, Kenya

How can you appreciate a landscape you’ve never been to?

Thundering waterfalls and towering mountains lose their luster when seen on television or in books. You have to go there yourself – and many of us do. Everyone looks forward to a vacation to beautiful places.

Sunny beaches, tropical rainforests, green woods or vast expanses of ever-changing desert are so much more pleasing to the eye. Unfortunately, many tourists don’t leave these natural wonders the way they find them. It is not uncommon to step on the bottle caps and cigarette butts left behind on public beaches. Lizards and snakes are often killed or run over unknowingly by the adventurous in deserts. Trudging through the dense vegetation in forests will leave a path of squashed plants and scared animals.

The truth is that most humans are still clumsy travelers who have a habit of leaving destruction in their wake. “Take Cancun, for example,” says Laura Ell of the International EcoTourism Society (www.ecotourism.org), “If you have a large resort that’s not owned by anyone in the local community, mass tourism will destroy a lot of the environment. When tourists arrive and use so much water and other local resources, it really has an influence on the area. In Cancun, the beach is completely changed and now artificial.” In an era where accessibility to exotic locales is as simple as purchasing a plane ticket or chartering a boat, more and more people are becoming globetrotters and more natural areas are influenced as a result.

Through the use of ecotourism, thousands of tourists not only avoid destroying the environment they are so anxious to see, but also help to protect it for future generations. There are many definitions for ecotourism. “This is one of the challenges in our industry,” says Ell, “but we have the most widely used definition where ecotourism means responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of the local people.”

When residents of exotic regions first noticed the onslaught of tourists many of them quickly did all they could to promote their natural resources as lures. Hunting, safaris, kayaking or scenic jungle tours were (and in some cases, still are) pushed on travelers by residents or even international companies. Even though locals may benefit when they successfully sell a tour, it is not considered ecotourism since the environment often suffers. Internationally owned bars, hotels and restaurants also pop up to entice tourists to stay and spend their money in the area but since the most successful hotels are owned internationally the money typically doesn’t stay in the region.

Ship
Bluewater Adventures

When it comes to environmental awareness, tourism has improved immensely in the last few years.

Bluewater Adventures (www.bluewateradventures.ca) offers exciting ecologically friendly excursions to coastal British Columbia and South East Alaska. Randy Burke, director and owner of Bluewater Adventures loves his work. “I took over this position in 1988,” Burke says, “but there was a fellow who got this company going during the 1970′s. He was a pioneer. Ecotourism wasn’t even a term back then, but the founder of Bluewater realized there were wonderful opportunities for wildlife viewing in the area and teamed up with the local community. We currently operate three 65-68 foot boats. While giving tours we educate the travelers about wildlife and the cultures of Coastal British Columbia and South East Alaska. We travel with a biologist on every trip and with small groups of 12-16 people it is a very hands-on type of experience. On these trips we see fabulous scenery with an abundance of wildlife. Over 100 whales can be seen on a 1 week trip. Depending on the area, tourists will have the opportunity to see humpback whales, orcas, sperm whales and in some cases the extremely rare fin whales-the second largest whale on the planet.

Several of our trips also focus on bears, with trips along the British Columbia main land coast. This area is referred to as the Great Bear Rainforest in which the White Spirit Bear can be found. In this area the black bears have a recessive gene in 10% of the animals that make them all white.”

Indigenous people benefit from Bluewater Adventures as well. “The indigenous people benefit in a couple of ways,” continues Burke, “First of all, we have signed a protocol agreement with three of the nations along the British Columbia coast. In the agreement, we are committed to paying the local cultures for the use of their traditional areas and we are also committed to hiring native guides on our tours. For example, guides hired from the Gitga’at nation will take us bear viewing at a viewing stand that they have built. Also, when we need fuel or food, we will buy it locally going to the native coop store in the village rather than shipping it in or buying it from a larger city.”

Tropical Travel is another company with some great trips to offer. “We have conservation lodges in three different countries: Ecuador, Brazil and Peru,” says Elizabeth Sanders, President of Nature Travel (www.tropicalnaturetravel.com), “The newest lodge-the Napo Wildlife Center-in Yasuni National Park is run by the local Anangu Community. There are about 120 people within this community. It is their land, and they came up with the idea for the ecolodge…Some of the locals are trained to be guides, cooks, boatmen, and some take care of the rooms and maintenance. They have a salary, which is an improvement in their lives. In the past, they might have hunted in the jungles and sold the meats for food staples in the market, but they did not have an income.”

Napo Wildlife Center in the Amazon in Ecuador
Napo Wildlife Center – Amazonian Equador

Like all ecotours, the activities offered by Tropical Travel all involve educating tourists about the environment and the locals living in the area. “On excursions people have the chance to see all kinds of wildlife,” says Sanders, “in the Napo Wildlife Center, tourists travel on lakes and streams in dug out canoes made from trees that have fallen victim to rain or floods (they are never cut). From these boats you can see parrot licks up close. Parrot licks are exposed clay hills where the birds come for the minerals in the clay which break down ingested toxins [found naturally in many of the foods eaten by these birds]. In the wildlife center in Peru, you can go out at night and see big 400-500 pound tapirs and watch these animals feed.” Sanders remembers how exciting it was for her: “On one of the excursions I went on, we traveled along the river in the southern forest of Cuzco and we saw a capybara laying along the bank. Not thirty minutes later, coming along the bend, we saw the head of an animal swimming across the river. When it reached the bank, it pulled itself out of the water and turned out to be a giant anteater. It was an amazing sight.”

Even though, ecotourism is known to be better on the environment, the issue of money has a major influence on the decision making process. For example, “Many governments love the idea of tourism as an investment in their country and they don’t really make international companies follow strict environmental guidelines on their development – they worry about losing business,” explains Ell of Ecotourism International.

Spirit Bear
Search for Alaska’s elusive Spirit Bear
Bluewater Adventures

Hotels also worry about how ecotourism will affect business. In a report written by the Center for Ecotourism and Sustainable Development (CESD) (www.ecotourismcesd.org) and The International Ecotourism Society, hotel managers in popular tourist destinations voice their opinion about eco tourism: “In Costa Rica, while they agreed that CST (Certification for Sustainable Tourism) could probably help to improve the environmental reputation of their hotels, it was too expensive to adopt CST standards. Most importantly, these managers were not convinced of the appeal of green reputations to business travelers, their main customer base.”

These concerns are unfounded however. In 2004, The World Tourism Organization (www.world-tourism.org) released findings that ecotourism and nature tourism are growing 3 times faster than mass tourism. TIA was also quoted saying that of US travelers, over 75% feel their visits should not damage the environment; 38% are willing to pay more for that. The United States Department of State explains that “the economic benefits of ecotourism in many local communities across the country has been significant.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (www.fws.gov) estimates that in 1995 nearly 25 million visits to over 100 national wildlife refuges generated an estimated $245 million from non-consumptive uses only (e.g. excluding hunting and fishing). Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the Virginia coast alone generated $21 million from non-resident visitors, supporting 545 local jobs. Birdwatchers visiting Santa Ana Refuge, Laguna Atascosa Refuge, and Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary contributed over $59 million in direct expenditures to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Obviously, ecotourism is growing in popularity and is a sizeable market. According to the World Tourism Organization, Ecotourism is considered the fastest growing market in the tourism industry with an annual growth rate of 5% worldwide and representing 6% of the world gross domestic product.

Alaska's Central Coast
Alaska’s Stunning Central Coast
Bluewater Adventures

Through education and employment in the tourism industry, local communities benefit from the travelers that pass through. Ell explains that “we want to make sure that the local people benefit financially. Travelers make donations which can be used for schools, libraries, hospitals and so on. In the case of Cancun, all the money spent doesn’t even stay in the community. We call this leakage, the money goes out of the country. Locals are not being hired to work there and they have to witness the area [their home] being damaged by foreigners. This should be avoided.”

There are many reasons that ecotourism is so enticing; tourists can witness the local customs and not depend on international tours with no real history or relation to the area as their guides. Mass tourism through stereotypical tours leaves the traveler with no real idea of local cultures. “From the travelers’ perspective, it’s not really a unique experience where they can understand the culture and their relation to the environment [when going through a mass tour group]. This is basically a resort where you learn nothing about locals. You don’t interact with them and you don’t see authentic local culture,” emphasizes Ell, “ecotourism, on the other hand, will encourage the local traditions to continue.”

There are even examples where the creation of ecotours within an existing culture has enhanced the lifestyles of locals dramatically. With an alternate source of income, locals abandon illegal activities that previously where the only way they could make a living. Ell mentions an example in Africa: “Hunting and poaching reached such an intense level that the wildlife parks came to an agreement with the poachers and offered them jobs as guides. The guides obviously knew the jungle very well and made much more money this way than they did poaching.”

Alaska
Land of the Midnight Sun
Bluewater Adventures

Ecotourism has become so popular that many companies advertise as having ecotours when in fact they do not. Burke from Bluewater Adventures describes the challenges: “Some companies run at a small scale, which is usually the case with legitimate ecotourism, but a cruise ship with one biologist and 2000 people on board advertising as an ecotour is not the real thing. The line is often blurred between real ecotours and fake ones. I think it is great that these tours have hired a biologist that can explain the natural environment, but it is still a limited program. The tour is on a set schedule. You can’t put ecotourism into the company’s description just because they’ve changed the bed sheets over to green.” Proper research on the traveler’s part is key.

Ecotourism seems like the perfect vacation. Unfortunately, even ecotourism has its flaws. When an area is popular, no matter how careful tourists are, they will still have an impact on the environment. “There is a danger that ecotourism could ruin our environment if we’re not careful,” says Burke honestly, “ecotourism needs to be careful if it gains popularity. We need to be careful not to love nature to death.” However, most environmentalists are confident that with proper planning and environmental awareness, well managed ecotourism will leave unique and sensitive environments intact.

There are some fascinating tourism opportunities out there. It is a misconception that ecotourism is more expensive than the alternative. Prices range between expensive luxury bungalows to relatively cheap excursions that include everything a person needs without all the extras that many tourists don’t desire. Ecotourism is for everyone. It all depends on personal preference. There are literally hundreds of ecotours and ecolodges to choose from. Many companies also offer a variety of packages where you have the choice between relaxing on pristine beaches with no other person in sight, or taking in all the sights on exciting jeep, boat or even balloon rides.

The following are some examples of what to expect while on an ecotour.

AFRICA

Elephants
Campi Ya Kanzi: Chyulu Hills, Kenya

Tour the endless savanah of East Africa, see the magnificant wildlife and feel the ancient culture.

In Kenya tourists have the option of going on land-based safaris or viewing lions, elephants, rhinos, thousands of zebra and wildebeest from the heights of a balloon ride.

Micato Safaries (www.micato.com) offers these experiences. The Campi ya Kanzi camp (find them through Uncharted Outposts, Inc. www.unchartedoutposts.com) is another style of ecotourism. The camp is owned by the local Masai herdsmen and while here, tourists will have the chance to experience the incredible wildlife in the area and learn more about the cultures in the region.

Campi ya Kanzi is one of the most environmentally friendly camps in East Africa. The weather there is sometimes compared to that of California with subtropical, temperate temperatures.

With great weather conditions it is no wonder that this area of Kenya is such a popular tourist destination. Solar power is used to heat the water and instead of firewood, charcoal made of coffee husks is used in the kitchen.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the Campi ya Kanzi is the water that is recycled through lava filters, which supplies the camp’s vegetable garden and ponds where local wildlife, including lions, come to drink. Just imagine waking up before dawn and hearing lions eagerly lap up water right in front of your door at sunrise.

ASIA

Pacific Rim Beach
Sunset on the rim of the endless Pacific
Voyages Wilson Island

Asia offers the eco-traveler lands that span the range from vast dunes to boreal forests to the world’s mightiest mountains.

If you prefer to relax, you can do so at Sri Lanka’s famous ecolodge- Ranweli Holiday Village (www.ecoclub.com/ranweli).

North by North East Tours (http://www.ede.ch/nne/) offers boat tours along the Mekong where tourists can see pristine areas hardly touched by western civilization.

EUROPE

Ecotours are not restricted to the tropics. Neophron Ltd. (www.neophron.com) is a tour operator operated for the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSBP). Cultural tours, historical heritage tours, bird watching, botanical tours and brown bear and wolf watching are just a few of the memorable experiences to enjoy through Neophron.

In Sweden, Saga Adventures (www.sagaadventures.com) offers exhilarating tours where visitors ride through the highlands on horseback during the day and appreciate local cooking and storytelling around the campfire at night. This is definitely a top tour for those who appreciate horses.

MIDDLE EAST – JORDAN

Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (www.rscn.org.jo) offers a variety of phenomenal adventure tours. RSCN provides tours from the highlands of Northern Jordan to the river canyons leading to the Dead Sea where tourists have come for centuries seeking out the healing properties of the saltiest sea in the world. You can enjoy hikes in the desert canyons, safaris through the endangered Oryx reserve, boating and archaeological site seeing.

LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN

When people imagine a vacation, the image of palm trees and beaches appears more often than anything else. Here you can snorkel through coral reefs, doze off amongst sea grape and coconut trees or take part in guided fishing tours. Casuarina Beach Club (www.Casuarina.com), Tiamo Resorts (www.tiamoresorts.com), Adventure Life (www.adventure-life.com), and Nature Air (www.natureair.com) are just a few of the great companies offering ecotours to the public.

OCEANA

Turtle on Wilson Island Shore
A turtle lumbers in the Pacific on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef
Voyages Wilson Island

Australia has an incredible array of tours for eco-travelers. There is so much to see in this unique country.

Along the verdant east coast of Queensland Kingfisher Bay Resort (www.kingfisherbay.com), and O’Reilly’s Oceanfront Guesthouse (www.oreillys.com.au) offer tours that allow tourists to experience the incredible wildlife via guided walks or atv rides.

One of the most recognized ecotourism destinations in the world is Turtle Island (www.turtlefiji.com). This beautiful island is covered with white powder beaches and gorgeous tropical forest. As a finalist in the World Legacy Awards and the filming location of “Blue Lagoon” starring Brooke Shield’s it is no wonder that this resort is considered the closest thing to heaven on earth.

UNITED STATES & CANADA

Bluewater Adventures (www.bluewateradventures.com) is just one of the great ecotourism companies operating in the region. In areas like the Alaskan coast, North American parks, and Canadian reserves you can enjoy everything from wildlife viewing, kayaking, hiking and boat tours.

The list is seemingly endless. There is an ecotour out there for anyone who is interested. Ecotourism is the ultimate package, where everyone benefits. You enjoy yourself and you know you are doing your part helping natural and cultural heritage sites. What could be better than that?

Additional Great Resources:

International Ecotourism Club

www.ecoclub.com/

The International Ecotourism Society

www.ecotourism.org

Conservation International’s Ecotravel Center

http://www.ecotour.org/

Sustainable Travel International

http://www.sustainabletravelinternational.org/

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Cooperative Reforestation

How To Reduce Startup Costs & Reach Economic Sustainability
Costa Rican Countryside
The verdant countryside of Costa Rica

Editor’s Note: Throughout the tropics, forests have been devastated by demands from growing human populations for fuel and building materials. Equally significant has been the removal of trees by industrial logging operations. In Central America, these forces have caused the amount of forest to be reduced to less than one-third its former extent. How these trees were removed in most cases has led to soil erosion, catastrophic mudslides, destruction of habitat, desertification and climate change.

During the last twenty years however, as the worldwide destruction of forests has raged worse than ever, restoration of forests has quietly begun. Throughout deforested regions, conversion of land from mono-crops to mixed use, sustainable agro-forestry is yielding a new and improved environment. Not virgin forest, but combined land use, where some land is returned to jungle, some is retained for grazing and agriculture, and some becomes new, sustainably harvested forest.

In this personal account by Fred Morgan, President of Finca Leola, a former dairy farm in Costa Rica is turned into a combination of restored jungle and sustainable agro-forestry plantation. But Morgan’s explanation of how his dream was realized through a combination of working with local communities and innovative financing via investments from people outside Costa Rica is especially interesting. Models such as Finca Leola have the potential to bring both prosperity and environmental recovery to much of this world where the original forests are lost.

It was never my intention to be an environmentalist.

Not that I felt that there was anything wrong with being one; I just wasn’t expecting it. Sure, I had contributed some to the Nature Conservancy because I was hiking regularly on their lands, but with raising kids and trying to pay bills, it seemed that my efforts would have to be limited to just giving some money here and there to environmental causes.

I’ve always been interested in nature. Few things are more enjoyable to me than long distance hiking, especially in new and novel areas. At one time in my life, I wanted to be a marine biologist or a forest ranger, and I think that was because I wanted to be outside rather than have a desk job. Besides, I was born on a 300-acre farm and never really got very far away from that experience. A woodcarver since age eight, I have also been interested in wood for a long time. When I was a teenager, I had a part-time job in a lumberyard and found all the different properties of wood fascinating.

Fred Morgan with Ojoche Tree
Fred Morgan in front of a massive Ojoche tree

Caring about the environment, occasionally contributing to environmental causes, this description could probably apply to thousands of people, if not millions. How in the world did we get involved in reforestation? And how did we manage to pay for it?

The Dream:

For years – in fact most of our married life – my wife, Amy, and I had a plan of living in a Latin American country someday to start a business that would help the people there as Amy perfected her Spanish, a language she loves. Once we decided that Costa Rica was it, I started to research into what it takes to live there. I knew that Costa Rica grants residency to people if they have a retirement pension (or Social Security), but that does not apply to Amy and me, since we are nowhere near that age (though it keeps creeping closer when we are not looking!).

Costa Rica Flag

We learned that one of the ways to obtain residency is to be involved in reforestation. Costa Rica has suffered very rapid deforestation over the last 50 years; in fact more than 70% of the country is currently deforested. This is causing serious problems with mudslides, floods, and believe it or not, lack of water during the dry season. Because of that, the Costa Rican government is trying to encourage reforestation with tax benefits, information, and residency.

Map of Costa Rica
Costa Rica encourages reforestation with
tax benefits, information & residency

Of all the different ways of qualifying for residency in Costa Rica, reforestation appealed to me most, and as I researched it, it appealed even more. Since I work in a technological field, I prefer to invest in something besides technology. If I were to lose my job because of a downturn in technology, I don’t want to lose my retirement fund as well. So, growing trees seemed like a good approach to retirement planning for me. I also liked the idea that it would help the environment. We decided on a combination of replacing pastureland with a tree plantation along with protecting and expanding existing rainforest.

If we had not met Hector Ramirez and his wife, Christina, I rather doubt that we would have gone through with it as a do-it-yourself project. The difficulty is that reforestation is not just sticking trees into the ground. For the first 3 years, there is a lot of work. Also, doing business in another country is challenging. As the saying goes, you aren’t in Kansas anymore. Hector was born and raised in Costa Rica in the very area where we wanted to establish our plantation. We had been trying to work through agents to find land in that area, and they could find nothing for months. Hector found us more than we could even see in a matter of a few weeks.

Amy Morgan on Horse
Amy Morgan inspects property on horseback

Finding the Land:

Hector, Amy, and I flew down to Costa Rica together to look at fincas. What a week! We stayed with friends of Hector and ate at their soda (roadside cafe) every day. During the day, we would visit farms (fincas), and every evening Hector would go out and line up the farms to go see the next day. We rode horses around most of the fincas, which was quite an experience, since neither Amy nor I would be considered horse people by any stretch of the imagination. We eventually picked a very nice finca that was a working dairy farm and well-maintained.

Hector & Christina Ramirez
Partners in Reforestation

After spending a week in Costa Rica, it became clear that we needed Hector long-term, so we made him an offer he couldn’t refuse – or we hoped that he wouldn’t. He accepted our offer to be a partner in the business. We all figure that Hector is the one really important person. The rest of us are support staff for him. The other very important person is Antonio, our forestry engineer, who has 20-plus years in Costa Rica growing trees. Hector and Antonio make all of the important decisions – all I get to decide is how many trees we are going to plant each year and what species. We started out with four: teak, mahogany (caoba), Spanish cedar, and sura.

Spanish Cedar Tree
A 20 year old Spanish Cedar Tree

Of course, these species were chosen with Antonio’s agreement. This is working very well; in fact, the plantation is growing excellently, probably because they are doing it and not me. Of course, Hector loves it when I show up. He figures using me for a mule saves wear and tear on the animals.

Well, buying the land and a truck pretty much wiped out our reserves. We did not have enough to pay Hector what he was worth, although that’s not a lot of money in Costa Rica. So Hector explained to us that since we owned land, we could make money. We had bought 67 hectares (about 164 acres), and since we were only planning on planting 5 hectares the first year, most of it was going to be fallow, which means it would soon be jungle if we didn’t prevent it. I like letting the land go back to jungle, but I cannot afford to let all of it do that, unfortunately. Our land, like me, has to earn a living.

The Agro-Forestry Formula:

Hector suggested that we continue to graze cattle in the places where we were not planting yet. This would provide income for Hector and his family and reduce the amount we needed to pay him. After Hector brought this up, I did what I always do, delved into researching it, both on the Internet and with Antonio, our forestry engineer. Agroforestry, the management of land by growing trees in combination with pasture and food crops, would work very well for us.

The problem in growing just trees is that it requires tying up a considerable amount of capital. The reason farmers do not normally plant trees is that it is impossible for them to not have their land constantly produce revenue. Agroforestry is an attempt to compromise between the need to produce a cash crop each year and the need to grow trees for the future.

In addition to grazing cattle, when we plant trees, we plant a crop of tiquisque between them. This provides several benefits. One, the tiquisque protects the soil so that bare ground doesn’t wash away in the rains. Two, the trees are weeded and fertilized for free, since Hector works with another person to plant the tubers, and the other person maintains and weeds them. After the tiquisque was harvested, the trees are big enough not to need weeding any more. Three, the harvest provides additional money for Hector and his family. I figure with all the money Hector is making doing agroforestry, he will soon be lending me money!

Tiquisque Plant in Costa Rica
The Tiquisque plant protects soil from erosion,
crowds out weeds, and provides an edible tuber

Another interesting development has occurred. Because we are a bit obsessed about this adventure of ours, it kept coming up in our conversations. (I swear everyone who knows us knows about our tree plantation – they are very tolerant.) Well, some of our friends asked to be part of it. We got very excited about being able to save a whole lot more rainforest than we could on our own. We had purchased four times as much land as we needed for our own retirement. I did a lot of study and research and found out that a common practice is to sell trees instead of shares. Instead of owning part of a plantation, you own only the trees. The advantage for the tree owners, of course, is that they invest in trees without having to go through the pain of owning land in a foreign country and becoming knowledgeable in growing trees. They can also piggyback on our experiences: We try growing each species for ourselves before we sell it to anyone else.

Financing Agro-Forestry:

We had several friends who didn’t realize they had money on hand to invest it trees—in their IRAs! We had made contact with a company that specializes in administering self-directed IRAs and other self-directed retirement accounts. They helped us streamline the process for people to own trees in their IRAs, so even more people got involved in our reforestation effort.

In July 2003, we decided to switch from only offering to grow trees for family and friends to offering our services to the general public. We hesitated (for about a second) because of all the work involved, but our desire to preserve more of the environment in the area as well as provide more jobs for the locals won out. This has been much more successful than we imagined. We sold out of the available trees from the July 2003 planting in about 5 months, and we weren’t even trying. Because of that, we are planning to plant triple in 2004 what we did last year, and already things are looking like we may have to bump that up considerably and maybe even buy more land for next year’s planting. We are happy about this, not because we will get rich off it (we will not) but because it helps preserve so much of Costa Rica. Generally speaking, 40 to 60 percent of the land we own is allowed to remain virgin rainforest or revert to jungle. So, the more trees we plant, the more biological corridors we are creating. This allows the wild animals to pass through from one feeding area to another and to proliferate.

Costa Rican Jungle
Allowing corridors of land to revert to jungle helps
wildlife safely pass between feeding areas

We structured the tree purchases so that we would have enough money to take care of the trees, but our profit comes when the trees are harvested. We will receive 6% of the proceeds from the sale of the wood. We did this so that tree owners would know that we are highly motivated to take care of the trees for the full 25 years until the last ones are harvested. Also, they can come visit any time they want and check out their investment as well. We love to show people around the place.

The average tree owner is a person who is concerned about the environment, often has traveled outside of the United States (and sometimes has immigrated to the USA from a Latin American country), and is either saving for their children’s education or for their retirement. A sizeable percentage also are people like us who want their residency in Costa Rica and feel that this is a great way to get it, help the environment, and invest for their future all at the same time.

Timber Harvesting Log Truck
Conventional methods of timber harvesting
can needlessly damage the surrounding land

Since Hector and Antonio have the current plantation so well in hand, what are Amy and I doing? Currently we are exploring a value-added direction. Instead of just growing trees, we want to make sure that the trees we grow are efficiently used. Usually during the harvest of a tree, a large percentage of the wood is thrown away, because the big sawmills only want a certain kind of wood. Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to find wood with an interesting grain pattern? It is because the sawmills don’t like to handle it, since it is hard to saw. To make matters worse, the normal method of harvesting trees tears up the land, because the logs are dragged to a tractor-trailer and then the tractor-trailer is dragged out of the forest. This leaves big scars on the land that cause erosion if not fixed. We are already researching how to harvest trees with the least amount of damage to the land.

Promoting Sustainable Forestry:

It is interesting that, although cutting down rainforest is a bad thing, cutting down plantation trees for furniture is a very good thing, because it ties up the carbon for years and years. This is very important in reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It is also a very good thing because it returns a profit to those who have invested in reforestation, encouraging others to do it as well.

Furniture
Finca Leola is building a network of furniture
makers who use sustainably harvested wood

Recently we went on a furniture research trip to see the design and quality of the furniture being made in Costa Rica. Some was rustic or not well-made, but some was excellent, beautifully designed and made as well as any furniture we had ever seen and very reasonably priced. For example, a large, oblong dining room table and six chairs was priced at about $1,000.00 US. This was about 25% to 30% of what I would expect it to go for in the USA. The problem is, of course, that you have no idea where the wood comes from and may be contributing to the destruction of the rainforest by buying it. We are currently making plans to develop a network of furniture builders who will create furniture from our wood that we will help them sell, so that people can help by buying tropical hardwood furniture instead of hurting.

Finca Leola Logo

Finca Leola has evolved into much more than just a couple of families trying to help do something for the environment with their limited time and resources. Our Web site, www.fincaleola.com, has become a source of information on reforestation, and our lives are being enriched by all of the tree owners and others who contact us and stay connected with us throughout the year. We also spend considerable time giving free advice to people who own land in Costa Rica and want to grow their own trees, as well as to some other owners of reforestation projects. It has so far been the most fulfilling and enriching experience of our lives.

What I think is developing is Cooperative Reforestation. Instead of the idea of just planting trees and eventually harvesting them (our first plan) we have morphed into a collaboration of individuals and companies, all with a common thread of reforestation and improving the environment, but at the same time, having the plantations pay for themselves. We have created a website that dispenses information on reforestation and related topics, since our primary purpose is to encourage reforestation.

Hacienda Baru Logo

One of the most famous reforestation projects in Costa Rica is Hacienda Baru. Jack Ewing started 30 years ago to reclaim a portion of Dominical, Costa Rica. Not only has he successfully grown lumber for his own use, but he has created an ecotourism paradise. In this case, tourism is supporting the reforestation project, showing that often, the trees are worth considerably more alive than dead.

CloudBridge Logo

Another family has started CloudBridge, a private nature reserve. They have volunteers who come help replant the deforested areas and sell merchandise, and they accept donations to help fund the project.

We at Finca Leola encourage anyone who is interested in reforestation to drop us a line. We feel that much of the deforestation that has occurred is not because of greed but lack of knowledge. If we can, through our Web site and through offering to plant trees for others, help in reforesting a part of Costa Rica, we feel all of the hard work and money will have been well-spent.

Fred Morgan

President

Finca Leola S.A.

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