Redwood National Park, USA. © Our Place
The UN has declared 2017 the “Year of Sustainable Tourism Development”. There is an inherent contradiction in that title as “development” is often the reason why places attract unsustainable tourist numbers. Over 1.2 Billion people now cross international borders annually and that number is predicted to grow. How to ensure that historic and attractive locations can sustain their intrinsic values is the challenge for those who live there; those who visit, or even value these sites from afar.
While the continued destruction by nihilistic fanatics in the Middle East of sites like WH Palmyra and the tourist throngs swamping iconic European Cities are easy to recognise and hopefully motivate communities to work towards remedies, another, less obvious danger is threatening World Heritage locations of a different sort. They are the natural World Heritage sites that have significant forest cover.
A recent report by the Wildlife Conservation Society - detailed in the Guardian Newspaper, pointed out that 63% of the forested sites analysed suffered from “increasing human pressure including encroaching roads, agriculture, infrastructure and settlements”.
Asia was the region that was most under threat but surprisingly, North American World Heritage sites had the most recent forestry losses. Primarily these losses were due to the explosion of the Pine Beetle which is devastating many forests in the region and together they accounted for 57% of the total global forest loss. For example Yellowstone has lost 6% of its forest cover and the Transnational Canadian/USA Waterton Glacier International Peace Park has lost a staggering 25% of its forests. The Pine Beetle endemic has been blamed on climate change, so again there is the shadow of human un-sustainability hanging over these sites.
UN declared “Year of……”’s don’t ever seem to produce anything except conference papers and proclamations read by few and understood by even fewer. The challenge of sustainability rests with us ordinary global citizens. It is up to us to make informed and aware decisions on when and how we choose to travel. We all become “tourists” when we travel and experience places and cultures different from our own. If we all became aware of our responsibilities and actively took care of the places we visited, then by many small actions, we can help make this Year of Sustainable Tourism more meaningful and effective.
Geoff Steven CEO, OUR PLACE