What can managers do to respond to accelerating visitation of protected areas that threaten the natural capital preserved within? This question was addressed in a recent publication authored by Andrew Drumm (a consultant who formerly worked for The Nature Conservancy), myself and Jim Rieger of The Nature Conservancy. Tourism has become big business in many of the globe’s 140,000 nationally nominated national parks, wildernesses and other types of protected areas. Tourism not only provides visitors with opportunities to see, experience, appreciate and learn about our natural heritage, but it provides opportunities for personal income for local residents and revenues for those areas. And yet, tourism has distinct drawbacks, that if not carefully addressed can become a threat. We note:
Protected area systems face a critical situation in which policy makers increasingly promote tourism within protected areas even while managers lack the basic capacity to manage the impacts of current visitor numbers. At the core of this dilemma is the concept of a “threshold of sustainability.” This is the point at which the management capacity of a protected area is sufficient to mitigate the most critical tourism-related threats, such that public use is limited to the parameters of sustainability of the natural capital within the site.
When there is an immediate threat to natural capital forming the basis of a protected area’s reason for being, how can managers effectively respond? This Nature Conservancy Quick Guide offers a framework for making important decisions, helping managers think critically about the character of the threat, what values are threatened and how. Understanding the threat can then lead to effective responses rather than reacting without thinking through possible management.
Briefly, the Thresholds of Sustainability framework—which is principally a way to structure our thinking about a tourism related threat—involves the following major components or steps:
· Step 1: Identify threatened natural capital, the most critical tourism-related threats, and key management issues: Identify threatened, tourism-related conservation objectives, the impact that tourism and other threats are having on them, and identify the extent to which protected area staff are able to prevent and mitigate these threats.
• Step 2: Identify efficient actions to address critical tourism-related threats: Identify which strategies will be most effective at addressing tourism-related threats.
• Step 3: Assess tourism finances in the protected area: At a minimum in the rapid response mode, identify the financial gap between existing and required funds and identify potential revenue sources and financial mechanisms. If resources and time permit, then begin to build the financial case for increasing funds available for protected area management by also estimating the economic impact of tourism on the destination, and identifying potential complementary opportunities, such as tourism concessions and co-management opportunities.
• Step 4: Assess the broader enabling environment: Assess the legal, regulatory, institutional, administrative and policy environment and assess the extent to which this environment enables effective management of tourism within protected areas. This should be done to different extents in both the rapid response and long-term planning situations.
• Step 5: Develop and implement a communications strategy: Although communication and participation is important at every point of the threshold of sustainability framework, accumulation of the breadth of information in Steps 1-4 requires development of a formal communications strategy to help win the support of key audiences and change policies.
• Step 6: Implement actions and monitor results: Establish basic infrastructure and capacities needed to 1) achieve minimum management effectiveness, 2) implement new funding mechanisms, and 3) monitor results, including the impact of threats, the status and trends of biodiversity health, community benefits, and the effectiveness of management interventions.
The Quick Guide provides detailed guidelines on how to accomplish each of these tasks along with case studies. You can download English, Spanish and French versions of the 44 page publication: