Is Ecotourism Really Happening? A Review of Protected Areas in UP and Uttarakhand

In order to protect the PAs and conserve their biodiversity it is necessary to have a rational and scientific basis for Protected Area management.  A study was carried out to study the status and impact of existing tourism propose an ecologically sound plan for each sanctuary for promotion of ecotourism with involvement of local community in Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary, Chambal Sanctuary and Chandraprabha Wildlife Sanctuary.  A detailed profile was prepared of each sanctuary on a number of parameters such as tourism status and impacts, tourist attractions, natural resources, biotic pressures, local people and their culture, user groups and present management practices. Interviews were conducted of all user groups, tourists and local people. Detailed tourism development plans were made with special reference to means of promoting tourism while minimizing its impacts, management of tourism and involvement of local people to give them benefits of tourism.

Various user groups in the sanctuaries were identified and interviewed to assess their role in tourism industry. To study the economic impact of tourism, net profit made and money invested by various groups were assessed. This also gave an opportunity to understand the spin offs of the tourism industry and who is benefiting from the tourism in Protected Areas. Impact of tourist related activity such as firewood cutting, grazing, tree cutting, litter throwing, use of transport in the form of horses /mules and use of motorboats were studied on the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem respectively. Impact on vegetation was studied by laying transects at every 1 or 2 km on the tourists trails. From each transect, four 10 m circular plots were laid inside the forests. This was done to check the extent of tourism pressure inside the forests Where possible, impact of tourists activity was studied on the wildlife of the area.  The species were observed by carrying out focal animal sampling at every 5 minutes interval before the tourists came closer to the animals, in the presence of the tourists and after the tourists had gone away from the animals. Possibilities of promoting ecotourism were explored by studying potential tourists attraction in the sanctuary. As the basis of ecotourism is dependent on involvement of local people and their support, various activities were suggested to involve local villagers in ecotourism. The effectiveness of publicity and public participation was studied for each sanctuary to understand the role of forest department in popularizing the sanctuary for attracting tourists and spreading awareness about the conservation of forests. 

For all the three study areas, we have suggested a few common management approaches. To begin with, tourism in all the three Protected Areas should be conducted through the forests department, as the department will be able to exert maximum control on tourist activity, it will be able to generate the revenue that it very much needs and also it will win the support of local people in conserving the forests by making them the main benefactor of tourism.As part of the management recommendation strategy, a three-tier Action Plan is suggested for development of tourism in Protected Area. Local villagers should be made the prime stakeholders in the Sanctuary. Local participation should go well beyond sharing of benefits. We suggest that the local peoples involvement should be viewed as participatory and not beneficiary. The beneficiary approach enables people to receive benefits but does not empower them., while participatory approach should mean empowering people to mobilize their own capacities, make decisions and manage the developmental activities. Ecotourism is linked closely to Conservation. It is an effective tool to spread awareness among all user groups and gain factorable response by creating a value by its virtue.  Ecotourism should be viewed as a source of employment and income for local population which in turn should act as an incentive to halt destructive practices and continuing of sound resource of management practices or abating destructive practices.