Canada - Eco Tourism Initiatives

As eco-tourism blossoms, Canada's tourism industry has grasped both the interest in eco-tourism and the potential for the term to be misapplied. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada adopted an official definition of eco-tourism so that both consumers and operators have the best possible experiences:

"Ecotourism is a segment of sustainable tourism that offers experiences that enable visitors to discover natural areas while preserving their integrity, and to understand, through interpretation and education, the natural and cultural sense of place. It fosters respect towards the environment, reflects sustainable business practices, creates socio-economic benefits for communities/regions, and recognizes and respects local and indigenous cultures, traditions and values."

Respecting the environment necessarily incorporates protection and Parks Canada oversees 157 national historic sites, 42 national parks and three national marine conservation areas and the amount of land under its supervision continues to grow. In November, Canada's government announced that it would protect 10 million hectares (nearly 25 million acres) of land—a step toward developing a national park in the East Arm of Great Slave Lake and a national wildlife area for the Ramparts River and Wetlands.

Canada has also begun working with Finland and Sweden on a three-year project called the Sustainable Model of Arctic Regional Tourism (SMART), to develop tools, resources and incentives to help arctic tourism companies operate in the best interest of the environment. The WWF (formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund) Arctic Programme is also involved, and Alaska, Scotland, the Faroe Islands, and the Arkhangelsk Region of Russia are supporting partners. The SMART project developed a set of guidelines for travelers to help them be respectful visitors as well—tips include choosing accommodations that give job opportunities to local people, supporting local means of transportation and trying local food, which not only gives a better idea of the area's cuisine, but is more likely to be made with native ingredients.

Around the country, ecotourism efforts are underway targeting specific needs. Bow Habitat Station in Alberta combines three conservation and awareness efforts: the Sam Livingston Fish Hatchery, a visitor center, and the Pearce Estate Park Interpretive Wetland. The hatchery is one of the largest in North America and raises three million trout every year to stock public bodies of water—primarily rainbow, brook, brown and cutthroat trout as well as bull trout and arctic grayling at times.

In New Brunswick, the Cape Jourimain Nature Centre—in the Cape Jourimain National Wildlife Area, which is managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service—explores the relationship between people and nature and the consequences of particular actions, but with the goal of getting visitors excited about conservation. And Adventure Écotourisme Quebec operates as a consortium of industry partners—tourist associations, eco-tourism training schools, travel wholesalers and others—that came together with the common goal of promoting tourism without harming the environment that draws visitors to begin with. Adventure Écotourisme Quebec has partnered with Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, an educational organization that teaches travelers how to minimize their mark as they explore the world.

And although eco-tourism is generally considered a project for wide open spaces, Vancouver's mayor, Sam Sullivan, has made the environment a priority for the city—projects are currently under discussion to reevaluate suburban sprawl as part of the EcoDensity initiative and Vancouver is on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2010.

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