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Photo of Butterfly Garden in Cahuita, Costa Rica courtesy of FlamingoLink, S.A.

The New World of Vacationing, Adventuring & Communing with the Earth


By Angela Earle

For all of us who have ever taken a vacation or cruiseshipped up to a designer designation, only to find ourselves faced with the dark side of the tourist industry when we venture outside of the resort parameters, the concept of Ecotourism might just be what we’ve been yearning for. Though there is no official designation or regulation of what the term ecotourism means, the idea stretches far beyond the boundaries of environmental impact. Ecotourism, at its best, embodies sustainability, empowerment and preservation on a societal, cultural, and educational, as well as an ecological level.


To say that this is a new industry is hardly accurate, though its prominence in the mainstream is just coming to light. There are masters thesis and doctoral dissertations being written on the idea, and more and more tour agencies are offering tour packages that are “eco” in nature. Troll the internet for ecotourism and you’ll likely call up thousands of links by thousands of companies all touting “ecotourist” packages. For the individual vacationer seeking to get away from it all without causing harm to others or the environment, the task can be quite daunting. For some tour operators, particularly in countries like Africa and Central America whose main import is tourist dollars, hanging the “eco” label on their packages may be no more than a marketing ploy. Ecotourism is about more than vacationing in the woods.

In the last few years, several organizations have formed in order to state just what is and what isn’t ecotourism, put their seal of approval on tour operators and destinations, and offer a clearinghouse for information. The International Ecotourism Society based in Washington, DC is one such organization. Their website, includes the following definition and attributes of what ecotourism is and looks like:

“Ecotourism is ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.’ This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following principles:

~ 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”1

Obviously, many of these terms and ideas are highly debatable, such as the issue of just what “improves the well-being of local people.” One amazing resource for delving deeper into these topics is the Responsible Tourism Handbook, created by Transitions Abroad magazine, and available for free download at In this guide, not only will you find a history of the eco-travel movement, but a plethora of definitions of types of ecotourism you are going to encounter as soon as you begin the search for your next getaway, such as voluntourism, sustainable tourism, and agrotourism.2

Beyond what you think of the destination itself, other important and often overlooked features of traveling including the ecological impact of actually getting there. For instance, while the lodge you are planning to stay at in Africa might be completely off the grid, with everything to banana skins being recycled, in flying there you will consume the same amount of fossil fuels the average westerner uses in an entire year. There’s also the issue of how the destination came about: What is its history? How was it built? With what was it built? How has this affected the local population? For those of us in resort communities all over Idaho, imagining the scenario of the effects of tourist development on the individual isn’t going to be a huge stretch, and we won’t need a doctoral research to tell us how it might apply to someone else in the world.

These are just a few ideas to get your mind rolling. Remember that the intent you bring, anywhere you go, is the most important thing. If all of this is overwhelming, remember we don’t need to go somewhere far away to experience the exotic or have a nature encounter. We live in most wilderness intense state in the lower 48 after all, and as you’ll see if you visit any of these sites that recommend destinations, there are eco-approved places all over the west.

1 This basic definition is similar to the definitions created by other ecotourism organizations.
2 Responsible Travel Handbook 2006, Transitions Abroad Magazine

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Kicking Butt & Taking Names

SRA Scores Points in Improving and Protecting Idaho

By Jeremy Maxand, Executive Director of the Snake River Alliance, the Board President of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, and the Northwest Energy Coalition’s Idaho Energy Caucus Chair

As you settle in for a hot summer of river rafting, barbeques with family and friends, and road trips to your favorite campgrounds, remember this: Idahoans have been kicking butt and taking the names of polluters and profiteers who threaten Idaho’s quality of life.

The Snake River Alliance supported the efforts of a lot of people in the Wood River and Magic valleys to push back against Sempra’s proposed coal fired power plant outside Jerome. We’re working to make certain Idahoans also have a voice in our broader energy policy. We also helped make certain more than 1,000 Idahoans and our neighbors in Wyoming spoke out against a proposal to consolidate all plutonium-238 activities at the Idaho National Laboratory. The plan is held off right now, but we’ve learned during our 27 years that the nukmeisters rarely take no for an answer.

A lot of plutonium-contaminated waste is buried at INL a few hundred feet above the Snake River Aquifer. Last month, a federal district judge ruled that the Department of Energy must dig it ALL up. On the same day the court ruling was announced, the DOE released its superfund assessment of what’s actually buried at INL and what risk it poses to Idaho. This document is the first major step toward a final decision on what to do with Idaho’s buried waste. Several other major documents will be released over the next 6 months, and in early 2007 the public will see what we’ve been working toward since 1979: A plan to cleanup one of the most significant threats to Idaho’s water.

High-level waste cleanup is moving forward, too. Eleven 300,000-gallon tanks were built to hold liquid waste from nuclear fuel reprocessing. Initially, the DOE tried to abandon in the tanks the waste that was more difficult to remove. A federal suit filed by the Snake River Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, and the Yakama Nation, stopped that attempt. The end result, so far, is astonishing, and the high-level waste tanks in Idaho are cleaner than they would have been, so Idaho’s water is safer, too. There will be public hearings this summer on what to do with the dirty soil at the tank farm.

This year the Snake River Alliance and other groups in Idaho and Wyoming convinced the DOE to release bi-weekly summaries of ALL “incidents” at the Site, not just the ones its PR folks thought newsworthy. Now you can review worker safety and other issues on our website:

Reprocessing is the must-take step between a nuclear reactor and a nuclear bomb. It makes nuclear bomb material accessible and is the dirtiest step in the nuclear enterprise. The Administration is pushing to restart spent fuel reprocessing in the US, despite its exorbitant environmental, economic, and ethical costs. We have been working in Congress with a broad coalition of groups to stop this proposal and our work has been rewarded in the House with major funding cuts to the program. We’ll be in the Senate this summer.

Idahoans should be proud of the progress we’ve made. Since 1979 Idahoans have held the federal government accountable for the nuclear mess it created that threatens the water we drink and the air we breathe. Folks, the tide is turning in favor of clean, sustainable energy, and against dangerous nuclear weapons policies. So go out and enjoy our beautiful land this summer and come back from the river rejuvenated for the work we have ahead.

The Snake River Alliance is an Idaho-based grassroots group working through research, education, and community advocacy for peace and justice, the end to nuclear weapons, responsible solutions to nuclear waste and contamination, and sustainable alternatives to nuclear power.

You can contact the Alliance at or toll-free at
1 (866) 891-0178.

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