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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs > Releases > Other Releases > 2003
April 8, 2003


As a large continental country with vast and diverse natural resources, the United States has a long tradition of ecotourism on public and private lands and waters from coast to coast. As America’s population, disposable income and leisure time have increased so has the demand for tourism, including ecotourism. While there are no consolidated data on all ecotourism activities taking place in the U.S., it is estimated that Americans spend billions of dollars annually. On federal lands alone, there are an estimated 900 million visits a year to national forests, parks, monuments, historic sites, recreation areas, protected areas and wildlife refuges, reserves and management areas -- most of these visits include sightseeing, hiking, wildlife observation, swimming, snorkeling or other forms of ecotourism.

The ecotourism industry in the U.S. is predominantly privately owned and locally managed. However, the U.S. government (USG) has several major land and water management agencies that support and promote ecotourism, including the National Park Service (NPS), National Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). (See Annex 1 for a description of activities of several agencies). A number of ecotourism destinations are also managed by state and local levels of government. In addition, a 1997 National Private Landowners Survey indicates that 47% of rural land owners permit recreational use of their land by non-family members on the nearly 60% of U.S. privately owned land.


The U.S. experience suggests a number of variables are important in planning, developing and maintaining successful ecotourism operations. Chief among these are supply and demand, marketing, accessibility, travel and accommodation costs, transportation challenges, local infrastructure, carrying capacity, seasonal issues (e.g. weather, wildlife migration patterns, school vacations), community support for and dependency on tourism, projected direct and indirect revenues, environmental impacts, and environmental education and on-site interpretation.

Community involvement is essential in all aspects of ecotourism public sector policy development and planning. Because potential conflicts may arise between protection interests and tourism development interests, federal and state land management agencies recognize the benefits of trying to promote a clear understanding of potential socioeconomic and environmental implications of proposed tourism operations among stakeholders before development proceeds. For example, the Bureau of Land Management National Training Center offers special courses to its employees on working with communities. Another example is the National Park Service’s “Rivers and Trails” program, which is designed to assist communities with outdoor recreation planning associated with conserving rivers, preserving open space and developing trails and greenways.

Our experience also shows that the most successful ecotourism operations are those that design infrastructure, programs and visitor levels so as to maintain the ecosystems on which the ecotourism depends within the context of an overall resource management framework. For example, visitation levels on national wildlife refuges are determined within the context of a refuge management plan based on a variety of factors, including seasonal water levels, nesting activities and migration patterns, with a view to providing a quality experience while maintaining the health of the marsh and its wildlife. Environmental education is also key to developing interest in, respect for and protection of the ecotourism resource. On-site interpretive exhibits and tours have been shown to be effective in this regard.


Ecotourism activities in the U.S. may be subject to regulation at various levels of government depending on their location and status. Generally, land use and management activities are regulated at the state level and, if delegated by states, at the local (county or municipal) level. The effects of such state and local regulations directly or indirectly on ecotourism may be by stipulating best practices or codes of conduct, zoning, environmental protection measures, construction requirements, guide and motor coach licensing, fines for improper waste disposal, entrance fees and use of ecotourism facilities. They may vary widely from state to state and tend to reflect the priorities of local residents.

Site specific regulations often seek to minimize specific environmental impacts from human presence in an area (noise, foot traffic and trampling, collection of plant and animal materials), which can cause erosion, flush nesting birds, and in some cases alter community structure in sensitive ecosystems, such as inter tidal areas. State and regional authorities or commissions also may be involved in tourism regulation. Two state agencies with broad zoning and land use management authority over large areas with ecotourism uses are the Adirondack Park Agency in New York and the Pinelands Commission in New Jersey. The Great Lakes Commission, which is composed of eight states and two Canadian provinces, coordinates policy, research and development on issues of regional interest and addresses a range of issues involving environmental protection, resource management, transportation and economic development.

In addition, national laws such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act have broad authorities that affect all activities, including ecotourism operations, on public and private lands and waters of the U.S. Concessions and other ecotourism operations on federal lands, such as national forests, parks and wildlife refuges, are subject to the laws and regulations governing the management agency. (See Annex 2 for examples of ecotourism regulations in the U.S.)


The sustainability of the ecotourism industry in the U.S. depends on conservation of the resource, education of the public and vendors and good business plans and operations. In the next several decades, the demand by Americans for outdoor recreation activities such as backpacking and wildlife observation may exceed supply. Overall demand is strongly driven by demographics, life-style changes, affluence etc. Increases in ecotourism in specific locations is due, in part, to the promotional activities of local, regional and state tourist agencies, which include internet sites and tourist advertisement brochures in welcome centers along major roadways, hotels and airports.

Building on experience in marketing tourism broadly, many states have developed ecotourism manuals and provide training for ecotourist entrepreneurs. For example, the Cooperative Extension Nature Tourism Program of the Texas Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Sciences has developed a program to assist those interested in knowing more about the business of ecotourism and nature tourism. The Strom Thurmond Institute of Clemson University has produced “Nature-Based Tourism Enterprises: Guidelines for Success,” which is available on the internet. Several universities such as the University of Idaho and The George Washington University now offer degrees in tourism management, including studies in ecotourism.

Tour guide associations across the country, such as America Outdoors, the Maine Professional Guides Association and the American Mountain Guide Association, offer members advertising services, professional standards in the form of voluntary codes of conduct developed by the associated members, and a forum in which to work cooperatively on legislation affecting their industry. They also offer the public directories of qualified ecotourism guides.

Several other entities promote consumer and vendor education. For example, the Plant Conservation Alliance, composed of 10 federal agencies and 180 state and private organizations, maintains an extensive web site of information and educational materials and hosts a countrywide native plants events calendar that lists viewing times by state for various wildflowers, plant events, restoration projects and educational programs.

The National Watchable Wildlife Program is a public-private partnership of several USG land management agencies, non-governmental organizations (International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Defenders of Wildlife, Izaak Walton League, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation), and several states, including California and Nebraska. The Program enhances wildlife viewing opportunities, provides education about wildlife and their needs, and promotes active support of wildlife conservation. Under the program, state committees have developed state wildlife viewing guides and special signage along highways to direct viewers to designated locations.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a project of the National Audubon Society and The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, sponsored by Wildbirds Unlimited, a franchised for profit corporation. The Count encourages anyone interested to count birds by species on a designated weekend and submit their survey to a database. Information on a variety of frequently observed birds is available on the web, along with hints for identification. In 2001, 50,000 people from all U.S. states and Canadian provinces participated in the count. Audubon and Cornell also organize the Christmas Bird Count, now in its 102nd year. This bird observation event has participants from the Yukon through the Amazon and takes place annually from December 14 to January 5. In 2001 over 52 million birds were counted by registered observation groups across the hemisphere.


An important aspect of many ecotourism operations in the U.S. is monitoring demand and operation costs and benefits, with a view to maximizing efficiencies while conserving the natural resources on which the tourism depends. This includes monitoring activity levels (e.g. as measured by annual visitor days), profits to vendors, benefits to stakeholders, and monitoring of the natural resource conditions.

Since 1960, U.S. federal agencies have been assessing outdoor recreation on a regular basis. One such measure, the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, coordinated by the Forest Service and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), analyzes outdoor recreational needs and environmental interests of Americans based on 50,000 households across all ethnic groups. Information about the 2000 survey and its results are available on the Internet, as well as in report form.

Federal land management agencies use a variety of tools to measure visitor use. The National Forest Visitor Use Monitoring project estimates annual recreation and other visitor use on national forests based on survey of some 37,000 visitors at 6,000 recreation sites on 32 forests. In 2000 the survey estimated 209 million visitors to national forests and 14.3 million visitors to wilderness areas. The Forest Service also has developed the Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) process to address increasing demand on recreational areas. The LAC is a tool for identifying acceptable conditions of change in specific locations and the management actions needed to achieve or maintain those conditions. If a LAC evaluation determines an area receives very heavy overnight camping that causes unacceptable damage to the resource, then the area may be closed and rehabilitated.

The NPS Public Use Statistics Office compiles and projects annual visitor numbers to national parks on a park-by-park basis. This data shows, for example, that Great Smokey Mountains National Park attracts some 9 million visitors each year. It indicates that in 2003 3.2 million people will visit Yosemite National Park and another 2.7 million will visit Yellowstone National Park. Visitation at the Virgin Islands National Park in 2003 is expected to increase about 5% over 2002 to 718,000 people.

The economic benefits of ecotourism in many local communities across the country has been significant. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that in 1995 nearly 25 million visits to over 100 national wildlife refuges generated an estimated $245 million from non-consumptive uses only (e.g. excluding hunting and fishing). Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the Virginia coast alone generated $21 million from non-resident visitors, supporting 545 local jobs. Birdwatchers visiting Santa Ana Refuge, Laguna Atascosa Refuge, and Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary contributed over $59 million in direct expenditures to the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

The National Park Service utilizes the Money Generation Model 2 to estimate the impacts park visitors have on surrounding local economies in terms of contribution to sales, income and jobs. These quantifiable measures of economic benefits are used for park planning, concession management, budget justifications, policy analysis and marketing. This model estimates for a region around a specific park, and has not been used to analyze economic returns for the National Park System as a whole.

Future Outlook

Trends in the U.S. ecotourism industry indicate growing numbers of educated ecotourists with average or above average annual family incomes, increases in the number of nature education and conservation programs, and increasing concern among the population about the degradation of resources due to poor management or overuse of ecotourism destinations.

As urban populations, income levels and free time in the U.S. continue to grow, demand and spending on leisure activities in general and ecotourism in particular is expected to grow as well. Despite our wealth of marine and terrestrial areas still available for potential development of ecotourism operations, appropriate planning, regulation, promotion of education and best practices, and monitoring will be needed to ensure the demand for nature tourism and other forms of outdoor recreation does not degrade the resources and ecosystems on which they depend.


Ecotourism Activities of Selected U.S. Government Agencies

A number of federal agencies have an interest in the sustainable development of ecotourism, both at home and abroad. Some of their activities are highlighted below.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture-Forest Service

The Forest Service (FS) manages 700 million acres of national forests and wilderness areas across the 50 states and is committed to providing quality recreation opportunities consistent with sustainable ecosystem management principles through programs, service, conservation education and interpretation, and community partnerships. More than 208 million people visit national forests and 258 million travel on forest roads to view scenery and wildlife each year. The FS works with over 6,000 private tourism guides and outfitters on federal lands, sets policy for 60% of the ski slopes in the country, and sponsors, in close cooperation with local communities, 50% of the National Scenic Byways designated by the Department of Transportation. Among its many programs and activities are:

  • Production of the Built Environment Image Guide using sustainability concepts to shape the design and construction of facilities.

  • Educational efforts like "Leave No Trace" and "Tread Lightly" targeted to the general public as well as specialists and practitioners who provide recreation services.

  • Grassroots projects in the Ozark Mountains, upper Michigan Peninsula, Tennessee and elsewhere to foster ecotourism experiences.

  • Heritage tourism partnerships with rural communities and tribal governments including the Castleland Resource Conservation and Development partnership with 75 communities and 4 counties in southern Utah; Idabel, Oklahoma centennial celebration; Michigan Great Outdoors Cultural Tour with the State Historical Society; joint visitor center with Jemez Indian Pueblo in Santa Fe National Forest; sustainable tourism development cooperation to commemorate the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Events (2003-2006).

  • Special best practice programs, such as “sustainable slopes” coordinated with the Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Partnership in the Western States Tourism Policy Council, a coalition of 13 state and federal agencies with management responsibilities for the largest U.S. outdoor nature based tourism destinations.

  • Hosting special volunteer "land ethic" type programs such as National Public Lands Day, Heritage "passport in time" work sessions and national Trails Day to help conserve these natural and cultural resources.

  • Work with other agencies and organizations to integrate social sciences with ecosystem management, including analyzing market trends, public perceptions and other social conditions related to recreation and tourism.

  • As part of the national web-based Natural Resources Information System, work with the University of Georgia to maintain a Human Dimensions framework and database for conducting social assessments.
National Park Service (NPS)

The National Park Service (NPS) manages the National Park System with the dual mandate to preserve natural resources and provide recreation opportunities. As such, it provides an outstanding resource for ecotourism. The national parks offer protected ecosystems for opportunities for viewing and many types of outdoor activities, as well as extensive interpretive programs and facilities increasingly designed to blend into the natural landscape.

The concept of sustainability and environmental stewardship is incorporated into all aspects of park planning and operations on a daily bases, from procurement and recycling to working with gateway communities to showcase sustainable planning and design. One of many examples is the Zion National Park in Utah. Partnerships were established with the surrounding community and private property owners to preserve the character of the town as a gateway, to promote economic sustainability and to provide efficient, shared parking that meets the needs of a new mass transportation center in the park.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is involved in many ecotourism programs. For instance, the National Wildlife Refuge System’s 538 national wildlife refuges and 37 wetland management districts conserve the entire array of U.S. ecosystems. Guided by the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the refuges provide an opportunity for visitors to enjoy wildlife observation, wildlife photography, environmental education, interpretation, fishing and hunting. Each year, these activities provide millions of dollars to the economies of local and rural communities surrounding refuges.

The public is also able to pursue ecotourism opportunities on federal lands that have been acquired or restored through the activities of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, a grants program that provides matching grants to organizations and individuals who have developed partnerships to carry out wetlands conservation projects in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

The Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds is a partnership agreement between municipalities and the FWS to conserve migratory birds through education and habitat improvement. This grant program recognizes birds as a valuable resource that contributes aesthetically, culturally, scientifically, and economically to society. More than 18 million U.S. adults take trips annually for the express purpose of watching birds.

As the U.S. Management Authority for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), FWS helps countries develop infrastructure to help ensure that the trade in endangered and threatened animals and plants covered by CITES is sustainable. In this context, some countries have built an ecotourism industry based on species regulated under CITES (elephants, orangutans, gorillas, bontebuk, etc.) that is community-based, employing and educating local people and providing income to communities. In return, local people become the protectors of the resource and contribute to maintaining healthy populations of animals and plants and their habitats.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

The BLM has several programs that promote ecotourism. For example, the BLM is one of the original partners in establishing the National Watchable Wildlife Program. BLM partnered in developing state wildlife viewing area networks and the associated wildlife viewing guides that are part of a national series of viewing guides. Nationally, there are approximately 300 designated wildlife viewing areas on BLM lands from Alaska to Florida.

Additionally, BLM has been a major supporter of the development of the “Leave No Trace” program sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service. “Leave No Trace” is a nationally recognized program of training and educational materials that educates the public, and federal and state land managers in minimum impact outdoor recreation.

BLM also promotes the “Tread Lightly” program, which unites a broad spectrum of federal and state agencies, recreational product manufacturers, media, recreational enthusiast groups and concerned individuals in a common goal to care for natural resources. “Tread Lightly” was launched in 1985 by the U.S. Forest Service to protect the great outdoors through education. To maximize its effectiveness, program responsibilities are now carried out by a private non-profit organization, “Tread Lightly, Inc.”

Bureau of Reclamation (BOR)

The involvement of the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) in ecotourism is through stewardship programs with various government and non-government partners. Ecotourism related activities are popular pastimes on BOR’s more than 288 lakes in the 17 western states. These activities, which take place on the 8½ million acres of land and water under BOR’s jurisdiction, vary from the very informal to the highly organized and range from flora, fauna and geological observations and scientific research studies, to organized adventure travel trips conducted by environmental organizations and commercial outfitters and guides.

BOR has entered into Memorandums of Understanding with a number of environmental organizations whose missions include promoting awareness, understanding and appreciation for the ecology of the U.S. Partner organizations include Ducks Unlimited, the Federal Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Committee, the National Watchable Wildlife Program and “Wilderness Inquiry.” BOR is also active in constructing wetland habitat areas, fish ladders and hatcheries that are critical in managing protected species and providing excellent observation and educational opportunities.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administers the National Marine Sanctuary Program, which serves as trustee for a system of 13 underwater parks encompassing 18,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters, with the mission of working cooperatively with the public to balance enjoyment and use with long-term conservation. This includes increasing public awareness of the marine heritage of the U.S., scientific research, monitoring, exploration, educational programs and outreach. Ecotourism is very popular at many sites and visitation is increasing. The Program works closely with other agencies and local business to help ensure that ecotourism operations do not harm habitat or wildlife.

NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management Program administers the Coastal Zone Management Act, which seeks to balance the ecological, cultural, historic and aesthetic values of the country’s coastlines with economic development. The program restores deteriorating waterfronts and ports, provides greater public access to the coast, and funds “special area management plans” that increase protection of significant natural resources while allowing reasonable economic growth.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) promotes public outreach and education efforts to teach people about safe and respectful viewing of marine wildlife. It has distributed brochures, posters, signs, and other printed materials within coastal recreation-based communities to spread the message. Public service announcements and web sites are also being used to educate the public about its role in maintaining sustainable marine wildlife tourism. NMFS supports the National Watchable Wildlife Program, a consortium of federal and state wildlife agencies and conservation and outdoor groups, that seeks to promote ways to view wildlife from a safe and appropriate distance.

The National Sea Grant Program is a partnership between NOAA and the nation’s universities that encourages wise stewardship of marine and coastal resources through research, education, outreach and technology transfer. Sea Grant has developed several thematic specialties related to sustainable tourism, including community based tourism planning and collaborative partnerships in the Gulf of Mexico (Louisiana, Texas and Florida), marine protected areas and marine archeology management in California and the Great Lakes, ecotourism industry development in the Carolinas, event management in the Northeast, and charter fishing operations in the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a variety of programs that can provide useful environmental tourism information to localities, states and businesses, including data, case studies, technical assistance and free software. (On http://www.epa.gov/partners/ look for programs entitled Energy Star, Smart Growth, Waste Wise, Water Alliances for Voluntary Efficiency, Adopt Your Watershed, Consumer Labeling Initiative, Green Power Partnership, Clean Air Transportation Communities, Commuter Choice Leadership Initiative, Voluntary Diesel Retrofit Program, Green Vehicle Guide, Center for Industry Sector Innovation, and Improving Air Quality through Land Use Activities.

EPA also has developed a model to assess economic and environmental impacts of U.S. recreation and tourism industries. The model can improve understanding of these impacts and in turn facilitate planning and management decisions that are economically and environmentally sustainable and avoid visitation levels that can overwhelm the ability of local infrastructures and ecosystems to supply resources and process wastes. Though the model covers tourism broadly, the theory and methodology can be applied at the local level as a tool to assess ecotourism impacts and develop plans to improve ecotourism efficiency and resource management.

The model quantifies environmental impacts of 10 leisure activities which represent a significant portion of leisure spending and for which data are available: skiing, fishing, hunting, boating, golfing, casino gambling, amusement/theme parks, historic places and museums, conventions and conferences, and waterside recreation (other than fishing or boating). Environmental impacts for the 10 activities were measured according to 9 environmental indicators: water use, biological oxygen demand of wastewater, total suspended solids in wastewater, energy use, air pollution (hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides), greenhouse gas emissions, and municipal solid waste generation. A single indicator, direct spending by participants, measured economic impacts. Direct impacts of the activities were separated from impacts on supporting businesses such as transportation, lodging, restaurants, and retail. Selected environmental impacts for some leisure activities are summarized below.

Environmental Impacts



Total water use-(gallons) With/w/o snowmaking

Total waste generation (tons)

Total energy use (Btu)

Greenhouse gas generation (co2 equiv,) tons

Ski areas

9.5 million

52 billion/3 billion


9.1 E+12

6 million


35 million

7.3 billion


9.7 E+12

26 million


54 million

15 billion


2.3 E+13

25 million


60 million

13.5 billion


1.3 E+13

33 million

Waterside activities

132 million

53 billion

3.2 million

6.3 E+13

137 million

Highlights of results:

  • In general, the amount of hotel lodging is the most important factor in determining water and energy use. Exceptions arise when specific activities require significant quantities of water (e.g., skiing and golf) or electricity use.

  • Quantities of municipal solid waste generated are closely tied to the number of meals in restaurants that can be attributed to a specific activity.

  • Primarily the number and length of automobile trips taken by participants determine air emissions for activities. One exception is boating, which has high air emissions from boat engines.

  • Greenhouse gas emissions are strongly influenced by the distance traveled and number of nights at a hotel, which relate to the use of fuel and electricity, respectively.
Overall results indicate that in 1997, direct spending on leisure activities (tourism, recreation and business travel) in the U.S. was between $436 billion and $512 billion. These expenditures represented 3.3% to 4.1% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP). From 1992 to 1997, tourism spending grew at an average annual rate of 6.9% while GDP grew at an average annual rate of 5.6%, and these trends are expected to continue.

International Activities

While several of the above federal agencies support international ecotourism projects, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) encourages and manages a broad range of sustainable tourism development programs, activities and projects in a number of developing countries, with a view to conserving natural resources while providing economic benefit to local populations. These programs are often designed and implemented in conjunction with designating and conserving protected areas, including cultural heritage sites and biodiversity conservation areas. In this context, USAID seeks to increase the social, economic and environmental benefits of ecotourism by increasing stakeholder participation, local job creation, macro-economic linkages and policy reforms. Program priorities include:

  • Empowering and encouraging local communities to play an active role in the preservation and enhancement of cultural and ecotourism sites.

  • Encouraging the private sector and public sector institutions to recognize the social and economic benefits resulting from ecotourism when developed sustainably.

  • Strengthening roles and responsibilities of institutions charged with managing and protecting national parks, cultural sites and ecologically sensitive areas.

  • Developing and implementing national and local sustainable tourism strategies.


Examples of Ecotourism Regulation Studies in the United States
from studies collected by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Services Center and
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality


An ecotour guide voluntary course and certification program has been developed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and has met with success in coastal areas of the State. In time, the program is expected to provide a marketing edge for certified guides over other guides in the area, stimulate a more sustainable ecotourism industry, and increased business as more ecotourists go away with positive experiences.


Recognizing the potential impacts and conflicts that can arise from the largest concentration of whale watching operations in the world, the Whale Watch Operators Association–Northwest (WWOA-NW) has developed best practices guidelines for all member operators in the San Juan Islands areas of Washington state based on extensive observations of the behaviors of the three Orca pods in the region. The primary goals of the guidelines, which stipulate navigation and viewing procedures for vessels when in the presence of whales, are to minimize potential negative impacts on marine wildlife populations and provide the best viewing opportunities so that whale watchers have the ability to enjoy and learn about wildlife through observation.


The 3,000 Maine Coastal Islands are increasingly popular with adventure travelers causing some concern about long-term impacts on the environment and quality of the outdoor experience. To respond to these concerns, the Maine Island Trail Association and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands worked with island stakeholders to establish in 2000 voluntary individual carrying capacities for camping on 36 public islands. When carrying capacity (posted on signs on each island) is reached, additional visitors are asked to seek alternative camping sites whenever conditions permit. While the guidelines are not enforceable, several stakeholder groups have voluntarily modified their behaviors to comply with the new limits. For example, area guides and outfitters have reduced the size of their groups to meet capacity limits even though this means a decrease in revenues, and members of the Maine Association of Sea Kayaking Guides and Instructors have begun to share itineraries and coordinate their trips so that island capacity limits are not exceeded. Extensive outreach efforts are under way to increase awareness and demonstrate the utility of carrying capacities in limiting access to Maine’s public islands.

New York

The Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Wetland Area along Lake Ontario’s eastern shore of New York state is comprised of many separately owned properties, five of which are open to the public: a state park, three wildlife management areas, and one property owned by The Nature Conservancy. To manage the impacts on dunes and wildlife caused by thousands of annual visitors, actions have been taken by the various managers of the dune and wetland area.

The New York Sea Grant developed an interpretive plan to better educate users about their impacts on the area. The plan includes a recreational guidebook, a brochure on the ecology of area dunes and wetlands, and new interpretive signs indicating erosion control areas, public access points and educational information along heavily used trails. A visitor survey conducted by the New York Sea Grant, The Nature Conservancy, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation indicted that of those responding 98% used the erosion control signs, 94% complied with the stay off the dunes signs, 44% used the educational signs, 23% used the directory signs, 20% used the brochures, and 11% used the guidebook. On visual inspection, managers found that, although the interpretive signage had been successful, some dunes continued to experience erosion problems due to recreation activities and additional management approaches would be needed for some sites.


Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a horseshoe-shaped fringing reef that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to the southeastern shore of Oahu. With such large crowds at the bay, the marine environment began to suffer. To alleviate the problem, Hawaii Sea Grant and state and county administrators developed a recreation management plan, which includes management strategies for education, regulation, access controls, and economic measures.

For example, the Hanauma Bay Education Program was established with an educational kiosk on site. Program volunteers conduct tours and provide visitors with information about stewardship and appropriate activities at the bay. Smoking is banned at the bay in an effort to reduce cigarette butt litter, and tour buses are prohibited from dropping off people at the bay for longer than a 15-minute sightseeing stop in an effort to curtail the number of visitors in a given time period. To reduce the number of visitors, the entrance to the bay is closed to car traffic after the 300 parking spaces are filled. To discourage some visitors and to generate revenue for operations, improvements, education programs and a carrying-capacity study, a $3 admission fee (for nonresidents) and a $1 parking fee were instituted. After these management strategies were implemented, visitation decreased by over 50%, litter was reduced by 70%, sunscreen slicks in the bay were eliminated and near shore reefs are experiencing coral growth.


The Wetlands and Waterways Program of the Maryland Department of the Environment published, for the wetlands of the state of Maryland only, the following listing.  

Laws and Programs Affecting Maryland Wetlands/Waterways for 2000






Laws with authority over activities in or around wetlands






Programs providing technical/financial assistance for land uses






Initiatives with wetland planning strategies





Organizations with a wetlands preservation mandate





Paper Submitted to the World Ecotourism Summit by U.S. Department of State
May 2002

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