|River Trip in Desolation Canyon, Utah|
|Cryptobiotic Soil in Desolation Canyon.|
This week I read an alarming article about the declining numbers of Monarch Butterflies in this year's migration from Mexico. The article, by a zoologist here at the University of Florida, talks about several possible causes for the decreased numbers, all of which are related to humans, and a general failure of stewardship. Climate change, pesticide use and loss of habitat are disturbing, but did not surprise me. But what was upsetting was reading that we have disrupted the ecosystem to the point that merely visiting the colonies of butterflies was causing them to die. Logging has gone unchecked in the area, leading to erosion, and the huge numbers of butterfly loving hikers now raise dust clouds when they walk on the dirt paths to the trees where the monarchs winter. The dust clogs the butterfly spiracles (breathing holes), causing them to suffocate. Numbers of visitors are supposed to be limited to protect the monarchs, but demand to see them is trumping the concern for the resource. We are loving them to death. It really should not be surprising. As we insert ourselves into previously remote places, we are bound to see changes.
This got me thinking about whether or not we can simultaneously sustain wild and natural areas, and at the same time, bring large numbers of visitors to see them. At what point would it be better to visit a zoo or botanic garden, rather than go to the source? Can we control the flow and impact of people in natural areas by issuing very limited numbers of permits? And would it be best to fence off some vast areas where people can't go at all, so that we don't just foul up everything? But if we control the numbers of visitors, or don't visit at all, what happens to the lives of the people who have come to depend on the new eco-economy? And who should we limit? I don't want to lose my chance to see the wonders of the world and I'm sure no one else does, either. And is limiting access fair? What about people who are not able bodied? Shouldn't they have access, too? I thought about this a lot as we traveled around Patagonia this fall. I saw the impact on the environment in the form of trash, tour buses full of people and all the connected hotel, food and sewage services, and city growth encroaching into neighboring forests. But without the tourists, would growth have occurred anyway, but without any thought of protecting the penguins or glaciers?
I know there are parks and eco-lodges that do a really good job of preserving the natural areas that the visitors come to see. But I think that we can't fool ourselves into thinking that it is harmless for us to be there, just because we are being careful. We have an impact. The trick is in keeping that impact small. I still want to see the world, and I feel conflicted about how to do it. I really don't have the answers.
|Bear and Cub, Desolation Canyon, Utah|