Investment regulations in Protected Areas Approved

Investment regulations in  Protected Areas ApprovedInvestment regulations in  Protected Areas Approved

The government has approved regulations pertaining to investment in ecotourism amid concerns that tours of natural sites could take a toll on the environment and ecosystems.

Following two years of deliberation, the National Ecotourism Committee — comprising senior officials from Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, the Department of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture —approved investment policies in the area of ecotourism that could help develop the lagging sector.

“Sustainable use of natural resources is essential to develop tourism,” said ICHHTO chief Masoud Soltanifar, according to ISNA.

The DOE had been reluctant to approve the regulations, with Mohammad Ali Fayyazi, director of the ecotourism committee, regularly calling on environmental officials to sign off on the regulations. It is unclear what compelled the DOE to approve the policies.

The department divides conservation areas into four categories: National parks, natural monuments, wildlife sanctuaries and protected areas.

According to the regulations, those interested in investing in ecotourism projects in protected areas must obtain permits from the ICHHTO. However, all too often stakeholders fail to uphold environmental laws when starting their projects.

A case in point is the construction of Sib Tourist Resort in Tehran Province’s Aminabad region (in the north); an area where the valuable juniper trees stand and a variety of wildlife species call home.

Activists and officials complain that the contractors have failed to meet their declared environmental commitments to the DOE and their advance on the area is against the regulations defined by the Forests, Rangeland and Watershed Management Organization.

However, according to the head of the DOE office in Firouzkouh County, Mohammad Faridi, “the project has progressed too far and over one trillion rials ($33 million) has been spent. The only thing we can do is to ensure that it is implemented with the least environmental damage.”

  Conservation a Priority

The ecotourism committee has a steadfast commitment to environmental protection, according to Soltanifar, who doubles as vice president.

“Conservation and protection of natural resources is a priority of the committee,” he said. “Successful ecotourism upholds the principles of sustainable development and requires proper management of resources, not to mention instill a sense of responsibility in tourists to protect the environment.”

Supporters of ecotourism believe developing the sector can help protect ecosystems and boost local economies. However, critics argue that ecotourism in Iran has become a threat to the environment, rather than a means to protect ecological diversity and empower the local populace.

Esmaeil Kahrom, an outspoken ecologist and top advisor to DOE chief Massoumeh Ebtekar, rejects the notion of sustainable tourism, claiming that Iranians are “culturally obtuse” and cannot look after the environment.

“We have to reinvent the wheel; have to teach people not to litter, remind them of the importance of nature. And it is up to academics and students to nurture an environmentally-friendly attitude in the people before we can even talk about ecotourism,” he said at a World Tourism Day conference in Tehran last September.