21 March 2012

A Struggle between Conservation, Education, and Recreation

I just read this story in the LA Times about conflicts between science and tourism on Catalina.

The mission statement of the Conservancy is "to be a responsible steward of our lands through a balance of conservation, education, and recreation." It's a great mission statement until you start defining the word "balance" -- are all three prongs of the mission statement equal? Or are some more important than others?

That's what is driving the current war of words between biologists and other Conservancy management. Biologists like Carlos de la Rosa, who until recently was the Chief Conservation Officer for the Conservancy, believe that the organization is neglecting part of its mission (conservation and education) in favor of recreation. The Conservancy recently announced a 20-year plan that centers on increasing tourism opportunities in Avalon.

If done well, investments in recreation should provide a profit for the Conservancy. Ostensibly these profits are then rolled into conservation and education efforts, but researchers living at the Conservancy headquarters in Middle Ranch are not convinced they'll see a big payoff from efforts to boost tourism in Avalon.

I think the Conservancy has "Zip-line envy".  The Zip-Line Ecotour in Avalon has been wildly successful, turning a profit much sooner than the Santa Catalina Island Company had expected. I haven't taken the tour yet, so I reserve judgement on how "eco" the tour actually is.

Regardless of the educational value of the zip-line, it is commercially successful and I think that the Conservancy is wondering how to get some of that action. Time will tell if this bias is temporary or permanent and if conservation and education reap the benefits of the Conservancy's current focus on recreation.

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