Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


Friendlier Footprints

April 10, 2006

It’s not easy to provide five-star luxury in the midst of a treasured wilderness without damaging the environment. But the King Pacific Lodge in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest manages that difficult feat. For one thing, the lodge doesn’t even take up permanent space. Its 17 rooms sit on a floating barge, which is towed from May to September into a cove teeming with humpback whales and rare white Kermode “spirit” bears. Accessible only by boat or floatplane, the lodge charges guests a 3 percent conservation tax, which goes toward everything from building bear platforms to youth programs for the indigenous local tribe. “My business is dependent on leaving the area untouched,” says lodge president Michael Uehara. “We do not want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

Uehara and King Pacific owner Hideo Morita are pioneers in community cooperation. Both were adopted by the indigenous Gitga’at people in 2000 after their tourist company became the first to sign a protocol agreement with a native tribe. The Lodge recognizes the tribe as owners of the land, pays a co-management fee, mentors local youth and employs Gitga’at people, who, in turn, teach their culture to the guests.

The Lodge is just one of a growing number of tourism companies that are going beyond basic ecotourism to comply with—and win the acceptance of—local communities and regulatory groups. Deirdre Wallace, owner of the Ambrose Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., recently won a state environmental award for using air hoses instead of water to clean the driveway, composting waste and shuttling guests to Oscar parties via hybrid vehicles. The Miraval, a destination spa in Arizona, hired a sustainability director to focus full-time on making the company eco-friendly. Among his goals: to ensure that every future building is certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as a leader in Energy and Environmental design.

Awareness at the top is crucial. The owners of the new residential resort development Paraiso del Mar, in La Paz, Mexico, worked closely with the nonprofit group Audubon International to develop a natural resource management plan. It mandated, among other things, preserving threatened plant species, relocating reptiles and other wildlife and minimal grading of roads—measures that won overwhelming support from the local population. “Tourism can be incredibly destructive,” Uehara says. “We want to avoid the love-it-to-death plunder of tourism legacy evident elsewhere. We try to leave a light footprint.” And follow those already there.