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Tourism and deforestation in the Mt Everest region of Nepal

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Over the past 50 years the Sherpa-inhabited Mt Everest region of Nepal has become a premier international mountaineering and trekking destination. Tourism development has brought prosperity to many Sherpas. It has also, however, had adverse impacts on regional forests and alpine vegetation because of the use of firewood by camping groups and inns and the felling of trees to construct inns and other tourist facilities. Concern that tourism was causing widespread deforestation helped catalyse the 1976 establishment of an inhabited protected area, Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) National Park, in the Khumbu region and spurred the implementation of a series of forest conservation and alternative energy development measures both within the national park and in a recently declared buffer zone in the adjacent Pharak region. This paper examines the changing pressures that tourism has placed on regional forests and alpine vegetation over the past half century and their role in regional vegetation change. This analysis is based primarily on detailed accounts of past and present forest use and change obtained during fieldwork conducted in all Khumbu and Pharak villages, along with corroborating evidence from early foreign visitors’ accounts and photographs. Contrary to some early reports it now appears there has actually been little deforestation since 1950. The continuing use of firewood by inns, however, has contributed to the thinning of forests in some parts of the national park and to the depletion of shrub juniper in the most heavily visited alpine regions. There has been a greater impact on forests just outside the national park, which have been heavily thinned over an extensive area in order to provide timber to build inns within the national park.
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Keywords: Mt Everest; Sherpas; conservation; deforestation; environmental history; tourism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2003-09-01

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