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Can nature's beauty lift citizens from poverty?
Date:4/27/2012

Using nature's beauty as a tourist draw can boost conservation in China's valued panda preserves, but it isn't an automatic ticket out of poverty for the humans who live there, a unique long-term study shows.

Often those who benefit most from nature-based tourism are people who already have resources. The truly impoverished have a harder time breaking into the tourism business, according to the paper, "Drivers and Socioeconomic Impacts of Tourism Participation in Protected Areas," published in the April 25 edition of PLoS One.

The study looks at nearly a decade of burgeoning tourism in the Wolong Nature Reserve in Southwestern China. China, like many areas in the world, banks on tourism over farming for economic viability, while attempting to preserve fragile animal habitat.

But until now, no one has taken a close look at the long-term implications for people economically.

"Long-term studies like this one give us a birds-eye view into the multifaceted connections between people and the environments they occupy," said Thomas Baerwald, a program director for the Geography and Spatial Sciences Program at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which partially funded the study.

"Finding the right balance between economics that lift people from poverty and habitat management is an important role for social and environmental scientists and will be important into the future."

Lead researcher Wei Liu is a Ph.D. candidate in the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS) at Michigan State University (MSU). He and his colleagues took advantage of the center's 15-year history of work in Wolong, which they call an excellent laboratory to study the complex interactions of humans and nature.

"This study shows the power of having comprehensive long-term data to understand how everything works together," Liu said. "This is the first time we've been able to put it together to understand how c
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Contact: Bobbie Mixon
bmixon@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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