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NEW YORK, 27 May 2006

Dear EarthTalk: I hear a lot about "eco-travel" and "green tourism" in far-away exotic places, but don’t we have some environmentally-friendly vacation spots right here in the U.S. and Canada?

-- Paul Howe, San Francisco, CA

While it is true that tour operators in other countries play up their green-friendly itineraries, there is no shortage of eco-travel options right here at home. Eco-travel is alive and well in North America, too.

Not to be confused with "adventure travel," which may take one to wild places but which may also do harm to them, genuine "eco-tourism"—according to the United Nations—must satisfy several criteria that speak to both the enjoyment of the traveler and the well being of the host community. For the traveler, eco-tourism’s main motivation should be the observation and appreciation of both the local ecology and the local culture, and it should contain "educational and interpretation features." And to truly benefit the host community it should be organized for small groups by local businesses, it should minimize impact on both the natural and cultural environment, and it should generate income for the host community and increase awareness of the need for conserving its natural and cultural assets.

According to Natural Home and Garden magazine, top U.S. eco-travel choices that live up to these guidelines include: the El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa in Taos, New Mexico; Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast in Browntown, Wisconsin; Papoose Creek Lodge in Cameron, Montana; the Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge in Homer, Alaska; and any of the options available within Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. In Canada, the magazine named the Cree Village Eco-Lodge on Moose Factory Island, Ontario; Forest House Eco-Lodge in Air Ronge, Saskatchewan; and Wilderness Outpost at Bedwell River in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia as its top picks.

For those looking to go a little farther afield, Maho Bay Camps and the affiliated Concordia Ecotents on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a well-known green hotspot. These primitive lodges provide guests with treehouse-like platform tents tucked into a rainforest canopy overlooking the Caribbean. The minimal impact accommodations and other lodge facilities are linked together via a series of intricate and environmentally-friendly boardwalks, some of which deposit hikers onto trails in Virgin Islands National Park while others make a bee-line down to the beach where surf and sand abound.

Meanwhile, a sultrier option might be any of the tours and lodges available through the Hawaii Ecotourism Association, which provides a free online clearinghouse of pre-vetted eco-travel trips and accommodations.

For more information on how to judge the eco-friendliness of any lodge or tour one needs only to look online. The website of the International Ecotourism Society lists its criteria for judging a given operation’s sustainability, and Sustainable Travel International (STI) goes so far as to certify lodges and tour operators who run environmentally responsible trips. STI also provides ideas for travelers to keep in mind in order to keep their impact as minimal as possible. Conservation International does the same, providing tips on traveling conscientiously on a special website devoted to eco-tourism.

CONTACTS: International Ecotourism Society, www.Ecotourism.org; Sustainable Travel International, www.SustainableTravel.com; Conservation International Ecotourism, www.EcoTour.org.

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php .

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