Sustainable Tourism in Abr Forest

Local community role reinforced in the third Abr Forest Festival The Abr Forest (meaning the Cloud Forest in English) is an old, beautiful Hyrcanian forest, located in Abr village, 50km north east of Shahrood city. With 35000 hectare width and extended by the Caspian Hyrcanian Mixed Forests ecoregion in Alborz mountain, the Abr forest is the home of some exceptional rare botanical spices like Taxus baccata, Juniper, Sorbus torminalis, Alder, etc. It is a tourist attraction, which its unique landscape entice environment friends and activists. However, controversial decisions on constructing a road in the forest in order to link two nearby villages have been devastating in the last 8 years. Uncontrolled tourism has also brought too many unknown tourists to the region, resulting in problems whether for the forest itself, or local people (because of cultural differences). In order to reinforce the role of local community in tourism management, some NGOs with the help of local community hold an annual festival in Abr Forest, trying to experience controlled methods of rural tourism. Celebrating the international day of the world’s indigenous people, the Center for Sustainable Development and Environment (Cenesta), Tanin Tabiat Tirgan Institute and Abr village council held the third festival in Abr Forest on August 8th. Tourists were located in local houses, ate local foods and participated in local games to get familiar with the cultural values of native people. An exhibition was also organized by local villagers, who introduced different local products, handicrafts, dairy and wool hats. Like previous years, land art was also held and artists inspired by nature, introduced their artworks to the tourists. This year, in order to emphasize the role of villagers (in Abr village as the biggest village near the Forest) in protecting the Abr Forest, festival organizers invited some government officials to participate in a collaborative workshop with villagers and discuss about an inclusive solution for protecting the Forest and improve sustainable tourism in the region. In the workshop, heading by Dr. Taghi Farvar, president of ICCA consortium (indigenous peoples and community conserved territories and areas), villagers drew the map of the Forest and determined the territory of their village and other nearby villages. Then they talked about their territorial problems regarding the Abr Forest, so that Dr. Gheibi, general director of forest resources department in Iran’s Forests and Watershed Management Organization, promised to purse and address all these problems seriously. The next step started with asking questions from elder villagers about local ways of protecting and exploiting the Abr Forest in old times. There were also some suggestions about cultivated products in the region and ways of irrigation. Unorganized tourism in the Abr Forest and the Abr village was another problem discussed in the workshop which ended with writing a regulation about the ecotourism of Abr Forest and village. Based on the regulation, villagers themselves are responsible for organizing the tourists. Finally, all the discussions and approvals were outlined in a statement, signed by participants in the workshop.