Tourism and nature protection
The issue of forest protection in Jordan has been brought to a head the new agriculture law. As was the case with the temporary income tax law, this law was passed under dubious constitutional premises. The house rejected it, along with the income tax law and two other pieces of temporary legislation.
Aside from the constitutional issues, objection to this law has been voiced by environmentalists. The law allows for the delegation of state forest lands to investors in "governorates which need social and economic development in their areas". The implied purpose is to help create jobs and wealth in rural areas such as Ajloun. The danger is that this will lead to the destruction of the precious little forests that we have. On the economic and social side, large hotels and restaurants don't provide the types of jobs needed for local communities, because these jobs require special training and carry social stigmas that one might not agree with, but needs to deal with none the less.
Of course, Jordan is not the first country to be faced with a dilemma of choosing between tourism development and nature protection. This dilemma has led to creation of the concept of ecotourism. The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan has developed a number of sites in Jordan as ecotourism sites, the most notable of which is in Dana. The head of the RSCN has called for the rejection of the agricultural law.
Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." This is brought about by creating opportunities for local people, by allowing them to provide hospitality, indigenous foods, guide services and local handicrafts directly to the ecotourists. In essence, it allows for the preservation of the cultural and natural context of the site while creating economic opportunity for home owners, farmers, artisans and others. The bonus is that by creating such opportunities, it encourages local people to actively protect the resource which provides them with these opportunities (nature).
Arab tourists visit Ajloun in droves during the summer. People rent out their empty rooms, sell food and local products as well as give our guests an opportunity to learn about what Jordan is outside the lobbies of five star hotels. I have seen similar (actually more advanced) entrepreneurship in the mountains of northwest Syria. Tourism is thriving in Slinfeh, east of Lathiqiyeh, despite the fact that the only hotel in the town is shuttered.
It is too bad that most Jordanians know little about their country outside their immediate environment. People have picnics on the airport road, and have little awareness of the fantastic beauty of places such as Wadi Tawahin (Ajloun), Sila'a (south of Petra) or the forests of Birqish (south of Irbid). Ecotourism marketed to Jordanians would increase awareness and bonding with the country and its nature, as well as provide economic opportunities for the people who live in these areas. One major failure of the RSCN in its ecotourism approach is the weak marketing to Jordanians. Had it placed more emphasis on this, it would have found more Jordanians calling for the rejection of the new agriculture law.