An Assessment of Ecosystem Services of the Everest Region, Nepal
Land use and land cover changes in the region were analyzed on the basis of information extracted from satellite image data. Based on this information, it is clearly noticed that the different land use classes have changed their forms and degrees in different time periods due to the driving forces such as national park activities, influx of Tibetan refugees, climate change and growth of tourism. Furthermore, the landscapes dynamics and their relation to the provisioning of ecosystem services were evaluated on the basis of the “mapping supply and demand of ecosystem services” instrument of ecosystem research. Based on the application of the GIS/RS tools, mapping has been carried out with the information extracted from literature reviews, focus group discussions, interviews and household questionnaire surveys. The relevant indicators of the ecosystem services were identified through focus group discussions. In addition, these indicators were also qualitatively assessed through experts’ judgements and local people participations. The information obtained from mapping and expert assessment matrix indicated that the supply of multiple goods and services by nature on the one hand match the demands of society on the other hand, which proved that the system of the Everest is a self-sustaining system in most of the services cases. The land use changes, such as degradation of local forest condition mainly in the on-route trekking site villages from tourists related fuelwood demand and decreases of snow/glacier cover area from climate change phenomenon may put greater challenges in the provisioning of ecosystem services in near future. The challenges issues could be the availability of the fresh water, aesthetic value, soil erosion regulation and continuation of agro-pastoral farming. Despite some of the services deteriorate the environmental conditions, most of the services such as transportation, livestock products, carbon sequestration, crop productions, fuelwood supply etc. seem to develop towards better conditions. The flow of the tourists has had both positive and negative impacts in the region such as promotion of education, employment opportunities and in other hand, environmental degradation. Tourism has created additional demands on the Everest natural resources, some of them through the direct requirements of tourists and some of them through the indirect impacts of changing the Sherpa’s traditional livelihood practices as a result of new patterns of lifestyle and tourism wealth. These additional demands have affected local resource and land-use practices. Consequently, this has resulted in a deficit area of provisioning and regulating ecosystem services in the on-route trekking site villages even though the region is holding surplus quantities. Therefore, the Everest region includes both surplus and deficit areas in the local level for different kinds of services. Nevertheless, basing on the trade of ecosystem services, the deficit areas of the on-route trekking site villages are balanced by surplus areas of the off-route site villages. Furthermore, the promotion of religious values based on the tourism affluent has very much supported in the preservation of most of the ecosystem services through environment friendly religious beliefs and practices. Therefore, cultural services seem one of the main agents in promoting the condition of ecosystem services in the region. Due to the specific cultural values such as respecting natural landscapes as a god living place and worshipping natural landscapes, most of the services remain in a good conditions which makes a difference compared with other Himalayan regions in the ecosystem services context. Through discussing the findings in my analysis of the landscape dynamics I argue that the study region is experiencing influences from climate change. Thus an adaptive management approach is necessary to avoid the uncertainties and risks from ongoing change.