Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies Program

Committee Chair

Robin Saha

Commitee Members

Daniel Spencer, Jim Burchfield


University of Montana


Caleta Tortel is a small rural town in Patagonia, Chile. Caleta Tortel is at a crossroads in economic development. The main goals of this thesis were to analyze Tortel's past and future development, evaluate the possibility of a socially and environmentally beneficial path for its future, and assess the community’s ability to shape this future path. I focused on Tortel's budding tourism development and evaluated its ability to follow and support a socially and environmentally beneficial development path.

I developed an analytic framework of two contrasting development paths: 1) extractive and exploitative, and 2) socially and environmentally beneficial (sustain able). I used this framework to evaluate Tortel's ability to support a sustainable path. I conducted a qualitative analysis of 30 interviews of community leaders, small business owners and other residents in Tortel. Interview questions asked about perceptions of recent and future development, and tourism development in particular.

I found that Tortel has the ability to support a socially and ecologically beneficial path in its future. This analysis also demonstrates that an extractive and exploitative development path has historically been dominant in Chile and in Tortel and continues to be a threat, even as the town seeks to shift toward a more sustainable development path.

My analysis of in-depth interviews also demonstrates that the local tourism industry has the ability to support a sustainable economic path, providing conditions that enable sustainability are present. Sustainable development literature shows that these conditions exist when: 1) local people have an advantage because of their own unique set of skills, 2) communities that can concentrate on activities that complement rather than compete with large tourism operators, and 3) special property rights are allocated to the community. While all these conditions are not currently present in Tortel, the community, such conditions can be encouraged, given that the community is ready and willing to become more involved in tourism projects. This thesis concludes with recommendations for local government officials, NGO’s and local residents for facilitating conditions to support sustainable development in Tortel.



© Copyright 2009 Laura Becerra