Behind the image 31 May 2014

Mountain Creek Alpine National ParkThis is Mountain Creek, at Mountain Creek camping site, at the Bogong area of the Alpine National Park, northeast Victoria, Australia.  Here is the starting point for a classic walk which takes you up the Staircase Spur to the roof of Victoria – the top of Mt Bogong (1986m).

This is one of my favourite places – I’ve been coming here for years.  The thing about the Kiewa valley, where this is located, is the ways it’s reinvented itself with a thriving economy now based on recreation (walking, mountain-biking and skiing) and locally grown produce. It’s a living example of the ways conservation, national parks and LoST ideas can contribute to local economies, mosaics of land-uses and community resilience.

 

Ecotourism and national parks

There was recently a story coming out of Tasmania, Australia regarding ecotourism in national parks.  One of the alarming things in the story is yet another apparent attack on protected areas in Australia, this time by the new conservative Government in Tasmania.  According to the story:

Tasmania’s incoming Hodgman Liberal government has pledged to invite more investment within parks and reserves, improve access in the Arthur-Pieman coastline to unrestrained off-road vehicle access, and to log parts of Tasmania’s World Heritage Area.

Tasmanian old growth forest.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald

This is also against a backdrop of peeling away the so-called ‘green tape’ of environmental regulation to move towards a more deregulated system.

I must confess, I’m struggling to see logic to any of this and it seems to me that it is straight out a decision by ideologues with a default position of ‘free, unregulated market’.  The logic I’m failing to see is related to the following:

  1. Ecotourism in Tasmania is worth more to the economy than logging – much more.
  2. Tasmania has positioned itself as being a green tourism destination.
  3. Logging will generate short-term income for major logging companies.  Ecotourism, done properly, will provide long-term jobs, income generation and, most of all, sustainability.
  4. The Regional Forest Agreement that was developed to protect Tasmania’s forests had taken a very long time to negotiate. But the RFA is a platform for cooperation between logging, green jobs and sustainable futures.
  5. The fact that the new Government is trying to get some parts of the World Heritage area de-listed means once again an Australian Government is pulling away from its international obligations.  As a wealthy country there is absolutely no excuse for this.

In addition to all of this, the story also discusses the need for some form of regulation of the ecotourism industry’s activities in national parks. Once again, the ‘de-regulation’ mantra comes out from Government.

What I find quite sad is that lot’s of my posts are critical of the ways Australian governments are turning back core sustainability initiatives – climate change responses, national parks, alternative energy etc. Gains over a lot of years that I would hope have mainstream support are being fundamentally wound back.

Soon we will be having policies on the basis that the earth is flat…

You can see the story here.

Time to take a breath with national parks

* A version of this post is also on brianfurze.com.au

There has been a lot written in the Australian press recently on national parks and the changes which are occurring in their management (see also various previous blogs of mine). It’s encouraging to see the number of stories critical of the potential undermining of the concept – not to mention the park’s protective functions, and their contributions to both sustainable local economies and sustainable landscapes.

An interesting article can be found on the ABC’s website (available here). The essence of the article can be summed up in the following:

No longer are national parks primarily there to preserve and protect our country’s precious natural heritage but now must be the venue for a vast array of potentially harmful activities.

This of course is the old ‘protection from and protection for what’ balance national parks have to deal with. Put another way, it’s the balance between conservation and biodiversity needs and economic development trajectories.This has been the case since the first national park was legislated (Yellowstone) for the protection of wild places from the onslaught of cities and civilisation.

That was over 150 years ago. There has been a lot of sophisticated thinking since then. At this stage in thinking, you’d hope we moved on from ‘either/or’. You’d hope that with a bit of creative thinking, we can actually move to something resembling ecological system needs being protected with a re-imagined vision for development trajectories.

Unfortunately, in Australia, judging by the number of changes occurring to what is being considered as ‘legitimate’ activities in national parks (for example, mining, forestry) and the various attempts to excise sections of parks, the ecological/landscape protection role is being undermined.

This raises some important questions to consider (at least in my mind):

  • Where is any sense of the kinds of economic contributions parks make to local areas through tourism? Parks are well-known to provide important economic contributions locally. We certainly don’t want to see local economic benefits undermined.  This is usually the first point of analysis but I don’t hear much about it at the moment from Australia’s agencies.
  • Where is any understanding that if you get sustainable tourism right, you will have sustainable jobs and  a sustainable economy (that is, the LoST approach)?To my mind, these changes are not only about the balance of ‘protection what/protection for’, but fit into broader conversations about sustainability, sustainable landscapes, sustainable economies and sustainable communities.  We can’t separate these. And there is enormous silence…
  • Where is the recognition that parks originally were conceived as places for re-creation (that is, re-connecting with the living and the non-human worlds), and not necessarily recreation (that is, for hunters, for 4WDers)? I’m not saying it’s ‘either/or’, just that we need to have some discussions about it, rather than something imposed by governments.  Actually, all I’m suggesting here is some dialogue and some transparency…

As someone who has worked in the national park/protected area management field around the world, it is particularly sad to see a wealthy country like Australia losing the balance, a balance which is essential in economic, ecological and social ways. It’s a balance that needs to be right for local, national and international sustainability.  And, perhaps most importantly, it’s not just about losing the balance, but the mindsets, ideas, ethics and values which cause the balance to tip.