* 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.