Our national parks and conservation reserves are priceless community assets. Their protection has been hard won over many years but, even when parks have at last been proclaimed in law, the community still has to work hard to keep them safe.
Our capacity for the exploitation of nature goes right back through human history. But we are now at a time when the population of the earth is far above historic levels, and we have powerful tools to ‘harvest’ returns from nature that would have been previously unimaginable.
Over the last 200 years, the natural world has taken a real beating. We are fast learning that there are huge benefits from protecting the nature, but the many pressures on these areas, some big and some smaller, remain.
These pressures on our parks and other natural areas include:
Fortunately, the prime purpose for the management of parks is made very clear in legislation: the protection of nature.
Generally, the community reacts strongly to anything that decreases the integrity of our natural areas, and the quiet enjoyment of them.
In 2013, plans to allow 99-year leases for private developments in parks prompted a large community backlash, including 1200 people forming a human sign at Wilsons Promontory National Park.
Fortunately, a change of government brought an end to the 99-year lease plan. However, ambitious plans for tourism developments inside national parks continue to be proposed.
Plans for 31 buildings in the Alpine National Park along the Falls to Hotham walking track, and a private boat tour operation at Wilsons Promontory National Park, have both been given apparent approval by Parks Victoria in advance of any community consultation and independent assessment of their impacts >read more.
And a tourism bid for Mount Buffalo National Park disguised as a ‘community-led proposal’ is ringing alarm bells. It asks for six hectares to be excised from the park, to be handed over to private developers for a series of hotels, bars and much more >read more.
Parks already play a strong role for tourism, and will continue to do that. But there is plenty of opportunity to site any necessary tourist infrastructure adjacent to, but outside a national park’s boundary. This is what happens in some of Australia’s most popular and best protected parks, such as the Northern Territory’s Uluru Katatjuta National Park, and Lord Howe Island’s World Heritage area.
The long-term protection of Victoria’s great national parks will always require the vigilance of the community.