National parks and other conservation reserves are essential to the success of our efforts to protect our national heritage for future generations. Parks contribute greatly to our enjoyment and to the physical and mental wellbeing of the community. They also benefit the economy.
Victoria has some 300 distinct habitat types, and they support around 100,000 remarkable native species: birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, plants, fungi and insects on land, and far more in the sea. They are the remarkable product of over 500 million years of evolution. Those species depend on healthy habitats, but maintaining the health of those many ecosystem types is becoming increasingly difficult. Many are now fragmented or largely cleared and all have problems with feral animal and plant invasions, let alone dealing with climate change.
Around 40 of these habitat types (known as Ecological Vegetation Classes or EVCs) are now listed as threatened under Victoria’s Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, and a host of individual species are also in danger.
Protecting large areas of our remaining ecosystems, and managing them well, is the only way we can pass this remarkable natural heritage on to future generations.
The Victorian community has won protection for some 45 national parks, 3 wilderness parks, 25 state parks, 24 marine national parks and sanctuaries, and a host of coastal and other conservation reserves. In all, nearly 3.5 million hectares are given some level of protection under Victoria’s National Parks Act.
But the job is not yet done: some critical areas are still in need of adequate protection, and there is a serious issue with a lack of funding and resources for essential management programs.
Our great national parks, and healthy natural systems generally, bring considerable benefits to the Victorian community.
For a start, they give us many opportunities to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life and experience the peace and beauty of the natural world. Research now shows that connecting people with nature increases a sense of ease and well-being and can help cure depressive and other mental illnesses. This, in turn, helps develop a healthy and constructive society.
Parks offer a range of great experiences, from a short stroll in the woods, to challenging, morale-building adventures.
Parks also provide a range of invaluable ‘ecosystem services’ such as fresh air and clean water. Increasingly, research on the many genetic variants of plants, fungi, insects and other organisms are producing new medicines and many new industrial and agricultural applications are being found.
And then there’s the benefit of tourism. Victoria’s parks contribute over $1 billion tourism dollars to the economy. The important thing here is to keep tourism developments outside parks, if only to avoid killing the ‘goose’ that lays tourism’s golden egg.
All told, the economic benefit from protecting our parks, and the great treasure of our natural heritage, is vast.