According to Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, “in 2006 there were 71 reserves covering nearly 5.5 million hectares in the National Reserves System with an IUCN protected area management category of 1b Wilderness Area, which is about 6 per cent of the NRS”.
There is, however, a hell of a lot more wilderness in Australia’s parks than a mere 6 per cent. The question to be asking is why isn’t the wilderness in our national parks protected? For if not in national parks, where else can it be protected? Maybe in Antarctica or on the dark side of moon!
Wilderness is important because it ensures that the interconnected systems of self-sustaining natural environments, which have evolved over many millions of years, are managed free of pest species, over burning and development.
Wilderness is areas of intact bushland large enough to give plants and animals their best chance of survival in the face of climate change by facilitating species migration, spaning climatic gradients and providing many refugia for the endemic and other wildlife that are unable to migrate in time (which is most species).
So wilderness will become increasingly important to the survival of life on Earth as human populations grow and natural environments will become more fragmented, degraded and under greater stress.
So why is it being degraded through fragmentation in our national parks? Many national parks do not have any formal protection for wilderness they contain.
Wilderness areas in national parks are being degraded for the development of vehicle access and commercial facilities without adequate consideration of park wilderness values.
The connection between conservation and low impact park use is being overturned and some of the best bits of pristine nature within national parks are being developed. Only last November seven Queensland national parks were announced for development by Premier Anna Bligh, and New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria are not far behind.
At a National Parks Australia Council meeting last September, Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett said that national parks need to be less constrained by conservation. He thinks national parks need to raise more funds, rather than relying entirely on the public purse. He is equally insistent that the push to increase accommodation and infrastructure for high-end tourism is needed in national parks to help them pay their way. His views are contrary to Professor Ralf Buckley of the International Centre for Ecotourism Research of Griffith University whose research reveals that private tourism developments do not return funding or political support to park agencies.
Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett also has sat on his hands while a tourism master plan for Kakadu National Park proposed several tourist developments for that park’s “Stone Country” wilderness. And if you read the tourist promotion supplement to the Herald on Saturday, January, 23, 2010, you may have noted journalist Daniel Scott’s description of his favourite holiday adventure: “I was trekking the Jabula Trail through Nitmiluk National Park (NT) with maverick guide Mike Keighley of Far Out Adventures, and we have just arrived at our camping spot - a dramatic single drop waterfall. As I cooled off in a rockpool I heard a helicopter. It landed and out stepped Snowy, with an esky full of cold beer and hot pizzas.” So is this our ultimate eco-tourism vision; to eat junk food and drink beer in the wilderness?
The edges of all wilderness areas can be reached by road where there are opportunities for car-based activities at lookouts, picnic and camping grounds, and easy day walks, as well as more adventurous activities. Almost everyone can have a wilderness experience on a day-walk. In fact over generations the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area was designed to express these ideas, to provide visitor opportunities and keep its wilderness areas protected from Sydney’s tremendous development pressures.
Wilderness, the ultimate self sustaining system can provide the inspiration for an ecologically sustainable society. Its undisturbed catchments supply a pure, higher, more constant water yield than disturbed catchments.
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