Exploitation in national parks
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has identified six categories of protected areas. NSW National Parks are category II reserves, which means that their primary values are for biodiversity conservation and environmentally-appropriate recreation, rather than economic outcomes.
Highly protected areas (in IUCN categories I – IV) make up less than 9% of NSW. For this reason, it is vital that environmental values within parks aren’t exploited or degraded by extractive industries such as forestry and mining, or by inappropriate development and high-impact tourism.
There is a real concern that the environmental values of national parks could be under serious threat from logging, despite the government’s repeated assurances that logging will not be allowed in parks. In 2012, the timber industry called for more than 1 million hectares of forests in national parks on the north coast of NSW to be opened up for logging.
The NSW and Victorian governments are also conducting a trial of “ecological thinning” in the River Red Gum national parks in southern NSW. Although this trial is supposed to examine the potential for selective logging to improve forest health, it is based on very limited scientific evidence, and disregards the evidence that increased water availability will have more benefit for forest health than thinning trees. The current trial is not supposed to produce commercial products, but NPA is concerned that, given the current pressures to open national parks to the logging industry, the trial could result in long-term timber extraction based on spurious claims of improving forest health.
A similar ‘scientific trial’ of grazing in several southwestern NSW national parks was announced by the government in late 2012, and NPA is concerned that these trials are likely to reflect political pressures to legitimise the commercial exploitation of resources within national parks, rather than improving management of these areas.
Mining is not permitted in national parks and nature reserves. However, the mining and gas industries can have significant direct and indirect impacts on important natural areas, and NPA supports a range of campaigns to protect natural areas from these industries.
Inappropriate tourism and development in national parks
National parks provide an opportunity for Australians and international visitors to connect with nature and experience the beauty of our unique wild places and native species. Environmentally sensitive tourism and visitation therefore have an important role to play in national parks, and bring important economic benefits to regional communities in NSW.
However, it is vital that activities and infrastructure in parks is environmentally, culturally and socially compatible with their primary purpose of nature conservation. NPA opposes major tourism developments such as hotels within national parks, as these damage environmental values, compete with businesses in the surrounding regional centres and can mean that independent visitors are excluded from camping sites and other facilities by commercial tourism operations.
In September 2012, NPA co-hosted the 6th National Wilderness Conference with the Colong Foundation for Wilderness and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW. The theme of this conference was Wilderness, Tourism and National Parks: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead. Presentations from the conference can be downloaded from the Colong Foundation website, and papers by several of the presenters were reproduced in Nature NSW issues 56:4 (Summer 2012) and 57:1 (Autumn 2013).
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