More on the politics of national parks

More on the politics of national parks

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. The big difference now is, 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 shifting.

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
  • 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.
  • Where is the recognition that parks originally were conceived as places for re-creation (that is, re-connecting with the living, non-human worlds), and not necessarily recreation (that is, for hunters, for 4WDers)?

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.