Issues of conflict

In all highly industrialised societies there is continuing political conflict over the preservation of large, intact, diverse ecosystems within strong reserves such as national parks. Often the only point of some agreement is on the value of natural reserves as drawcards for the tourist industry. Miners, timber harvesters and other interest groups often portray such large reserves as wasteful or unmanageable. Frequently they argue that a small excision from these reserves will make no difference.

Normally, outdoor recreationists side with scientists and other conservationists in seeking to preserve an area for its beauty, biodiversity or recreational value, but there is not always agreement between all groups of outdoor recreational users. Finding a balance between the demands of the various groups is a constant problem for legislators and land managers. Below is a list of several of the contentious land use issues and a few of the arguments used by the various conflicting groups. The list is not exhaustive, nor are the points intended to resolve any particular issue. It is presented to encourage discussion, covering the main issues broadly.

Mining

  • is a resource needed for economic development and survival
  • causes visual degradation and habitat destruction
  • waste can contaminate the surrounding area
  • reduces flora and fauna diversity.

Forestry

  • is a resource needed for economic development and survival
  • can lead to removal of old growth forests, inappropriate fuel reduction burning and the use of monocultural plantations which results in reduced diversity and increased pollution of water resources
  • woodchips are a wasteful use of old growth and rainforest timber
  • spreads pathogens such as the cinnamon fungus (Phytophthora cinnamomi) which attacks native plants, and Chalaris australis, which attacks certain rainforest plants
  • road making is an intrusion and reduces bushland.

Water catchments

  • are resources needed for economic development and survival
  • inundation of large areas and the disruption of stream flow decreases diversity
  • access and powerlines are an eyesore and fragment natural communities.

Grazing

  • is a part of the Australian heritage
  • animals trample vegetation, particularly vulnerable species such as bog plants, and introduce weeds and pests
  • cattle manure pollutes water sources
  • reduces and changes flora and fauna diversity.

Tourism, resorts and developments

  • provide a means by which less able people can experience a natural ecosystem
  • ski resorts and private lodges are a legitimate use of a natural resource
  • ski resorts are an eyesore and replace large areas of vegetation with buildings
  • roads are intrusive and cause fragmentation of habitats
  • motorised vehicles (such as over-snow, helicopters, four-wheel drives and jet-skis) interfere with the peace of others
  • picnic grounds and parking areas are sites of degradation and rubbish
  • developments increase the likelihood of spreading pathogens and reduce or change biodiversity
  • there is increasing commercial pressure for infrastructure in national parks.

Huts

  • cause a concentration of use and are sites of weed colonisation
  • attract unskilled, ill-equipped people into fragile or potentially dangerous areas
  • save lives by providing shelter in bad weather
  • provide toilets and minimise the area over which faecal matter is spread.

Hardened trails and track markers

  • detract from the ‘wilderness experience’
  • can restrict the damage to fragile habitats
  • can fragment a habitat
  • are sites of weed, pest and pathogen dispersal
  • are a guide and prevent less-experienced parties becoming lost
  • channel activity away from sensitive areas and critical habitats.

Recreational usage

  • horse riding results in erosion and piles of manure
  • trail-bike riding causes noise and erosion
  • four-wheel drive vehicles damage trails and some of their occupants leave rubbish behind
  • the firearms of hunters are a hazard to other users and their dogs a disturbance
  • canoeists and rafters disturb the banks of rivers and lakes
  • bushwalking and cross-country skiing damages the ecosystem that the visitor comes to enjoy.

Permits

  • limit the exposure of wild places to excessive and inappropriate use
  • are an unnecessary cost and limitation on people’s freedom.

Unfortunately, many conflicts have been decided by votes and emotive argument, rather than best practice. Even among walkers, ski tourers, rock climbers and canoeists, many are poorly informed or naively disinterested. It is everyone’s responsibility to become educated about how the environment works and how we affect it. Instead of self interest, our decisions should be based on the following principles:

  • Are sufficient, diverse environments, ecosystems and species preserved to maintain life on this planet?
  • Is it the best utilisation of the limited resource?
  • Do the benefits outweigh the costs to the natural resource and its users?