National Parks under the radar at Gold Coast forum

We take for granted in Australia that we’ll always have access to natural places and that Governments will do a good job of protecting and maintaining the integrity of those places.

Yet despite boasting some of the country’s highest levels of biodiversity (85% of all Australian mammals), Queensland has the lowest percentage of national parks in Australia – less than half of other states.

And while we’re lagging behind on that front, the Government is actively encouraging ecotourism development of those national parks.

An upcoming forum hosted by Gecko Environment Council will explore both the lack of investment in national parks in Queensland as well as the clash of ideals between development and protecting what’s left of our precious natural environment.

Lois Levy is one of the Forum Convenors and she said that most development proposals for national parks are contrary to the purpose of actually having protected areas.

“The prime purpose of national parks is the conservation of nature and the parks are starved of adequate funds to manage them properly,” she explained.

The forum, to be held 10 June at Robina Community Centre will feature six speakers. One of those speakers is Laura Hanh, Conservation Principal at the National Parks Association of Queensland.

Laura worked in environmental management and biodiversity offsets before realising that protecting critical habitat in perpetuity is one of the best ways to reverse the current rapid decline in our biodiversity. Laura’s role at NPAQ focuses on tracking threats to existing parks, promoting opportunities for new parks and influencing government policy.

The Queensland Government made an election promise to expand protected areas from 8.2% to 17% and Laura’s organisation is one of a slew of Queensland conservation groups demanding the Queensland Government meet that commitment.

Laura said they’re “calling for a doubling of national park and other protected areas.”

“We also need a step change in ranger numbers and management resources in line with the economic and other benefits of these areas,” she said.

“We can’t wait 100+ years to achieve the target of 17%,” Laura said, adding that 23 leading organisations are lobbying for a budget of $65 million a year for new national parks.

“Park visitation supports thousands of jobs in regional Queensland so expanding and better managing parks should be part of our economic and biodiversity recovery.”

When it comes to development inside national parks, NPAQ has undertaken a review of several ecotourism models in Australia, New Zealand and Canada and found that accommodation outside parks resulted in the best economic outcomes.

“It encourages park visitors to spend in regional restaurants, galleries, and other businesses,” Laura explained.

“Accommodation is best located adjacent to or near national parks, rather than within. Supporting infrastructure within national parks is to be temporary in nature and suitable for easy removal.”

“The purpose of national parks is to protect nature and cultural values,” Laura reiterated. “Activities and infrastructure that are inconsistent with this purpose should be directed to other tenures.”

“For the record, a cableway through Springbrook National Park is still inconsistent with protecting nature.”

Laura will open proceedings at the National Parks and Ecotourism Forum in June.  She’ll be joined by Queensland’s Chief Scientist Professor Hugh Possingham, Nick Weirnert and Fiona Wright (Department of Environment), Dr Sally Driml (University Queensland) and the Focum’s Co-convenor, Sonya Underdahl who’s a PhD candidate examining the disadvantages and benefits of ecotourism within national parks. A panel Q&A will wrap up the evening.

The National Parks and Ecotourism Forum will take place on 10 June at Robina Community Centre. Register and get more details at bit.ly/NPforum.

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