National Parks, World Heritage Areas and other parts of the conservation estate are not simply handed to the community by governments. Wild areas are hard fought for, sometimes for decades, before they gain protection. But once created, that is not the end of the story. Traditionally parks can face a range of problems and pressures, including under funding and over use, and invasion by feral species. In recent years it has become ever more apparent that climate change poses a huge threat to most ecosystems in the country, and hence the integrity of our national parks.

They are sometimes also threatened by proposals for commercial development. The following summary of current threats to national parks in Victoria comes from Phil Ingamells.

Three current proposals for commercial developments in national  parks are seriously worrying, and there could be more to come, warns Phil Ingamells.

Has Parks Victoria’s tourism arm lost the plot? Are they simply answering to pressure from their political masters? Is the tourism industry still running on the previous government’s policy? Maybe it’s all three!

Whatever the case, the government and our park managers seem to have lost sight of the fact Victoria’s parks already contribute more than $1 billion to tourism, yet cost less than 1% of the state budget to run: a good deal by any standards.

And they seem to have also lost sight of the guiding principle of keeping private tourism developments outside of parks where they pose no threat to parks but do benefit regional communities.

Victoria’s Andrews Government came to power promising to reverse the previous government’s enthusiasm for private developments in our parks, and quickly legislated to end the insidious 99-year park leases. It also sensibly promised to upgrade facilities in parks to ‘encourage more Victorians to get outdoors and enjoy our natural environment’, and increase funding for management.

There has been a moderate increase in park funding already, much of it for infrastructure. Hopefully a lot more is on the way.

But that seems to have done little to quell Parks Victoria’s over-enthusiastic support for three proposals it has on hand:

  1. The most outrageous is a so-called ‘community-led’ proposal to excise at least six hectares from Mount Buffalo National Park, around the historic Chalet, and hand it to private developers for a ‘Mount Buffalo Chalet Village’.
  2. A disastrous scheme to put more than 30 buildings along the track from Falls Creek to Hotham in the Alpine National Park.
  3. Lastly, for now, there’s the proposed commercial boat tours at the Prom.

What’s the theory driving all of this?

Apparently people visiting parks don’t spend enough money while they are actually at their destination, i.e. inside the park.  So, putting private developments into parks will drain more from their wallets during their visit. But if you take a good look at most tourism plans, the best way to fleece a tourist is to get them to extend their trip by visiting wineries, B&Bs, spas and restaurants in the region. These options don’t have to be inside the park at all.

We need our parks to protect our much threatened native plants and animals, and to give us rest and refuge from the ever faster moving world we live in.

This story first appeared in the March 2017 edition of the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) magazine Park Watch.