Millions of Australians have worked hard to gain protection of our wild places over many decades. The national parks and other conservation areas that have been created as a result of these efforts protect some of our wildest and greatest landscapes.

In recent years it has become clear that climate change poses a grave – and in some cases existential – threat to many of these places. Then there is the threat of invasive plant and animal species, fragmentation of habitat due to clearing and logging in areas next to reserves, etc.

A more insidious threat has been the slow shift by both state and federal governments to consider, or actively support, commercial operations in our conservation reserves.

This is well underway in Tasmania, with private commercial developments along the Overland Track, and plans for other operations in many parts of the state.

Recent examples include the plan to allow ‘helicopter tourism’ and a small commercial operation inside the Walls of Jerusalem national park in Central Tasmania and a plan to build a cable car into the famous Dove Lake, near Cradle Mountain. In some instances, land is being removed from parks to allow various forms of development.

A recent report shows the scale of this threat.

The Guardian reports that

Australian governments have slashed the legal protection of nature reserves in favour of business growth, a global study reveals.

The country is one of 73 dropping the ball on land protection, according to the study, which was published in the journal Science on Friday.

Dr Carly Cook of Monash University said governments across Australia had made more than 1,500 changes since 1997 which removed 13,000 sq km from conservation areas. The changes had weakened protection for about 400,000 sq km, she said.

“The losses we see in Australia reflect a shift towards the commercialisation and exploitation of conservation areas for human uses,” Cook said of the study’s findings.

“We’ve seen governments across the country open up protected areas to commercial developments, such as hotels and marinas, and introduce a string of changes to permit forestry, livestock grazing, hunting and fishing.

“People think protected areas offer permanent protection for biodiversity but this isn’t the case.”

All Australian governments have committed to work towards a 17% target for protected areas by 2020 under the convention on biological diversity.

More than three-quarters of the losses across a 125-year period have occurred since 2000, the study found.

Governments in 73 countries have removed more than 500,000 sq km from protected areas designated for conservation between 1892 and 2018, according to the report.

Countries across the globe have further weakened the protection of 1.65m sq km during the same time period.

Researchers called for international conventions to establish systems to monitor and report on the loss of conservation areas to match systems for tracking their establishment.