As a number of state governments continue to pursue commercial tourism options  in national parks and World Heritage Areas, a recent poll shows that these moves are out of step with community opinion. A Roy Morgan poll has found 90% of Australians support the protection of Australia’s wilderness areas. Of significance is the fact that support is high across the political spectrum, with 86% of Coalition voters, 92% of Labor voters and 94% of Greens voters agreeing wilderness should be protected.

The proposed ‘helicopter’ tourism development proposed for the remote Lake Malbena on the Central Plateau in lutruwita/ Tasmania is an example of the kind of development that can degrade wilderness values.

The poll was commissioned by wilderness researchers Martin Hawes and Grant Dixon, and defined wilderness areas as ‘large natural areas of land that have not been significantly modified by the impact or activities of modern society’. In this sense they would include places like Mt Feathertop in Victoria which is within the Alpine National Park and is being proposed as the location of a section of a privately run walk from Falls Creek to Mt Hotham. Opposition to that project runs deep in the local and broader outdoor community.

The following reporting comes from the Tasmanian National Parks Association (available here).

Mr Hawes said the poll results sent a clear message to federal and state governments that Australians want to see wilderness protected. ‘Australia is one of only five countries that contain over 70 per cent of the Earth’s remaining wilderness outside Antarctica’, he said.

‘Wilderness areas are vital to the ecological health of the planet. They play a major role in storing carbon, stabilising climate and protecting biodiversity. Yet wilderness in places like Tasmania’s takayna/Tarkine region remains unprotected and under threat.’

Hawes said the federal and state governments could dramatically improve the protection of Australia’s wilderness by restoring the national wilderness mapping program, updating the National Wilderness Inventory, and ensuring that wilderness values were included among the qualifying criteria for National Heritage listings.

The poll found a majority of Australians oppose tourism developments in wilderness areas. Sixty-three per cent agree luxury lodges and helicopter-based tourism should be kept outside wilderness areas – three times the number who disagree. Ninety-one per cent agree it is important to protect the remoteness of wilderness areas.

Dixon explained that wilderness had experiential as well as Indigenous and ecological values. ‘Wilderness offers opportunities for potentially life-changing journeys in remote and challenging settings’, he said. ‘Many people enjoy wilderness vicariously and appreciate that it exists, even if they never go there.’