Editor's note: In an effort to better understand how other countries are managing their parklands, and to compare and contrast U.S. efforts to those from abroad, Traveler on occasion runs items from beyond U.S. borders. This story, from New South Wales, Australia, strikes a particular chord in light of our recent interview of Dr. Michael Frome.
What is the role of national parks? Are they created and designed to preserve nature, or to serve as playgrounds for the public?
Last month in a conversation with the Traveler Dr. Michael Frome, a giant in the conservation world, shared with us how disappointed he's been with the tack taken by the National Park Service in managing its incredible landscapes.
"Twenty years or so ago, they were talking about carrying capacity. 'Let’s determine the carrying capacity of the parks,'" he said. "Now, they’re talking about, 'Let’s get more people in, so we can get more money.' The carrying capacity is out the window, so, I would say the condition of our parks has definitely gotten worse."
Against that backdrop, a story about tourism in parks appeared from New South Wales, Australia, the other day. It told about outrage over a move by the New South Wales government to focus on tourism in their parks.
Members of the Blue Mountains City Council opposed to the proposed National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Bill 2010 maintain that it "changes the emphasis of national parks and NPWS (National Parks and Wildlife Service) from nature conservation to providers of tourist development and accommodation”, and “facilitates new commerical development and accommodation in national parks”, the motion stated.
The Blue Mountains Conservation Society, in an alert to its supporters, said that under the proposed change "the Government will ... assist private developers to build accommodation, resorts and other tourist facilities in parks with planning brakes removed. Sites will be selected, preliminary planning done, and offered to the tourism industry as "investor-ready".
Already we have learnt that the NSW Government wants to overhaul the leasing provisions in national parks legislation to make it easier to permit new buildings and facilities in national parks.
‘Tourism’ is going to be added as a purpose of national park management and one of the
functions of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Surely conservation is the job of NPWS and tourism is the job of Tourism NSW!
Similar debates over what's proper and what's not when it comes to managing national parks have risen and fallen here in the United States down through the decades. You hear it now over efforts to draft a satisfactory development plan for the Yosemite Valley, when it comes to managing snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park, and what to do with off-road vehicles in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, just to name three high-profile issues pitting conservation against development and/or recreation.
In his wonderful book, National Parks, the American Experience, historian Alfred Runte points out that economic interests long have cast envious eyes on the national parks.
More than cultural nationalism with an economic boost, the boost itself had become an argument. Generally attributed to the Great Northern Railway, the See America First campaign had gripped the nation with the economic possibilities of the national parks. "We receive comparatively nothing for (our scenery), Congressman (Edward) Taylor elaborated in 1915, "while Switzerland derives from $10,000 to $40,000 per square mile per year from scenery that is not equal to ours. But Switzerland knows that the public is ready and willing to pay for scenery, and they have developed it for selling purposes." A failure to profit from Switzerland's prudence, he concluded, especially with the outbreak of war "closing European resorts to American travel this year," would cost the United States a golden opportunity for teaching its "citizens to visit and appreciate our own parks."
Back in Australia, the opposition isn't against economic prosperity, but rather is built around a fear that the government would help bootstrap businesses in the parks that would compete with those already ringing the parks.
“The latest government plan would mean national parks would be subject to unbridled commercial development,” Tara Cameron, president of the Blue Mountains Conservation Society, said in a prepared statement. “The society supports the provision of tourism infrastructure and accommodation in Blue Mountains towns rather than inside national parks.”