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Erik is a public policy professional and owner of the online training course in democracy and civic action: www.3ptraining.com.au The Blog …explores ways to create a sustainable and just community. Explores how that community can be best protected at all levels including social policy/economics/ military. The Book Erik’s autobiography is a humorous read about serious things. It concerns living in the bush, wilderness, home education, spirituality, and activism. Finding Home is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and all good e-book sellers.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Roads Through Wilderness – can there be such a thing as a ‘wilderness development’ policy?

Tarkine Wilderness with Button Grass
Like ‘fighting for peace’ wilderness development is often seen as an oxymoron. It is thought that as soon as you have development, by definition, you cease to have wilderness, or you have less of it. Tasmania is one of the few places where true wilderness exists.

Wilderness is a place where human beings are transitory; where there is little if any sign of the existence of people, where if the modern world ended you wouldn’t notice. There are no roads, no signs, and in the strictest sense, no permanent walking tracks.  It is an ecological benchmark for nature untrammelled by man and unaltered by the modern world. It’s not about scenery or about any human aspiration. It is nature for nature’s sake – solely and unapologetically.

Unsurprisingly there isn’t much of it left. Further, the baseline for what is considered ‘wilderness’ keeps diluting. I cringe when I watch BBC documentaries where people enthusiastically describe, for example, the Scottish highlands as ‘pristine wilderness’. That land has been logged, cleared, grazed, farmed, fought over, stolen, bled for and owned for a thousand years. In my native Britain, if you can’t hear traffic – its wilderness!

Most people can’t see the use of wilderness. That’s because it doesn’t have a “use”. It’s a bit like justifying the “use” of happiness, beauty, love, truth, spirituality, or anything really important. It may be useful but it doesn’t exist to be useful, it just is.

This brings us to a recent suggestion that we build a road bisecting the South West National Park/World Heritage area and charge people $300 a day to drive down it. After all, there’s a lot of space out there going to waste. The Groom Liberal government has already done the same thing through the Tarkine wilderness but there is no toll (and if there was it would still never pay for the cost of road construction).

It’s an obviously nutty idea it but does betray a desire for greater access to, and profit from, our wild lands.  There is a limit to how much people will sacrifice for nature without getting tangible returns. There is a long term risk of ‘roll back’ if the green movement remains puritanical. The answer I think is quite simple.

Think of wilderness as a series of concentric circles. The closer to the centre you are the less sign there is of human existence. On the periphery you have scenic drives, short interpretive walks, lodges, boat ramps, scenic railways, picnic facilities and camp grounds. You might even have hotel accommodation that blends reasonably well with its environment (not concrete and glass with big car parks and golf courses). Further in you have well constructed walking tracks, toilets, shacks, and elsewhere, four wheel drive trails. Deeper in you have nothing at all. You raft or walk through but you take everything with you, and you do so at your own risk.

In Tasmania there is significant scope for investment in infrastructure to support nature based experiences around our wilderness areas without trashing the centre. Unfortunately there has been a history of inappropriate development proposals by people who don’t ‘get’ wilderness and don’t understand Tasmania. On the other side you have an anti development lobby that is paranoid about incremental loss of wild lands to uncontrolled development and reactively oppose anything that they see as infringing. This is partly because of a history where conservatives vandalise wilderness then claim that because its values are degraded it is no longer worthy of protection.
It would be very helpful if government opened a meaningful dialogue with environmental NGOs about developing a formal wilderness development policy based on the above principles. This might include for example, guidelines about the types of buildings and construction materials that are appropriate on the edge of our wild lands.

There is simply no reason why for example we couldn’t have small scale chalet style accommodation at the southern edge of Lake St Claire where the old HEC pump house is, or re-build the hotel at the Springs on Mt Wellington, or have a Mt Wellington cable car, or have a small development at the end of the Donough’s Hill track overlooking the Franklin River on the way to Queenstown. These things are not going to destroy the wilderness but they will connect people with it. Those who are able and willing to walk for 21 days unassisted through the South West still can; and they will be more likely to have a job when they get home. If we can put wedge politics aside we can move forward on these issues, but we can only do so meaningfully if we truly appreciate what we have. What we have is amazing. I attach a handful of photographs for reference.
Tasmanian Wilderness - a gentler way to travel

Ecotourism in Old Growth Forest
Tarkine Wilderness Lodge - development's sensitive side

Open Cut Mining - development's insensitive side
A Longer View
Tag line: Wilderness development, Tarkine, ecotourism, wilderness management, world heritage area management, national parks, Tarking mining, Tasmanian rainforest

1 comment:

  1. Arthur Wherrett7 April 2013 at 22:00

    Thanks for your helpful insights, Erik.
    Cheers Arthur .