APPROPRIATE RECREATION IN NATIONAL PARKS

NATIONAL PARKS ASSOCIATION of NSW Inc.

Policy No: 20

Introduction | Definitions | Policy | References

INTRODUCTION

Ideally, human activities in national parks should be in complete accord with the specific purposes for which national parks are reserved: nature conservation and minimal impact recreation. The definition of a national park adopted by IUCN in 1994, which is now quoted in all plans of management for national parks in NSW, mirrors this principle and provides the basis for this policy:

A national park is a natural area of land and/or sea, designated to

(a) protect the ecological integrity of one or more ecosystems for present and future generations;

(b) exclude exploitation or occupation inimical to the purposes of designation of the area; and

(c) provide a foundation for spiritual. educational, recreational and visitor opportunities, all of which must be environmentally compatible. (IUCN 1994)

It should be noted that the most indispensable part of this definition is part (a), the first requirement of natural area management. This is an essential condition for part (c) and is the most essential function to be safeguarded by part (b). However all these parts bear importantly on the nature of the activities which we should and should not permit in national parks.

It is to be regretted that the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) seems to have abandoned the concept of national parks as essentially of wilderness character (where they are large and still in a natural condition), by confining freedom from the use of motor vehicles and horses to declared wilderness and by planning to increase motor vehicle access opportunities in the non-wilderness parts of some national parks. This downgrades the non-wilderness national park by grossly exceeding the limitations to human interference intended in (b) of the above definition.

Apart from their primary function, i.e. nature conservation, the uses made of national parks can be divided into two main groups: recreation and other uses. The policy will deal only with recreation, but it should be realised that commercial exploitation of national parks, which is a business, belongs to both groups, and that environmental education is a function of national parks at least equal in importance to recreation.

The many benefits of national parks should be enjoyed from a basis of respect for nature and natural evolution and in the knowledge that at least here, as far as practicable, human interference has been excluded.

Probably the most controversial aspects of the management of national parks are the extent of the recreational activities and of the range of activities, which should be permitted within them.

All types of recreation can be accommodated in a regional plan, a comprehensive zoning of land uses across a designated region.

The United States, about 35 years ago, encapsulated in the Outdoor Recreational Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) a range of outdoor recreational activities listed in order of increasing impact. ROS is a useful concept, as it enables the regional planners, the politicians, and the public alike to see the "big picture", an orderly provision of recreational land use providing for all legitimate interests. Education should be creating a demand for this kind of planning for diversity which, properly appreciated, should avoid conflict of interests through undue overlap or competition for the use of land. The fact that we do have conflict over national park usage means that our regional planning (where in existence) has been incomplete or inadequate, allowing unconsidered, indiscriminate repetition in recreational land use irrespective of land use categorisation.

National parks should be seen and provided as an important part of the ROS. They are regarded by conservationists and some planners as the highest form of land use, occupying (along with similar purpose protected areas) the "higher" end of the spectrum, that which caters for those activities having the least environmental and social impacts - the so-called "passive" or minimal impact uses. Education should be dissuading people from seeking to introduce or maintain in national parks activities which belong elsewhere, and ministers and national parks services from permitting them.

When assessing recreational types for their appropriateness, it should be appreciated that to permit any human activity at all in a nature conservation reserve is a compromise between human desires and the primary management aim - nature conservation. Put another way, an "acceptable" national park activity is a minimal impact compromise between laissez-faire usage and complete exclusion of human beings. The traditional concept of a national park does include some human access and recreation, and the task of management is to decide what kind, where, how much, and the sustainability of each kind of recreation.

The appropriateness and inappropriateness of specific types of recreation can be assessed according to the impact they have on the natural environment, wildlife, and other human visitors. There can be no really clear-cut boundaries between the two opposing qualities. Value judgment must be applied in each case, but always based on the fundamental reason for reserving national parks: nature conservation.

Impact is of two kinds: environmental or biophysical (environment plus wildlife) and social (or psychological). The integrity of the natural environment must not be compromised by inappropriate activities, nor should the right of visitors to a fully natural experience in a national park be overridden by other people. Impact is often the result of a combination of users and their possessions, including vehicles, horses, radios etc.

Commercial recreational operations in national parks must be fully controlled, licensed and monitored, and growth and development which could cause unacceptable impact checked. As the Policy applies to both commercial and non-commercial recreation, it does not in general differentiate between them. However, it is worth noting that, in the opinion of some, no private profit-making from recreation in national parks should be permitted.

DEFINITIONS

For the purpose of this policy,

National park means the type of area and land use described in the IUCN definition of 1994 (above), and includes nature reserves as there is no clear or consistent distinction between the two types of reserve in NSW.

Environmental impact means adverse effects of human activity on natural environments, native flora and fauna, ecosystems, biodiversity, landscapes scenery etc.

Social impact means the adverse effect on a person or persons of any action, activity or object which they consider undesirable, unacceptable, or inappropriate.

Appropriate recreation in a national park is that which is in accord with the essential nature and spirit of national parks, does not substantially interfere with implementation of management objectives, and is sustainable in that it does not have an unacceptable degree of environmental and social impact.

Road: any formed access provided for or made by the passage of 4-wheeled vehicles.

Park road: a road occupying land which is included within the NPWS Estate, is managed and maintained by the NPWS, and is available for public use.

Public road: a road occupying land which is excluded from the NPWS Estate and not managed by the Service, but which is available for public use.

Public Access System (PAS): the NPWS term for the road system of a national park depicted in the plan of management, and consisting of park and public roads

Management road: a road vested in and maintained by the NPWS for essential management purposes and emergencies, but not available for use by the public except under emergency conditions.

Track: a way formed by or for human passage on foot, or (where provided separately from foot tracks) for bicycles.

National park waters: waters, whether inland or marine, either enclosed more or less by NPWS land, or adjacent to a national park extending to an agreed distance form the shore. (NB. This definition is not based on existing law, and is for the purposes of this policy only).

ROS is the Outdoor Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (see Introduction)

"The Service" means the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS)

Camping means remaining overnight in an outdoor setting (refer NPA policy No. 15: CAMPING IN THE NSW NPWS ESTATE)

Remote natural area means a zone of essentially wilderness quality within a national park or other NPWS reserve which, for reasons such as small size or political expediency, cannot be declared wilderness, but is managed as though it were declared wilderness.

POLICY

1. PURPOSES OF NATIONAL PARKS

The purposes of national parks are -

1.1 conservation of nature, including all native species and ecosystems, biodiversity, evolutionary and other processes, natural features and scenery, landforms and waterways, and

1.2 preservation of cultural heritage, both Aboriginal and introduced.

1.3 provision of appropriate (minimal impact, nature-oriented) recreation opportunities compatible with 1.1 and 1.2.

2. APPROPRIATE RECREATION.

Recreational activities in national parks are appropriate if they accord with the purposes of national parks (See 1. and the definition)

3. INAPPROPRIATE RECREATION.

3.1 Forms of recreation judged to be discordant with the specific purposes of national parks (see 1) are inappropriate, and should not be permitted within national parks.

3.2 Governments at all levels must attempt to find suitable alternative sites outside national parks for legitimate types of recreation which are inappropriate in national parks.

4. REGIONAL AND RECREATIONAL PLANNING

4.1 Outdoor recreation should be an element of regional land use planning.

4.2 Recreation of all legitimate kinds should be provided for in regional plans through the concept of a spectrum of recreational opportunities arranged in order of increasing environmental impact (such as ROS: see Introduction).

4.3 National Parks should occupy a position near the low impact end of the spectrum, and be planned for and managed accordingly.

5. MANAGEMENT OF RECREATION.

5.1 Recreational management should be conducted in accordance with the basic principle of park management which prohibits inappropriate recreation and permits only appropriate recreation, endeavouring to maximise its benefits.

5.2 Forms of recreation of doubtful appropriateness should be permitted or rejected by properly based value judgement of environmental and social impact.

5.3 The precautionary principle should be applied to permitted activities through conditions and regular monitoring, to ensure that the natural values are not adversely affected and the experience of other park visitors is not compromised, i.e. that the social impact of inappropriate behaviour is not permitted to diminish the satisfaction of other visitors.

6. COMMON POLICIES.

The following generally apply to all recreational activities in national parks. It should not be necessary to keep repeating them.

6.1 Best practice (for minimum impact) should be followed

6.2 Each activity should be monitored by the Service to ensure that

6.2.1 best practice is being followed;

6.2.2 numbers of people are not exceeding carrying capacity;

6.2.3 environmental and social impacts are being minimised;

6.2.4 the activity does not spoil the enjoyment of other users of the park;

6.2.5 the activity retains its nature orientation;

6.2.6 native fauna are not unduly disturbed or disadvantaged, or vegetation damaged or removed;

6.2.7 commercial operations have some educational benefit, or assist

appreciation of the national park;

6.2.8 the specific nature and spirit of a national park are being observed.

6.3 Compliance with the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, the Wilderness Act 1987, the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and any other relevant Acts, their regulations and by-laws, should be required. (These cover many kinds of inappropriate activities).

6.4 Management action should be taken when unacceptable impact is detected.

6.5 An approved code of practice and ethics should be required as a condition for any authorised activity.

6.6 The NPWS and user groups should encourage and promote minimal impact behaviour and attitudes, especially in young and inexperienced park users.

7. ACCESS.

The nature and extent of access within national parks should reflect the basic concept of a national park as expressed in the IUCN definition (see Introduction above), by the minimal extent and peripheral location of road systems (See NPA Policy No. 4 - Road Systems in National Parks) and judiciously restricted walking track systems (See NPA Policy No 8 - Tracks in National Parks), excesses of which would not accord with the IUCN definition (b) section. (See Introduction).

A peripheral road is one which is located, over the whole if its length, close to the park boundary relative to the size of the park. Peripheral location is essentially a value judgement. Its purpose is maximisation of a park's road-free area. Few existing parks meet this ideal.

8. WILDERNESS (See NPA Policy No. 18 - Wilderness)

Declared wilderness should have no

8.1 motor vehicle driving (including watercraft), riding of any animal, or cycling;

8.2 roads of any kind or grade;

8.3 constructed or proliferated tracks;

8.4 open spaces cleared for picnics, camping, or other purpose; (only minimum impact camping should be permitted)

8.5 large scale activities

9. SPECIFIC TYPES OF RECREATION

This section lists and assesses the types of recreation currently taking place, or likely to take place, in national parks. Some are at present permitted, others prohibited either in general or in particular parks or parts of parks. Some are judged (by NPA) to be appropriate, others inappropriate, while yet others may be described as "borderline" or conditional upon certain restrictions etc. They are roughly graded, from the highest impact to the lowest impact, with the "borderline" types occupying the middle of the range.

The explanatory notes in small print provide the rationale for the main policy statements. Attention is also drawn to the existence of separate and more detailed NPA policies on particular activities. In these cases, only the most essential policy statements are made here.

9.1 TERRESTRIAL MOTOR VEHICLES, including 2-wheel drive (2WD), 4-wheel drive (4WD), motor cycles, trail bikes, beach vehicles, oversnow vehicles, hovercraft.

(See also NPA policies Nos 1, 4, 9, 18).

9.1.1 Terrestrial motor vehicle driving in national parks by the public is appropriate, provided it is confined to the Public Access System (PAS). 1 Unauthorised driving outside the PAS, particularly in areas of previously undisturbed bushland, even by a single transit, must be treated as a serious offence attracting a high penalty.

9.1.2 The PAS should fully accord with defined principles of ecologically sustainable access and should be planned as part of the statutory POM process, not established as an ad hoc reaction to pressure groups. The Service should adopt the following guidelines when planning an appropriate PAS:

9.1.3 The PAS should ideally be a designed minimal length road system located mainly near the periphery of a national park (See Policy No. 4, on Road Systems in National Parks). (See also 7. above).

9.1.4 The PAS should not include roads useable only by certain types of vehicle such as 4WD or motor cycles, nor should special roads outside the PAS be made available for such exclusive use.

9.1.5 Management roads should not be made available for recreational vehicle touring, either commercially or privately operated, or when conducted by NPWS officers.

NPWS Field Management Policy 5.2.5 prohibits public vehicular access on "management tracks". (sic)

9.1.6 No roads or vehicles should be permitted in wilderness declared under the Wilderness Act 1987, or in nominated wilderness (over Crown land and lands of the Crown) awaiting assessment, identification and declaration. (see also 8. above).

9.1.7 Motor vehicles should not be driven on beaches or dunes, especially those which are either within the NPWS Estate or adjacent to it (the intertidal zone).

9.1.8 All motor vehicles in national parks should be registered, and unregistered vehicles excluded.

9.1.9 Trail bikes, because of their loud and high-pitched exhaust, and damage to unsealed roads, and hovercraft with their loud noise and strong downdraft, have severe environmental and social impacts and should not be prohibited in national parks, except for genuine emergency purposes.

9.1.10 Recreational oversnow vehicles should be prohibited in national parks.

Using motor vehicles as playthings as well as for gaining and increasing access to national parks, the powerful and persistent lobby for this group of activities appears to have had considerable success in influencing governments and the Service. National parks are now (1997) being opened up to vehicles by a considerable expansion of 4WD access opportunities using both bush trails and management roads and including commercial operations. A good example of proposed extension (1997) is 70km of "maintained trails" in Coolah Tops National Park, 50km of which will be 4WD only. 4

A Recreational Vehicle Working Group formed within NPWS Central Region will be working with 4WD groups to identify recreational vehicle touring opportunities in seven national parks in the Region. All this is a far cry from the minimal access system advocated in NPA policy. It is mainly in this aspect of management - access by vehicle - that our national parks are being downgraded, only declared wilderness (almost entirely within the NPWS Estate) remaining road free. Even large wilderness areas have been divided by roads which had to remain open to appease the lobby. Section (b) of the IUCN definition is being ignored; national parks are being exploited in NSW by excessive roading, and that for an inappropriate recreational use. NPA condemns the failure of the NPWS to implement its own Field Management Policy 5.2.7 which states that "no special provision for trail bike and four wheel drive vehicles will be made."

The impacts of motor vehicles outside the PAS in national parks can be summed up as including ground disturbance and erosion, quagmire creation, causing stream turbidity, disturbance and danger to wildlife (flora and fauna) and social impact (visual, aural, olfactory, psychological).

Voluntary codes of conduct for inappropriate activities are of course praiseworthy, but are irrelevant in that the basic activity simply should not happen in a national park. Seventeen NSW national parks have suffered significant 4WD damage.2 4WD access provides increased opportunities for illegal activities such as arson, rock and timber theft, fauna poaching, animal dumping, and illegal crop cultivation. Roads and vehicles interfere with natural fauna movement and roads facilitate entry of exotic flora and fauna. 2

Road closures in national parks by plan of management total only 80km since 1972, leaving "several thousand km still available in the NSW park system " (Ramsay). The situation requires a far stronger political policy commitment against over-roading, and better public relations. 2 On the north coast of NSW, 18 of 40 beaches within the parks are still available for 4WD driving. (None is available on the Central and South Coasts!) 2

Driving on beaches, whether above or below HWM, is an especially inappropriate and publicly disturbing form of vehicle access. Service policy that vehicles must not be driven off the PAS must be interpreted as including beaches. However, the Service accedes to the vehicle and fisher lobbies by permitting beach driving, both in the inter-tidal zone where this is part of the NPWS Estate (rarely), and by allowing vehicles to cross Service beaches to gain access to the ITZ which is usually (as yet) not within the adjoining national park.

The physical impact of driving on beaches is generally perceived to be less than that of driving on solid land. This is certainly less likely to be true when vehicles are driven off the inter-tidal zone across dunes and vegetation. Yet, even on the ITZ, evidence has been found of reduced populations of sand-dwelling fauna such as pipis and worms. Vehicles also disturb the shore birds, causing frequent rising and landing, and endangering nests, eggs and chicks. Equally important is the psychological impact upon passive beach users, denied the essential remote beach experience by being forced to stumble along in deep wheel ruts, put up with the sight and smell when a vehicle passes, and even maintain some vigilance against rear approach, unheard over the natural sounds of wind and sea. To lie on the sand in a national park must surely be one of the inalienable rights, yet it has become too dangerous on some beaches, where one's rights can literally be overridden by this inappropriate activity.

Oversnow vehicles and hovercraft are included in this group. NPWS Field Management Policy 5. 2. 6' provides that these must be licensed, but this does not overcome the gross intrusion into a natural setting, even though the physical impact may be ephemeral (unless the snow is thin). Hovercraft in particular are very noisy, and the downdraft could disperse some dry soils and affect vegetation and wildlife. The Roads and Traffic Authority has failed to address properly the issue of excessive noise generated by trail bikes, especially where engines have been illegally modified. Riders also have a propensity to bypass gates and to create unauthorised trails.

9.2 POWER BOATING, including runabouts, launches, cruisers, personal water craft (eg. jetskiing), powered sailing craft, and electrically powered craft.

9.2.1 Boating under power should not be permitted within national park waters, as defined above.

9.2.2 The Government should transfer power to the NPWS to control boating and other activities in and or national park waters.

9.2.3 However, as the NPWS has no authority for the time being over boating, the Waterways Authority should ensure the following:

Regulations to relevant Acts should require speed limits and adequate care by power boat drivers, in order to avoid unacceptable environmental and social impacts on adjacent national parks, such as wash erosion, cutting of seagrasses by propellers, discharge of oil and gasoline, excessive noise and disturbance, and danger to waterbirds, swimmers, divers, and non-powered watercraft.

Drivers or skippers of power boats should not allow anchor damage to waterway beds or bottom-dwelling organisms, or allow the discharge of sewage or garbage into the waterway.

Water skiing and similar sports should not be permitted in national park waters.

The presence of an adjacent national park should have some influence over Waterways Authority policy on the behaviour of power boat drivers in that vicinity. Even where the NPWS owns the bed of a waterway, it has no control over what takes place upon the water. In the absence of sympathetic management, the NPWS should try to negotiate satisfactory management of water-based activities with the Authority.

The rationale behind the above policy is that motor vehicles, on water as on land, do not belong in a national park, being noisy, smelly and a source of pollution and general disturbance to the environment, wildlife, and passive human park users alike. National parks should be wholeheartedly given over to nature. Disturbance close to, but outside, a national park cannot help but impact on the park itself. At least there can be some limitation on the closeness of powered movement to a park and a requirement for environmental care.

The presence of motor boats in national park waters (as defined here) closely parallels that of motor vehicles on land. There is environmental disturbance and damage (e.g. bottom churning, seagrass cutting, bank erosion) and social impact, such as that detailed above and the danger to people in the water, who should not be exposed to this type of risk in such a situation. As beach users should be able to lie in safety on the sand, swimmers should be safe from motor boats anywhere in national park waters.

( Water skiing on Thirlmere Lakes National Park has been prohibited. See also 9.10- NON-POWERED WATERCRAFT USE for matters such as camping, and 9.4 FISHING.)

9.3 POWERED AIRCRAFT FLYING: fixed wing (incl. ultralights), helicopters, gyrocopters and model aeroplanes. (not air-ballooning: see 9.7) (for hovercraft, see 9.1.9)

9.3.1 Low flying of aircraft (including peacetime military operations) over national parks should be prohibited, except in situations of emergency, for rescue, for NPWS-approved scientific purposes, or for management purposes where other access or observation is impractical.

9.3.2 Overflight by high-flying aircraft (including commercial and military aircraft) should be avoided where reasonable alternative flight paths are available.

9.3.3 Landing and take-off of aircraft in national parks should be prohibited, with the following non-recreational exceptions:

  • emergency or rescue (incl. bushfire suppression);
  • management tasks in very remote areas; and
  • scientific or other work approved by the NPWS where an aircraft is essential.

9.3.4 Permanent landing strips or helipads should not be provided in national parks, except where and when deemed essential and are part of the plan of management.

Objections to powered aircraft in relation to national parks are mainly to do with noise, overflight, take-off and landing. (Non-powered aircraft are considered separately, as they are decidedly lower down the scale of impact, that is, higher in the "spectrum"). Noise is probably the worst problem, but there is also a strong visual distraction and the psychological impact of realisation that almost nowhere can one escape from the machinations of man. There is also some degree of air and water pollution and wildlife disturbances. If provision is made for take-off and landing within the park, there will also be the added impact of vegetation clearance, weed invasion, and the necessary ancillary roads and other works for access and maintenance. More trees may have to be removed or lopped to provide sufficient clearance for approach and landing. Amphibious aircraft will present a separate set of problems. The downdraft of helicopters has potential for the spread of campfire embers, local soil erosion, and animal disturbance. There is a special need to avoid flying over wilderness.

Ecotourism should not include overflight of national parks, for reasons which had been made clear above. Overflight by commercial, military, and other extra-park interests are included here even though their main purposes are not recreational.

9.3.5 Because of their penetrating noise and danger to park visitors powered model aeroplanes should not be flown in national parks.

9.4 FISHING (Both freshwater and marine), including spearfishing and gathering of aquatic animal life. (See also NPA Policy No.16: Fishing in terrestrial national parks etc).

Fishing, being a form of hunting of native fauna, should not be permitted in any national park or wilderness, whether terrestrial or marine, and whether by amateur or commercial fishers, with the exceptions of -

(For more detail, see NPA Policy No.16)

It is NPWS policy to allow fishing in terrestrial national parks but NPA sees this as a capitulation to an existing use which has been allowed to continue taking precedence over a fundamental management principle. At the time of writing, new legislation has established marine parks, but these are multiple use parks, in which fishing is permitted. NPA has sought new legislation to establish marine national parks in which no fishing will be permitted.

In contrast, fishing, as a form of hunting, is not permitted in Queensland national parks. At least spearfishing is not permitted in NSW NPWS waters and existing marine extensions to NPs.

NPWS' defence for its failure to prohibit fishing, aside from the acknowledged political difficulty, is that it lacks jurisdiction on several counts, i.e., aquatic and marine fauna are administered by NSW Fisheries, boating by the Waterways Authority, and the intertidal zone mainly by the Dept of Land and Water Conservation. The fact that a few sections of the ITZ are within the NPWS Estate, and that in many cases access restriction related to the carrying of fishing equipment could be imposed, have not meant any modification of the pro-fishing policy, even locally. NPA will work for the day when real regional planning and heightened public concern for fauna conservation and the national park ethic will combine to overcome this tradition in relation to national parks. NPA will also seek amendments to relevant acts to enable NPWS to administer national park waters and their resident flora and fauna.

9.5 HORSERIDING, including the riding of other animals.

(See NPA Policy No.12: Horse Riding in Natural Areas.)

9.5.1 Horseriding should not be permitted in national parks or on the intertidal zone adjacent to national park beaches. Unauthorised horseriding should attract a high penalty.

9.5.2 The State Government should actively investigate the availability of lands outside national parks for horseriding.

Present Service policy is to allow horseriding in certain national parks.

An analysis of horseriding impact in NSW has revealed that the activity is a major concern in 9 park areas, has caused severe impacts in 7, and is a significant conservation issue in 9. Illegal HR takes place in 11 parks and the nature of the impact is well covered in the separate NPA policy.

It is noted that horseriding "predominantly uses private lands and non-park public lands such as state forests". This means that lands other than national parks are available for horse riding, thus substantially refuting the argument that NPs are necessary to supply the demand. NPA Policy No.12 includes a statement of belief that the Government should be attempting to solve the problem and remove the conflict by a thorough investigation of such alternatives.

9.6 SKIING - downhill, cross country downhill (XCD), ski-touring, snowboarding, snow-shoeing.

9.6.1 As a high intensity, high speed sport, and especially where it demands significant structures such as chair lifts and lodges and large-scale residential development, and where slopes are subject to grooming, downhill skiing must be regarded as a high impact activity which should not therefore be provided for within a national park.

9.6.2 Ski-touring, cross country snowboarding, XCD, and low intensity self-reliant downhill skiing (i.e., no lifts) are appropriate activities in national parks.

9.6.3 All cross-country skiers and snowboarders should be self-reliant (except when totally within resort lease areas). The NPWS should introduce a permit system involving a check of skiers' competence and equipment. Where overnight trips are intended, tent and sleeping bag should be mandatory, and reliance should not be placed on reaching a hut.

9.6.4 Snow recreationists should be required to observe hygiene by not leaving garbage and human wastes on or in the snow, and removing them for proper disposal.

Although skiing or snow-shoeing takes place almost entirely upon a temporary surface of snow, and may therefore be fairly rated as having a low environmental impact, there are aspects which tend to raise the impact. Predominant among these is of course the elaborate supporting structures supplied to enhance downhill skiers' enjoyment of their activity: chair lifts, slope grooming, chalets, restaurants etc, all of which should be located outside a national park. But for powerful commercial interests, the ski lobby, and the political element, our only mainland snowfield region national park (in NSW) might have come close to the ideal (At least, all accommodation for tourists could have been located outside the Park, given the Skitube facility). We are now of course faced with further escalation of in-park development.

Whilst the development associated with mass downhill skiing has a very high local impact upon both the environment and some wildlife (notably the rare Mountain Pygmy Possum, Burramys parvus), ski-touring is essentially a self-reliant activity which, if hygiene is observed, has a negligible impact, less than that of bushwalking. However, it demands a high self-responsibility in terms of ensuring adequate equipment and food is carried to cope with likely conditions and emergencies. NPA policy No. 15: Camping in the NPWS Estate, opposes provision or retention of huts, and advocates the provision of carefully sited minimum survival shelters.

9.7 NON-POWERED AIRCRAFT, including gliding, hang-gliding, parachuting, paragliding, hot-air ballooning, and model gliders and kites.

9.7.1 Provided adverse social impacts are minimised, and a permit system implemented, infrequent overflight by non-powered aircraft may be an acceptable means of appreciating national parks.

9.7.2 Launching and landing of non-powered aircraft should take place outside the boundary of a national park, not from within a national park.

9.7.3 Non-powered aircraft should be required to gain a specified minimum height before travelling over a national park.

9.7.4 The NPWS should reserve the right to identify non-overflight areas above national parks and wilderness for any reason.

9.7.5 Recovery or rescue of pilots and aircraft from national parks following unscheduled landings should take place under the of the supervision of NPWS staff wherever and whenever practicable. The operation must have minimal environmental impact.

9.7.6 A penalty should be imposed upon recovery/rescue, and costs to the NPWS must at least be met. Consideration should be given to prohibiting the activity if such mishaps become frequent.

9.7.7 Powerboats used for towing (paragliding etc) should not be driven in park waters (as defined in this policy). (See also 9.2).

9.7.8 Erosion of launch sites should not be allowed to increase without remedial action.

Properly conducted, these activities can be rated as having a relatively low environmental impact except for take off and landing sites, which should ideally be outside a park together with access roads for the transporting vehicles. Social impact will depend on the significance of the distraction factor (distraction from a fully natural experience for other park users), which will be increased by a high frequency of flights, low flying height, associated noise and disturbance, the access road and take-over of the site if in-park, any vegetation clearance, etc. There is a very probable scare effect on small birds and mammals, which may be quite important in a variety of ways in influencing animal behaviour. Overall impact on large national parks could be slight, particularly in the arid outback.

Hot air ballooning is of course not entirely non-powered, and the roar of the engine, though intermittent, would have some impact near the ground. However, this is a low-intensity activity which does not require take-off / landing sites in-park.

Taken overall, and not allowed to become a dominant or frequent use of national parks, or to be operated in very many parks, this group of activities can be given a cautious nod of approval, at least until inappropriateness is demonstrated, possibly following escalation.

9.8 CYCLING (non-powered), including mountain bikes.

9.8.1 Cycling is an appropriate activity in national parks (except in declared wilderness) if confined to formed roads, including management roads, and to separate authorised cycling tracks constructed outside the Public Access System, as defined. 1

9.8.2 Like the roads of the Public Access System (see NPA Policy No. 4), separate cycling tracks should be short and near the park boundaries.

9.8.3 Cycling should not be permitted in declared wilderness or in remote natural areas.

9.8.4 Cycling should not be permitted on walking tracks in national parks.

9.8.5 Because the coarse treads of mountain bikes pick up more mud and weed seeds, and are thus more destructive of some trails than normal bicycles, the NPWS should be prepared to impose special conditions on their use in national parks.

9.8.6 Competitive cycling (races, endurances etc) is not appropriate in national parks.

Once regarded as environmentally benign, and appearing on the walks schedules of bushwalking organisations, bicycling, through the pressure created by human weight on relatively narrow tyres, is now recognised as a significant contributor to the erosion of some tracks and the creation of quagmires. Mountain bikes, because of their tyre construction, add to this impact. This is unfortunate, as this form of human-powered access is otherwise in the low impact class and is self-reliant. The NPWS regards the physical impact as significant enough to ban bicycles on some walking tracks, although an element of social conflict also enters here. A degree of trail hardening or choice of already hardened trails for bicycles also makes sense. The propensity of some to ride recklessly adds a further dimension.

NPA concurs with the interim Service policy on cycling in NPWS areas insofar as cycling narrow walking tracks will generally not be permitted, but disagrees with the proposed provision for cycling on some broader walking tracks and on management roads in wilderness. 3

9.9 ROCK CLIMBING, including scrambling, abseiling, canyoning and caving.

9.9.1 Rock-orientated recreational activities are appropriate in national parks provided environmental impact is kept low, both in respect of the climbs themselves and of the approaches, head and foot of the climb.

9.9.2 Climbers should not expect road access to either the head or the foot of their climbs, and this should not be provided for the majority of climb sites.

9.9.3 Limits should be imposed by the NPWS on the number and concentration of sites for regular activities, so that most possible sites are used only occasionally and some never, so as to preserve some sites from man's intrusion.

9.9.4 New sites proposed for regular use should not be used as such without management approval.

9.9.5 Sites of special value because of vulnerable, rare or endangered plants or plant communities, nesting sites etc. should not be approved as rock recreation sites.

9.9.6 Climbing, scrambling or abseiling over fragile or rare rock types or formations should be prohibited.

9.9.7 The use of rock climbing aids should be conditional on evaluating and minimising their likely impact on environmental values of all kinds and on the degree of past damage. Pitons, bolts and shackles should not be fixed except at some approved instructional sites. Chalk marking should be prohibited. Vegetation clearance of rock faces or at the head or foot of a climb to facilitate the activity should be prohibited.

9.9.8 No fixture, site hardening, or other interference to aid rock recreation should be provided or permitted in declared wilderness.

9.9.9 Track aids, such as ladders and hand-rails, which are parts of recognised walking routes, should be kept in good repair but kept as scenically inconspicuous as possible.

9.9.10 All caving should require a permit, issued by the NPWS with conditions for protection of the environment and safety of the user. Some caves should be closed to the public, because of scientific or other value, danger, or for any other justifiable reason.

9.9.11 Controls to avoid the overcrowding of sites should be instituted by the NPWS, working in liaison with specialist groups.

Unlike vegetation, rock is non-renewable (although time may "mellow" rock damage) and therefore needs special care. Rock recreationists should be educated and encouraged to care for their special environment by avoiding unnecessary damage to the rock itself or to vegetation which may be perceived as an impediment. Caving, in particular, can put at risk priceless formations of great beauty and interest which must be protected from the careless or clumsy, specimen or souvenir hunters or "rock-hounds": Nor should the pristine quality of pools and streams and of undisturbed detritus be intruded upon wherever the opportunity occurs. Hence the need for control and restriction.

Not to dwell on the negative, these special activities are fine natural adventures, involving a high level of challenge and ability, fitness and a love of the outdoors. They should be permitted, but those taking part must understand and accept the need for some restriction, given the increased pressure on sites resulting from increasing popularity of the activities.

9.10 ORIENTEERING AND ROGAINING

On account of their high environmental impact and competitive nature, these activities are incompatible with national parks, and should not be permitted within them.

9.11 NON-POWERED WATERCRAFT including sailing boats of all types and sizes, windsurfers or sailboards, rowboats, canoes, kayaks (including sea-kayaks), and rafts.

9.11.1 In general, the use of unpowered watercraft is appropriate in national park waters, subject to a number of conditions applicable either generally or to certain types of craft and circumstances.

9.11.2 As for powered craft (see 9.2), the NPWS should be empowered to control non-powered watercraft movements etc in or on national park waters.

9.11.3 Craft capable of relatively high speeds (some yachts and windsurfers) should be subject to speed restrictions in park waters (see definition), and there should be a requirement for vigilance where swimmers or wildlife are likely to be encountered.

9.11.4 The use of non-powered watercraft in national park waters should be subject to landing restrictions for environmental protection. The greater proportion of the shore in general, and sensitive sites such as reedbeds or vegetated banks, bird nesting sites etc, should be designated as no-landing shores. Landing places should be marked as such on the shore (discreetly), on park maps, and in the plan of management.

9.11.5 Camping from watercraft should be confined to sites associated with landing places and similarly marked.

9.11.6 The whole of most islands should be designated and marked "no landing" and / or "no camping".

9.11.7 National park waters are inappropriate for the presence of large numbers of people and watercraft, and for the holding of large-scale events such as regattas (eg. The annual regatta in Myall Lakes NP). The NPWS should take steps to limit numbers and to prohibit such events.

9.11.8 Sea kayakers planning to visit national park land and waters should be required to register and receive permits for both sea voyaging and landing on virgin national park shores, either mainland or offshore islands. Similar restrictions to those under 9.11.4-6 should be applied, and the need for minimum impact behaviour stressed.

9.11.9 Those in charge of larger craft should avoid causing damage to the seabed and bottom vegetation (e.g., seagrasses) when anchoring or pulling up anchors, and should refrain from disposal of any wastes into the water, being required to store wastes, (garbage, sewage etc.) until proper disposal facilities are available.

The lack of a motor puts non-powered vessels into a very much higher (lower impact) position on the ROS than those which are powered. This very varied collection of wind- and human-powered craft can be generally classed together as almost noiseless and relatively slow, and hence quite appropriate for national park waters (as defined). Even here however, park managers should exercise some value judgment, for example:

NPA's conclusion is that the presence of a large yacht, a beautiful thing in its own right, is usually not regarded as discordant in a natural setting, whereas the behaviour of some crews may well be the exact opposite!

9.12 BUSHWALKING

9.12.1 All types of bushwalking - tracked, trackless, road, remote area and wilderness - should be recognised as generally appropriate in national parks, subject to minimal impact conditions.

9.12.2 The NPWS should close any walking track, or section thereof, gathering or resting place, picnic or camp ground, stream crossing etc. where the physical impact of walking or associated activity has become unacceptable. The closure should last until the affected area has recovered or has been repaired, but should be permanent if the re-opening is likely to result in recurrence of the damage and track or site hardening is not undertaken.

9.12.3 Walkers should not cause track proliferation, and should regularly report track damage or deterioration to the Service, as part of a code of practice.

9.12.4 Walkers off-track should minimise damage to the environment by taking some care with foot placement etc.

9.12.5 Walkers in wilderness should avoid forming new tracks. This can be achieved either by using any one established track or by judicious dispersal. (See also NPA policy No.18 - Wilderness).

9.12.6 The NPWS should ban entry, in the most strategically effective way, to any area of special value for wildlife, rare, threatened or endangered species, vegetation, rock formations, microclimates etc, if it judges such action as likely to be strategically effective.

9.12.7 All walkers should be encouraged to practice the code of bushwalking ethics of the Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs.

9.12.8 Walkers should be required to thoroughly clean their socks etc of weed seeds and their footwear of mud before entering a natural area, to remove the risk of weed introduction and contamination by the root rot pathogen Phytophthora cinnamomi.

9.12.9 Walkers should report significant weed infestation or evidence of pathogen infestation to the Service.

Bushwalking, the traditional "best use" of natural areas, and even wilderness, should not be allowed to escape the net of critical assessment. Feet on the ground have an impact, and the integrity of our national parks must be maintained as the first priority. Bushwalkers must accept restrictions as do other park users in order to protect the asset. They will also have to accept some of the nature modification necessary to arrest erosion caused by high intensity usage: track or site "hardening", at the same time remaining alert for "overkill" in this area of management. Hardening may be the only alternative in some areas (see 9.12.2).

"Significant" weed infestation may be simply a matter of abundance, or it may be an aggressive exotic plant just gaining a foothold. In the latter case careful removal of the plants may prevent establishment and spread, but absolute surety that the plant is exotic is vital if such responsibility is to be assumed. Given that surety, working bees can be appropriate and helpful.

"Bush bashing" must from now on not only be the language of the past, but trackless walkers must demonstrate real care for their environment by avoiding damage to plants, soils, rocks etc as far as possible.

Wilderness walking needs a lot of consideration, especially in regard to whether or not tracks should be provided, allowed to remain where existing, or erased either actively or by closure and natural revegetation. The ideal wilderness is trackless, roadless, and without any discernible evidence of human works or occupation.

9.13 CAMPING

(For further details see NPA policy No. 15: Camping in the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Estate)

Camping is an appropriate means of extending appreciation of nature and the natural environment of national parks and wilderness.

9.13.1 Camping may be provided for in national parks in the following three ways:

9.13.2 Permanent or "hard-top" accommodation, which includes cabins, permanent caravans, huts, lodges, motels, hotels and other buildings, should not be provided in national parks, with the exception of 3-sided emergency shelters where climates are extreme.

9.14 UNASSISTED ACCESS AQUATIC AND MARINE RECREATION, including swimming, skin diving, snorkelling, surfing, etc.

9.14.1 These activities have negligible environmental impact in themselves and should be regarded as appropriate in most national park waters, although controls should be applied to the concomitant use of the adjoining beach or other terrestrial national park area, and any associated fishing or other exploitation.

9.14.2 Permanent or large structures such as surf clubhouses and observation towers, sea-walls, swimming pools, etc should not be installed within a national park or adjoining beach, rock platform, etc.

9.14.3 Conflict between board-riders and non board-riders should be avoided in the same way as at other surf beaches: by separation, with appropriate beach signs.

9.14.4 Official surf lifesaving from a national park beach must be deemed acceptable, but this should not include unacceptable aids such as fixed towers or surf clubhouses, and should only apply to popular high intensity use beaches.

9.14.5 Carnivals, surfing and swimming contests, boat races, etc are inappropriate in a national park setting, and should not be permitted, as they tend to draw large crowds and add to the impact on the environment, native fauna, and quiet human enjoyment.

9.14.6 Unauthorised environmental modification or manipulation, such as opening of a coastal lagoon or construction of artificial reefs by surfers to obtain special wave effects caused by the interaction of outgoing lagoon waters and surf, must be treated very serious offences attracting high penalties.

As in other "border" activities, which take place across the boundary of a national park, the NPWS has authority only over its own ground, and moreover does not wish to be unduly officious. Unified management by the Service alone can only come when NPWS is given jurisdiction over national park waters (as defined), and the intertidal zone. The present situation is therefore inevitably rather laissez-faire, which is tolerable if park values are not significantly depreciated. As stated in 9.14.1, it is not the water activities themselves which affect the environment, but the concomitant use of the beach, rock platform, river bank etc. There we find the same environmental impacts as occur in any high intensity use area: vegetation loss, bank erosion, dune erosion (always noticeable at popular beaches, national park or otherwise), weed infestation, littering, etc. More attention needs to be paid to arresting these problems in national parks than elsewhere, or this form of land use will cease to have meaning.

For the same reason, large-scale sporting events do not belong in a national park, and the Service has to stand firm on this principle or eventually lose the game.

Human life is precious in a civilised society and the Service has therefore to include safety in its list of responsibilities, making some sort of compromise between ideal park management and management in non-park areas. Thus NPA considers 9.14.4 to be a reasonable compromise for surf lifesaving from a park beach.

9.15 DEVELOPED AREA RECREATION, including picnicking, camping, and game playing in areas of national parks developed for relatively high density visitation, such as Audley, Bobbin Head (day use) and Woody Head (camping).

9.15.1 In the management of developed area recreation and any further development of same in national parks, every effort should be made to retain and enhance the national park character, while providing for the desired facilities.

This section refers to family or group type recreation which is not necessarily or entirely nature-oriented and is usually dependant or semi-dependant on the provision of facilities such as picnic tables, water supply, and toilets. There may be short distance walks, paths or tracks, lookouts, etc. Such recreation can fit equally well, or better, into less natural settings, such as state recreation areas and particularly regional parks, some urban parks, and some state forests. However under present circumstances it can be regarded as a largely inherited part of the traditional management compromise between complete human exclusion and laissez-faire use of certain national parks, which may be tolerated provided it is confined to relatively small and peripheral areas.

The area involved is small on the usual national park scale, but is significant in both providing for a major need and for absorbing much of the impact of human activity in national parks. It may provide a "soft" introduction to national parks.

As much of the activity in developed areas tends to be non self-reliant, numbers being high and children often present, safety provision such as guard rails and fences, bridge crossings etc should be installed.

9.15.2 Picnicking is a legitimate use of national parks, but visitors should be required to observe ethical behaviour standards such as avoiding littering, cutting live vegetation etc. Visitors should be encouraged to take out garbage rather than use any bins provided.

9.15.3 Camping in developed areas may have somewhat more facilities than would be appropriate in remote locations, but these should be limited to ablution / toilet blocks, supply of clean water, garbage collection, and provision of developed individual camping or caravanning sites. Electric power should not be supplied to camp and caravan sites in national parks.

(See NPA policy No. 15: Camping in the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Estate)

9.15.4 Ball games are generally inappropriate in the national parks type of setting, but may be tolerated at the discretion of the district manager on developed areas, provided rules for sensible and considerate behaviour are observed, e.g.

9.15.5 Noisy behaviour, including raucousness, loud radios and music, noisy boats, etc, is inappropriate in any part of any national park and should be prohibited, and curbed by frequent ranger presence.

10. JURISDICTION

Legislative changes should be enacted to enable the NPWS to manage nature conservation and recreation in areas of water contiguous with national parks, retaining the services of other authorities such as NSW Fisheries, Waterways Authority and Department of Land and Water Conservation in an advisory capacity.

As referred to in 9.2, 9.11 and 9.14 above, the NPWS is hampered in its function as a manager of recreation (et al) in "border" situations, mainly those where land and water adjoin and are administered by different authorities. NPA can see no reason, other than departmental possessiveness, why the

areas referred to in this policy as "national park waters" (see Definitions) should not be transferred to the Service, as the work of the other authorities would continue and the Service would, rightly, be able to manage these de facto national park areas on a conservation basis.

References

  1. NPWS Field Management Policies.
  2. Ian D. Brown (NPWS): Adventure Recreation Demand in Protected Areas of NSW, report to NPWS Tourism Project, March 1997.
  3. NPWS Protected Areas Policy Unit, Environmental Policy Division Cycling in Lands Managed by the NPWS (Interim Policy, January 1998)
  4. Chris McIntosh and (co-author): Recreational Vehicle Touring in NSW National Parks (Australia) - a discussion of recent initiatives in the Hunter and Central West Regions (NPWS).

Adopted by State Council 7/3/98
Amended by State Council 6/11/99


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