SYDNEY, Nov 8 (Pakistan Point News - APP - 08th Nov, 2016 ) : Australia's history is one of interaction between its immigrant peoples and wilderness, where losing the "grand old continent's natural condition" is a loss of "our character as a people", a former government minister said inthe late 1980s. Thus the case for conservation is founded in patriotism, a statement that holds true nearly three decades on. Australians are increasing their understanding of the indigenous population's strong relationship with the land around them, and the national parks system plays an important role in protecting the nation's landscapes.
"Many of these (protected) sites are fairly deeply embedded in people's understanding of what it means to be Australian, so they are very important," New South Wales state acting head of National Parks and Heritage Rod Quirk told Xinhua in an interview. "In many places the reserve system protects much simpler pieces of bush, so they may not be spectacular visually, and they may not be known by as many people, but they're often conserving habitats, plants, and in many places aboriginal cultural values that aren't protected anywhere else in the world.
" "They do have a role in protecting what makes Australia what it is." Four percent of Australia's continent is protected for conservation, encompassed within just over 500 national parks, or some 28 million hectares of land. Most national parks are managed by Australia's state and territory governments - states are responsible for land management under Australia's constitution - though the Commonwealth Government looks after six national parks, the National Botanic Gardens and 58 individual marine reserves.
But managing the large swaths of diverse bush is no easy thing. National Parks in urban areas require different management regimes to those in the countryside, while managers have a clear responsibility to cater for tourists - domestic and international - to encourage a greater appreciation for Australia's natural landscape. The balancing act between the desire for protection, but also the need for park services is thus "the challenge of professional land management or conservation management," Quirk said.
"There's a complex range of pressures," ranging from localized edge effects from roads, industry, pollution, rubbish dumping and visitation in urban areas, to more "insidious" state-wide threats on biodiversity like feral cats and feral foxes, Quirk said. "Individual parks have plans which set out priority areas for management, and those priorities then are discussed with the community as part of the public exhibition of that plan." Priorities aren't static however, as community expectations of where the balance of the competing priorities changes over time, and locations as well.
"Some communities are very protective and don't want lots of visitation, other communities would like to see far more than is currently possible environmentally," Quirk said. "It's a never ending push and pull around that." Australia's most visited site, the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains National Park actively encourage visitation to its heath communities, open and closed woodland environments as well as rainforest that has relics of Gondwanaland.
Visitation is linked to funding: the more visitors, the more money for the park's programs to offset those impacts, while serving a special interest. "education (about the park) makes knowledge, knowledge breeds conservation, so the more people we do show how beautiful the park is, the more likely people are likely to protect it," Blue Mountains park ranger Jamie Salijevic told Xinhua, adding that he himself "probably has the best job in the world.
" Salijevic is a discovery ranger, taking school kids, university students, tourists and the like bushwalking through the national park to show them the views, plants, animals, geography - the different ecosystems that make up the 1.03 million hectare protected area. "When we're taking some of the schools out, who knows, that the child I just introduced to bush walking and the Blue Mountains... could be the next prime minister, and I get to instill a love of this area, a love of nature into (that person)," Salijevic said.
The Blue Mountains is a special place. Looking out over its many vistas, a subtle blue haze engulfs the valleys below, a proven sign of eucalyptus oil evaporating under the warm Australian sun. The park has 100 species of eucalypts -- key to its World Heritage status listing in 2003 -- while also being home to prehistoric plants that have retreated into the cliffs after covering all of Australia during the Gondwanan period. "Our tree ferns, we know they were eaten by Dinosaurs," Salijevic said, adding the park's rangers found three giant trees of Wollemi Pine believed to have gone extinct between 20 to 50 million years ago living in the park.
"Gondwana lives on here in the Blue Mountains, it's fantastic." There's no doubt the management of this, and other unique areas in Australia's vast continent are difficult to manage, but international treaties on biodiversity and conservation such as the Aichi targets ensure that the national park system continues. Many Australians will never visit many of the national parks, including Uluru, the great barrier reef, or the site Captain Cook landed in 1788, but knowing the significant sites that from part of Australia's psyche and national identity are protected is important for the vast majority. To quote the former government minister, Australia's commitment to "protecting our wilderness is a measure of our maturity as a nation and pride in our identity."