Friday, December 30, 2011

Should we reduce the human impact on Kosciusko National Park

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Australia’s alpine area is relatively small. Because of this, environmental impacts are important. Each day during summer at least 000 people visit Kosciusko National Park (K.N.P.). The impacts of bushwalkers and skiers are an important factor in looking at the human impact on K.N.P., also the facilities provided to entice them into the park, as well as the money generated through tourism for both the National Park and Wildlife Service (N.P.W.S.) and the local community.

Bushwalkers adversely affect wet and dry areas. Where there are high visitor numbers the soil becomes compacted and forms artificial channels. In wet areas, these channels cause rapid drainage of the site, while in dry areas people walk across areas that seem most accessible and informal tracks are formed (N.P.W.S). The channels formed in dry areas make walking difficult and walkers start to walk beside the channels forming new paths and enlarging the area of erosion (Soil Conservation Society).

N.P.W.S. have undertaken to build and maintain formal tracks for the use of bushwalkers. Tracks are built in an attempt to prevent excessive damage to the alpine region. N.P.W.S have stated though, that the use of the same route constantly causes the loss of vegetation, soil compaction and erosion (1). Construction of tracks causes disturbances to native plants, which causes erosion of the soil to begin; subsequently exotic grasses and plants are introduced to help stabilize the tracks (Soil Conservation Society). Gravel used to help stabilize tracks is often washed off tracks during rain and snowmelt; this material is deposited downstream over vegetation. This often causes a modification of the existing plant communities (N.P.W.S.).

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N.P.W.S. have constructed boardwalks to prevent damage to fragile plant communities in wet and dry areas. The boardwalks prevent erosion by keeping the walkers off the soil. Construction of boardwalks however like tracks causes damage to the existing plant communities. Boardwalks are high maintenance often requiring seasonal repairs. In the winter months boardwalks often collapse under the weight of the snow crushing the plants beneath (Soil Conservation Society).

Tracks and boardwalks provide easy access to alpine areas that families and inexperienced bushwalkers would not normally see. Marked tracks have the advantage of providing useful information to the walker of where they are going, how long till they get there and how long to get back to beginning. Tracks also help prevent hikers from becoming lost. Tracks are a useful resource for people to discover the environment. However, they tend to destroy it as well. If we dispense with formal tracks, we will have people walking all over the mountainside disrupting fragile plant communities. If we tolerate a small amount of disturbance around the tracks, the environment will suffer less. The main problem with formal tracks and boardwalks is the maintenance. Funding is limited and N.P.W.S. need the income from the tourists.

The winter is K.N.P.’s biggest money earner. With the arrival of snow come the skiers, who spend large sums of money to enjoy the slopes. The environmental impacts associated with skiing can be looked at in two categories construction and operation. Construction covers impacts that are a result of permanent features as well as the construction process. Operations relates to the day-to-day running of the resorts.

Construction impacts can be reduced at the time of design and building of facilities including the selection of site, preventing damage to vegetation and controlling any run off. Once a facility is built however, it is much harder to improve impacts except through reconstruction that would cause more environmental impacts in itself.

Operations are the easier of the two to manage, as it is a control of day-to-day running. Often the control of impacts due to operations is directly linked to the number of skiers, which resorts want to maximize. During day-to-day management, resorts operate machinery that use water and resources and generate wastes. This depends on the number of people travelling to and from the ski fields (Buckley, Pickering, Warnken).

Within the management of the resort of the resort is slope grooming, a regular procedure of ski fields around the world. Heavy machinery and explosives are used to produce a bare, rock less surface from the top of the slope to the bottom. Cleared areas are often replanted with exotic grasses. Slope grooming can lead to serious erosion problems. With heavy rainfall, cleared areas often become a channel and silt and rocks washed down the mountainside cause damage to vegetation not affected by the grooming. (Broome, Mansergh)

Not all skiers stay at resorts and use downhill skiing facilities. Cross-country skiing is popular with those wanting to be away from the crowds. Cross-country skiers spend their time in the high country around the glacial lakes (Bent 1). Cross Country, skiers often spend a night or more in the wilderness sleeping in tents or constructed snow caves. Intensive camping in and around glacial lakes has led to compaction of soil, loss of vegetation and faecal contamination of the lakes. Cross-country skiers see themselves as greener than their down hill counterparts and are often referred to as bushwalkers on skis. Because cross country skiers spend time away from the resorts and have no access to facilities like toilets and bins, contamination of the area often results, both forms of skiing have impacts on the environment (Buckley.

While the impacts of cross country skiing may seem negligible when compared to downhill, the impacts are still there and contribute to the deterioration of K.N.P. Downhill skiers also invest more money into the park as opposed to cross country skiers who are less likely to buy lift tickets or stay in accommodation. Cross-Country skiers do not contribute as much money to the up keep of the park.

Economic activity generated by tourism in K.N.P contributes to the local community. Many residents of local towns previously forced to travel to the city to find work, now find employment in and around the resorts. Local Businesses receive extra exposure during the tourist season giving their businesses are lift (Thornhill 18)

N.P.W.S Also benefits from the tourism; they receive park entry fees and donations from the tourists and resorts to help maintain the area. Government funding can only spread so far. This makes the tourism industry important to N.P.W.S. The park entrance fee charged by N.P.W.S is unimportant when compared with the cost of maintain K.N.P. (000)

Groups like the Ski Club of Australia and the Outdoor Recreation Party feel that more development of the region and the extension of existing facilities would be beneficial to both local community and N.P.W.S. N.P.W.S have in the past been accused of having a radical green agenda. In addition, N.P.W.S are blamed for the slowing of development in the area, although most developments are approved faster than those through a local council. (Thornhill 18)

N.P.W.S realise that a large amount of the money for the upkeep of the park is generated through tourism; to lessen the amount of tourists to the area would diminish the money as well. The local communities also need the tourism if their small businesses are to survive.

The impact by humans on K.N.P. is great enough that reductions are necessary. Soil compaction and erosion caused by bushwalkers and cross country skiers , contamination of the glacial lakes as well as the impacts of the resorts and down hill skiing slopes are all part of a problem that N.P.W.S have been trying to rectify since K.N.P was created. However, N.P.W.S have the difficulty of trying to reduce these impacts without reducing the tourism dollar that the park needs to survive. Without the tourists, the income to the park and the local community would be greatly reduced. For the survival of the alpine region human impact does need to be reduced but not at the cost of the surrounding community and the park itself.

Bent, R, 18, Cross Country Skiers and Australian Resorts, La Trobe University,

Melbourne, Australia

Buckley, R, Pickering, C, Warnken, J, 000, Tourism and development in Mountain

regions, CABI Publishing

Mansergh.I & Broome.L, 14, The Mountain Pygmy-Possum of the Australian

Alps, NSW University Press, Sydney

NPWS, 001, The Australian Alps Education Kit, NPWS, Australia

NSW NPWS, 1, Toward Conservation and recreation management of the

Kosciusko Alpine Area, NPWS, NSW

Soil Conservation Service of NSW, 1, Above the Treeline, Australia

Thornhill, A, 18, Factors Influencing the Regulation of Tourism Operations in

Protected AreasThe Kosciuszko National Park Ski Resorts Case Study, Faculty of Law. University of Wollongong, Australia

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