SDM to inform management of recreational impacts on a national park
National parks in Victoria are established with the twin aims of conserving environmental assets while also providing quality, sustainable recreational experiences. But what if the recreational experiences result in the trashing of the environmental assets? Activities of visitors can have significant negative impacts on the natural values of parks, both at the site and landscape scale.
The marked increase in nature tourism over the last 20 years has meant that managers are increasingly challenged in finding the right balance between enabling recreation and ensuring conservation. Structured decision making (SDM) provides a useful framework for guiding decisions about the management of visitors and their associated environmental impacts. It provides a formalised approach to identifying objectives regarding the provision of recreation and prioritising management strategies based on informed trade-offs.
In this case study, we applied an SDM framework to explore possible management approaches in response to the proliferation of bush camping in the Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park. The Grampians is one of Victoria’s premier nature-based tourism destinations. It’s receiving just over 1,000,000 visits per year. The park offers a range of camping opportunities, with large serviced campgrounds, commercial camping operations and dispersed, unserviced bush camps.
Historically, bush campsites were developed by campers. They involved minimal planning, and received little consideration in their placement in terms of their impact on environmental or cultural values. Around 273 individual campsites have now been identified throughout the park, and concerns have been raised about their decreasing condition and proliferation.
The growing number of unplanned bush campsites in the park was identified by park managers as potentially resulting in negative ecological impacts – such as soil erosion and vegetation loss – as well as creating logistical issues relating to on-ground management and visitor safety.
“SDM is a useful tool for facilitating the development of visitor management and monitoring problems in protected areas.”
We used an SDM framework in a workshop setting involving both decision makers and on ground parks staff from Parks Victoria. During the problem framing (step 1), it was established that Parks Victoria want to continue to provide a bush camping experience at the Grampians National Park. However, this activity needs to be practiced in an ecologically and logistically sustainable manner.
Objectives (step 2) were then developed that covered minimising ecological impacts, maximising visitor safety and satisfaction, and reducing total cost (both staff time and dollars).
The alternative management strategies (step 3) involved combinations of camp site maintenance, closure, and relocation as well as maintaining the status quo.
Estimates of the consequences of management alternatives on the management objectives were elicited (step 4) and a multi-method approach was used to quantify the trade-offs (step 5). This resulted in decision scores that could be used to compare the performance of the various management strategies.
For this case study, the SDM process could be further used to include views of relevant stakeholders, such as user groups and tour operators.
We propose that SDM is a useful tool for facilitating the development of visitor management and monitoring problems in protected areas. This approach has some advantages over traditional decision frameworks commonly used in visitor management, through formulation of objective hierarchies and the ability to incorporate uncertainty. It’s also handy for developing objectives for temporally and spatially explicit issues that arise but are not covered by strategic park level objectives (as outlined in management plans).
More info: Kelly Hunt de Bie firstname.lastname@example.org