Kangaroos (and other herbivores) are eating away at national parks across Australia



Grazing from kangaroos affects vulnerable native species.
Tom Hunt, Author provided

Patrick O’Connor, University of Adelaide; Stuart Collard, University of Adelaide, and Thomas Prowse, University of Adelaide

Protected land, including national parks, are a cornerstone of conservation. Once an area is legally protected, it is tempting to assume that it is shielded from further degradation.

However, our research, published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation, has found Australia’s national parks are under serious threat of overgrazing. Significantly, native kangaroos are major contributors to the problem.

In some places we looked at, the effect of overgrazing in protected areas was just as pronounced as on private land with no legal protection at all.

In the public debate over culling and otherwise managing kangaroo populations, attention is typically divided between their economic impact on people versus welfare concerns. But there’s a third unwilling participant in this dilemma: the thousands of other native species affected when native grazer populations grow out of control.

Native birds like the diamond firetail are threatened when abundant grazing animals eat the plants the birds depend on.
Tom Hunt

Protected from what?

National parks and other protected areas can be safeguarded in a variety of legal ways. Activities such as grazing of domestic stock, building, cropping and some recreational activities (hunting, fishing, dogs) are usually restricted in protected areas. However, previous research has found protected areas continue to face intense pressure from agriculture, urbanisation, mining, road construction, and climate change.

Less conspicuously, the loss of predators from many Australian ecosystems has let herbivore populations grow wildly. Overgrazing, or grazing that leads to changes in habitat, is now a key threat to biodiversity.

Overgrazing by herbivores affects native species such as the diamond firetail, which is declining in southeastern Australia due to loss of habitat and the replacement of native grasses with exotic species after overgrazing and fire. Overgrazing has also been shown to reduce the abundance and diversity of ground-dwelling reptiles.

In the face of a global extinction crisis, we need good evidence that national parks and reserves are serving their purpose.




Read more:
The alpine grazing debate was never about science


To determine whether protected areas are being overgrazed, we assessed grazing impact on native vegetation at 1,192 sites across the entire agricultural region of South Australia. We looked at more than 600 plant species in woodlands, forests, shrublands, and grasslands.

The data were collected by monitoring programs, some of which included citizen scientists, aimed at tracking change in the condition of native vegetation.

Researchers looked at hundreds of sites across Southern Australia to check how grazing animals were affecting the environment.
Tom Hunt

We found that grazing pressure was already high on unprotected land when we began monitoring around 2005, and grazing impact has grown since then. On protected land, three things are happening as a consequence of inadequate management of grazing by native and introduced animals:

  1. grazing impact in protected areas has substantially increased,

  2. protected areas in some regions now show equally severe effects from grazing as seen on private land without any conservation protections, and

  3. the character of our landscapes, including national parks, is set to change as the next generation of edible seedlings is lost from protected and unprotected ecosystems.

The increased severity of grazing in protected areas paints a dire picture. This threat adds to the rising pressure on protected areas for recreational access (and other uses).

The grass is not greener

It’s well accepted that introduced species such as deer, goats, horses, camels and rabbits badly affect Australia’s native vegetation. There are a variety of control measures to keep their populations in check, including culls and strong incentives for control on farmland. Control of feral animals is normally less contentious than control of endemic species like kangaroos, because we feel a custodial responsibility for native species.

But the numbers of native kangaroos and wallabies has also increased dramatically since 2011 as populations across Australia responded to an increase in feed at the end of the Millennium drought and reduced culling in settled areas due to changes in regulation and growing opposition to culls on animal welfare grounds.




Read more:
Plants are going extinct up to 350 times faster than the historical norm


Managing kangaroo populations, on the other hand, is a polarising issue. Arguments about culling kangaroos can be bitter and personal, and create perceptions of an urban-rural divide.

However, a few species – even if they are native – should not be allowed to compromise the existence of other native plants and animals, especially not where we have dedicated the land to holistic protection of biodiversity.

Extinction rates in Australia are extremely high, especially among plants. Research has also found conservation funding is disproportionately aimed at individual species rather than crucial ecosystems. We must address our reluctance to manage threats to biodiversity at the scale on which they operate.

Protected areas must be managed to meet clear biodiversity targets and control overgrazing, including from native species.




Read more:
Fixing Australia’s extinction crisis means thinking bigger than individual species


Welfare concerns for conspicuous native species need to be weighed against the concern for the many other less obvious native plant and animal species. If our national parks and reserves are not managed properly, they will fail to meet the conservation need for which they were established.The Conversation

Patrick O’Connor, Associate Professor, University of Adelaide; Stuart Collard, Research Fellow, The Centre for Global Food and Resources, University of Adelaide, and Thomas Prowse, Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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NSW election: where do the parties stand on brumby culling?



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Feral horses have severely damaged the landscape in Kosciuszko National Park.
Travelstine, CC BY-SA

Don Driscoll, Deakin University

The future management of New South Wales’s national parks is one of the issues on the line in Saturday’s state election. Other states will be watching the outcome closely.

Depending on who wins, the outcome for Kosciuszko National Park spans from restoration and recovery to ongoing environmental decay, with feral horses given priority over native species.




Read more:
Low-key NSW election likely to reveal a city-country divide


All political parties have been well informed about the science behind feral horses in the Australian Alps. The peer-reviewed literature shows that:

  • feral horse impacts put multiple species at greater risk of extinction

  • streams and bogs are degraded, threatening water quality, and will require restoration

  • even small numbers of horses lead to cumulative environmental degradation

  • a range of high and low elevation areas are severely degraded by feral horses; it is not clear whether any areas can withstand horse impacts

  • rehoming and fertility control are not effective control methods when horses number in the thousands and are hard to reach

  • aerial culling is humane, effective, and cheaper than other methods.

But despite the clarity of recommendations emerging from research, political parties have taken a broad range of approaches.

A feral horse exclusion fence. But which side of the fence are the major parties on?
Author provided

Liberal/National Coalition

The Liberal/National coalition has pledged to enact its Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill, which was passed by the state parliament last year and aims to “recognise the heritage value of sustainable wild horse populations within parts of Kosciuszko National Park”.

This legislation would ensure several thousand feral horses remain in the park, potentially compromising the conservation goals of the park’s management plan.




Read more:
Passing the brumby bill is a backward step for environmental protection in Australia


This month, Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the government would “immediately” reduce horse numbers by 50%, through trapping, rehoming, fertility control, and relocating horses to “less sensitive” areas. Although he appeared to endorse an ultimate population target of 600 feral horses in front of an audience that was receptive to that idea, under pressure from the pro-brumby lobby, he later clarified that the coalition would aim to keep 3,000-4,000 feral horses in Kosciuszko.

Labor

Labor, along with the Greens and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party, has pledged to repeal the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill if it wins the election, and has committed A$24 million to restore the national park.

Its six-point national parks restoration plan bans aerial culling, instead proposing to control horses using rehoming, while expanding research on fertility control.

Labor’s plan also mentions active management of feral horses in sensitive ecosystems, and ensuring large horse populations do not starve to death. It plans to achieve these two goals by trapping and rehoming brumbies. Labor also plans to keep a “smaller population” of feral horses in areas within the national park “where degradation is less critical”.

Greens

The NSW Greens has arguably the most evidence-based policy, aiming to reduce horse numbers by 90% in three years, with a longer-term goal of full eradication.

This means national parks would be managed for native Australian species. That is important in NSW, where only 10% of the state has been allocated to protected areas, well below international standards of 17%. They would achieve this reduction using all humane methods currently available, including trapping, rehoming, mustering, and ground-based and aerial shooting.

The Greens would also fund rehabilitation of damaged habitat, and has flagged substantial funding for conservation initiatives.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party supports immediate action to reduce feral horse numbers using humane methods, including ground shooting, but not aerial culling.

The party, which holds one lower house seat and has two upper house members, has announced no plans for restoration of the national park.

Animal Justice Party

The Animal Justice Party, which has just one upper house member in the parliament, has endorsed “non-lethal control measures” in areas that are clearly being degraded by feral horses. It says this should be achieved entirely using fertility control and relocation. The party has also described brumby culling proposals as “horrific” and called for urgent national legislation to protect them.




Read more:
Why do brumbies evoke such passion? It’s all down to the high country’s cultural myth-makers


There is pressure from pro-brumby lobbyists to keep feral horse populations in Guy Fawkes, Barrington Tops, Oxley Wild Rivers, the Blue Mountains, and other NSW national parks. In Victoria, a pro-brumby pressure group will take Parks Victoria to the Federal court later this year to prevent removal of a small but damaging horse population on the Bogong High Plains in the Alpine National Park.

When NSW voters decide the fate of Kosciuszko National Park on Saturday, their verdict could have broader ramifications for protected areas throughout Australia.The Conversation

Don Driscoll, Professor in Terrestrial Ecology, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Stick to the path, and stay alive in national parks this summer



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Step carefully.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Edmund Goh, Edith Cowan University

Many Australians will take a trip to one of our national parks over the holidays. In New South Wales alone, there are more than 51 million visits to national parks each year. Few if any of us would expect not to make it out of one alive.

But national parks claim lives around the world every year. In the United States, an average of 160 visitors each year die in a national park. Australia’s numbers are unsurprisingly smaller – there have been 13 deaths in national parks since 2013 – but the common theme is that these fatalities are usually avoidable.

Wherever death and injury are avoidable, it pays to alert people to the dangers. In Australia the main risks – falling off cliffs and waterfalls, deadly snakebites, getting lost – can all be reduced by one crucial piece of advice: stick to the path.




Read more:
Good signage in national parks can save lives. Here’s how to do it right


It sounds simple enough. But in fact, visitors failing to heed advice about walking trails is a significant problem for national park managers. Venturing off-trail poses significant danger to visitors, and puts unnecessary strain on emergency services and police.

Our 2017 study was the first to gather some hard numbers on the reasons why people tend to disobey the signs. We surveyed 325 visitors at Blue Mountains National Park on their attitudes to off-trail walking.

So, what’s behind our compulsion to get off the beaten track? First, 30% of respondents told us that off-trail walking can result in a shorter or easier walking route, whereas 20% said straying from the path can afford a closer look at nature.

Second, visitors are heavily influenced by other visitors and friends – the “monkey see, monkey do” effect. They are much more likely to leave the track if they see someone else do it first.

It might make for a great photo, but the dangers are obvious.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Third, in the absence of a handy toilet, many visitors venture off-trail for a private “comfort break”.

Finally, visitors rely heavily on signage to help them stay on the designated trail. Some 13% of our survey respondents said they would venture off-trail if there was a lack of adequate signs.

What might change our behaviour?

There are several tactics park authorities can use to reduce off-trail walking at national parks. They can use direct management techniques such as capping site capacity to avoid congestion – basically, regulating the maximum number of walkers in a given area, so the paths don’t feel too congested. They may consider zoning orders to permit or limit certain events to control capacity.

Ropes or low barriers along the walking trail can give a clear indication of the trail’s boundary. Of course, there is a fine balance between building structural barriers and maintaining the feeling of natural wilderness in a park.

Social media marketing might also work well. Suggested slogans such as “A true mate sticks to the trail” or “Be safe and stay on the trail with your mates” might help influence visitors’ behaviour. Park visitors are ever more connected to social media – Parks Australia’s social media channels reach an estimated 30 million people.

Signs should also let walkers know exactly what they are getting themselves into, by posting clearly the length and typical duration of walking tracks, and the distance to popular destinations such as lookout points. These signs should be posted both at the beginning of trails at at intervals along it, particularly at junctions or river crossings.




Read more:
Our national parks must be more than playgrounds or paddocks


When it comes to our national parks it’s best to assume that, as with most things in life, humans will look for alternatives to what is expected. It’s human nature to want to bend the rules in what we might wrongly think is a harmless way.

Bushwalking in a national park is a great way to spend some time this summer. But when going off-trail could turn a tranquil walk into a deadly accident, it pays to stay on the beaten track.The Conversation

Edmund Goh, Deputy Director, Markets and Services Research Centre, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trails on trial: which human uses are OK for protected areas?



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Mountain biking seems harmless but can damage soil and scare wildlife.
Pixabay

Bill Laurance, James Cook University and David Salt, Australian National University

There’s no question about it: parks and protected areas are the absolute cornerstone of our efforts to protect nature. In the long term, we can’t save wildlife and ecosystems without them.

But people want to use parks too, and in rapidly growing numbers. Around the world, parks are destinations for recreational activities like hiking, bird-watching and camping, as well as noisier affairs such as mountain-biking, snowmobiling and four-wheel-driving.

Where do we draw the line?

Road risks

Let’s start by looking at the roads that take us into and through parks. They can be a double-edged sword.

Roads are needed to allow tourists to access parks, but we have to be very careful where and how we build them.

Road for an industrial gold mine slicing through Panamanian rainforest.
Susan Laurance

In regions where law enforcement is weak, roads can rip apart a forest — sharply increasing illegal activities such as poaching, deforestation and mining.

According to my (Bill’s) research, new roads – often driven by foreign mining or timber investors from nations such as China – could damage up to a third of all the protected areas in sub-Saharan Africa.




Read more:
The global road-building explosion is shattering nature


In Nouabale Ndoke Park in the Congo Basin, poaching wasn’t a big problem until a new road was built along the edge of the park.

Suddenly the fatal rak-rak-rak of AK-47 rifles – often aimed at elephants by ivory poachers – was being heard all too often.

Bill Laurance examines a forest elephant slaughtered by poachers in the Congo. The elephant’s face had been hacked off to extract its valuable ivory tusks.
Mahmoud Mahmoud

Trails on trial

Roads are one thing, but what about a simple bike trail or walking track? They let in people too. But they are harmless, right?

Not always. A 2010 Canadian study found that mountain biking causes a range of environmental impacts, including tyres chewing up the soil, causing compaction and erosion. This is a significant problem for fragile alpine vegetation in mountainous areas where many bikers like to explore.

Rapidly moving cyclists can also scare wildlife. In North America and Europe, many wild species, such as bears, wolves, caribou and bobcats, have been shown to flee or avoid areas frequented by hikers or bikers.

In Indonesia, even trails used by ecotourists and birdwatchers scared away some sensitive wildlife species or caused them to shift to being active only at night.

The red panda, an endangered species. Some wildlife avoid areas with even limited human use.
Pixabay

Every type of human activity – be it hiking or biking or horse riding — has its own signature impact on nature. We simply don’t know the overall effect of human recreation on parks and protected areas globally.

However, a study earlier this year found that roughly one-third of all terrestrial protected areas worldwide – a staggering 6 million square kilometres, an area bigger than Kenya – is already under “intense” human pressure.




Read more:
One-third of the world’s nature reserves are under threat from humans


Roads, mines, industrial logging, farms, townships and cities all threaten these supposedly protected places. And on top of that are the impacts – probably lesser but still unquantified – of more benign human activities aimed at enjoying nature.

Keep people out?

Is the answer to stop people from visiting parks?

Not really. Visitors in many parts of the world help to fund the operation of national parks, and provide vital income for local people.

Exposure to nature is also one of the best ways to enhance human health, build support for environmental protection, and generate political momentum for the establishment of new protected areas.

A hiker in the Leuser Ecosystem, Indonesia.
William Laurance

What’s more, locking people out of land is a very unpopular thing to do. Governments that block people from accessing nature reserves often face an electoral backlash.

How to manage humanity

If we accept that people must be able to use parks, what’s the best way to limit their impacts on ecosystems and wildlife? One way is to encourage them to stay on designated trails and tourist routes.

A recent study (using geotagged data from photos) showed that half of all photos by park visitors were taken in less than 1% of each park.

In other words, most visitors use only a small, highly trafficked part of each park. That’s good news for nature.

If people tend to limit their activities to the vicinity of pretty waterfalls, spectacular vistas, and designated hiking areas, that leaves much of the park available for sensitive animals and ecosystems.

Forest elephants in Central Africa. In the past decade, two-thirds of all forest elephants have been wiped out by poachers and expanding roads.
Thomas Breuer/ Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

There are many opportunities for practical science and management. We want to help design protected areas in a way that lets people enjoy them – but which also focuses their activities in particular areas while retaining large intact areas where wildlife can roam free with little human disturbance.

And while we’re designing our parks, we want to use every opportunity, and every visit, to educate and empower tourists. We need people using parks to understand, appreciate, and stand up for nature, rather than thinking of parks as simply playgrounds.The Conversation

Bill Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, James Cook University and David Salt, Science writer and editor, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Human-caused climate change severely exposes the US national parks



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Trees have died in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo., as climate change has intensified bark beetle infestations and drought.
Patrick Gonzalez, CC BY-ND

Patrick Gonzalez, University of California, Berkeley

Human-caused climate change is disrupting ecosystems and people’s lives around the world. It is melting glaciers, increasing wildfires, and shifting vegetation across vast landscapes. These impacts have reached national parks around the world and in the United States. Until now, however, no analysis had examined climate change trends across all 417 U.S. national parks.

The United States established the first national park in the world, Yellowstone National Park, in 1872. U.S. national parks today protect some of the most irreplaceable natural areas and cultural sites in the world. Colleagues and I aimed to uncover the magnitude of human-caused climate change on these special places. We conducted the first spatial analysis of historical and projected temperature and precipitation trends across all U.S. national parks and compared them with national trends.

Our newly published results reveal that climate change has exposed the national parks to conditions hotter and drier than the country as a whole. This occurs because extensive parts of the parks are in extreme environments – the Arctic, high mountains, and the arid southwestern United States.

Many national parks are located in regions with the fastest rates of warming in the United States.
Patrick Gonzalez, CC BY

Rapid warming and drying

National parks conserve the most intact natural places in the country. They harbor endangered plants and animals and unique ecosystems. They also help assure human well-being by protecting watersheds that provide drinking water to people and by storing carbon, which naturally reduces climate change.

Our findings show that temperatures in the national park area increased at double the national rate from 1895 to 2010. At the same time, precipitation decreased across a greater fraction of the national park area than across the United States as a whole.

Our analysis of climate trends starting in 1895 showed that temperatures increased most in Denali National Preserve, Alaska, and rainfall declined most in Honouliuli National Monument, Hawaii. Hotter temperatures from human-caused climate change have intensified droughts caused by low precipitation in California and the southwestern United States.

Many national parks in the southwestern U.S. have experienced intense drought.
Patrick Gonzalez, CC BY

Human-caused climate change has caused historical impacts in places where we found significant past temperature increases. These impacts include melting of glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, tree death from bark beetles in Yellowstone National Park, upslope vegetation shifts in Yosemite National Park, California, and northward vegetation shifts in Noatak National Preserve, Alaska.

To quantify potential future changes, we analyzed all available climate model projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Continued greenhouse gas emissions under the highest emissions scenario could increase U.S. temperatures in the 21st century six times faster than occurred in the 20th century.

This could increase temperatures in national parks up to 9 degrees Celsius by 2100, with the most extreme increases in Alaska, and reduce precipitation by as much as 28 percent, in the national parks of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Heating could outpace the ability of many plant and animal species to move and stay in suitable climate spaces.

In places where models project high temperature increases, research has found high vulnerabilities of ecosystems. These vulnerabilities include severely increased wildfire in Yellowstone National Park, extensive death of Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park, California, and possible disappearance of American pika, a small alpine mammal, from Lassen Volcanic National Park, California.

Human-caused climate change has doubled wildfire in the western U.S. Here, the Rim Fire burns west of Yosemite National Park, Calif., in 2013.
USDA/Mike McMillan, CC BY

Our research provides climate data to analyze vulnerabilities of plants, animals and ecosystems. The data can also help park managers develop adaptation measures for fire management, invasive species control and other ways to protect parks in the future.

For example, based on analyses of the vulnerability of ecosystems to increased wildfire under climate change, parks can target prescribed burning and wildland fire in the short term to reduce the unnatural buildup of fuels that can cause catastrophic wildfires in the long term.

A solar panel on the roof of a building in Lassen Volcanic National Park, Calif., reduces greenhouse gas emissions and electricity costs for the park.
Patrick Gonzalez, CC BY-ND

Reducing emissions can help parks

Ultimately, our results indicate that reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars, power plants and other human sources can save parks from the most extreme heat. Compared to the highest emissions scenario, reduced emissions would lower the rate of temperature increase in the national parks by one-half to two-thirds by 2100.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions through energy conservation, improved efficiency, renewable energy, public transit and other actions would reduce the magnitude of human-caused climate change, helping save the U.S. national parks for future generations.The Conversation

Patrick Gonzalez, Associate Adjunct Professor, University of California, Berkeley

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

One-third of the world’s nature reserves are under threat from humans



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People transporting gasoline by boat in Indonesia’s Kayan Mentarang National Park.
ESCapade/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

James Watson, The University of Queensland; James Allan, The University of Queensland; Kendall Jones, The University of Queensland; Pablo Negret, The University of Queensland; Richard Fuller, The University of Queensland, and Sean Maxwell, The University of Queensland

In the 146 years since Yellowstone National Park in the northwestern
United States became the world’s first protected area, nations around the world have created more than 200,000 terrestrial nature reserves. Together they cover more than 20 million km², or almost 15% of the planet’s land surface – an area bigger than South America.

Governments establish protected areas so that plants and animals can live without human pressures that might otherwise drive them towards extinction. These are special places, gifts to future generations and all non-human life on the planet.

But in a study published today in Science, we show that roughly one-third of the global protected area estate (a staggering 6 million km²) is under intense human pressure. Roads, mines, industrial logging, farms, townships and cities all threaten these supposedly protected places.

It is well established that these types of human activities are causing the decline and extinction of species throughout the world. But our new research shows how widespread these activities are within areas that are designated to protect nature.




Read more:
The global road-building explosion is shattering nature


We assessed the extent and intensity of human pressure inside the global protected area estate. Our measure of human pressure was based on the “human footprint” – a measure that combines data on built environments, intensive agriculture, pasturelands, human population density, night-time lights, roads, railways, and navigable waterways.

Astoundingly, almost three-quarters of countries have at least 50% of their protected land under intense human pressure – that is, modified by mining, roads, townships, logging or agriculture. The problem is most acute in western Europe and southern Asia. Only 42% of protected land was found to be free of measurable human pressure.

Satellite images reveal the human pressure within many national parks. A: Kamianets-Podilskyi, a city inside Podolskie Tovtry National Park, Ukraine; B: Major roads within Tanzania’s Mikumi National Park; C: Agriculture and buildings within Dadohaehaesang National Park, South Korea.
Google Earth, Author provided

A growing footprint

Across Earth, there is example after example of large-scale human infrastructure within the boundaries of protected areas. Major projects include railways through Tsavo East and Tsavo West national parks in Kenya, which are home to the critically endangered eastern black rhinoceros and lions famous for their strange lack of manes. Plans to add a six-lane highway alongside the railway are well underway.

Construction of the standard gauge railway in Tsavo East and West National Parks, Kenya.
Tsavo Trust, Author provided

Many protected areas across the Americas, including Sierra Nevada De Santa Marta in Colombia and Parque Estadual Rio Negro Setor Sul in Brazil, are straining under the pressure of densely populated nearby towns and rampant tourism. In the US, both Yosemite and Yellowstone are also suffering from the increasingly sophisticated tourism infrastructure being built inside their borders.

In highly developed, megadiverse countries such as Australia, the story is bleak. A classic example is Barrow Island National Park in Western Australia, which is home to endangered mammals such as the spectacled hare-wallaby, burrowing bettong, golden bandicoot and black-flanked rock-wallaby, but which also houses major oil and gas projects.

While government-sanctioned, internationally funded developments like those in Tsavo and Barrow Island are all too common, protected areas also face impacts from illegal activities. Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra – a UNESCO world heritage site that is home to the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, orangutan and rhinoceros – is also now home to more than 100,000 people who have illegally settled and converted around 15% of the park area for coffee plantations.

Fulfilling the promise of protected areas

Protected areas underpin much of our efforts to conserve nature. Currently, 111 nations have reached the global standard 17% target for protected land outlined in the United Nations’ Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. But if we discount the supposedly protected land that is actually under intense human pressure, 74 of these 111 nations would fall short of the target. Moreover, the protection of some specific habitat types – such as mangroves and temperate forests – would decrease by 70% after discounting these highly pressured areas.

Governments around the world claim that their protected areas are set aside for nature, while at the same time approving huge developments inside their boundaries or failing to prevent illegal damage. This is likely a major reason why biodiversity continues to decline despite massive recent increases in the amount of protected land.




Read more:
Radical overhaul needed to halt Earth’s sixth great extinction event


Our results do not tell a happy story. But they do provide a timely chance to be honest about the true condition of the world’s protected areas. If we cannot relieve the pressure on these places, the fate of nature will become increasingly reliant on a mix of nondescript, largely untested conservation strategies that are subject to political whims and difficult to implement on large enough scales. We can’t afford to let them fail.

The ConversationBut we know that protected areas can work. When well-funded, well-managed and well-placed, they are extremely effective in halting the threats that cause species to die out. It is time for the global conservation community to stand up and hold governments to account so they take conservation seriously. This means conducting a full, frank and honest assessment of the true condition of our protected areas.

James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland; James Allan, PhD candidate, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland; Kendall Jones, PhD candidate, Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, The University of Queensland; Pablo Negret, PhD candidate, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland, The University of Queensland; Richard Fuller, Professor in Biodiversity and Conservation, The University of Queensland, and Sean Maxwell, PhD candidate, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Good signage in national parks can save lives. Here’s how to do it right



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Young men and overseas tourists are particularly at risk.
flickr/andrea castelli, CC BY-SA

Pascal Scherrer, Southern Cross University and Betty Weiler, Southern Cross University

Every time we hear of the tragic death of a visitor in one of Australia’s spectacular national parks, there is cause for reflection on how we communicate safety messages in nature.

Our study, published in the Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, reviewed some of the signs in national parks in Queensland and Victoria; we also interviewed rangers and park managers.




Read more:
Our national parks need visitors to survive


Outdoor recreation inherently comes with risk but there are ways to reduce it without wrapping people up in cotton wool.

One of the simplest ways is to critically examine the way we design safety signs to ensure that visitors actually read them, connect with the message, and accept that this warning does really apply to them.

Our findings help to show why and how particular signs are effective at communicating safety messages – and what not to do.

To be effective a sign should, among other things:

  • be easy to notice
  • be easy to understand
  • use colours that stand out from the background
  • include languages other than English
  • include graphics and the traditional “no” symbol of a red circle with a line through it
  • avoid crowding too many messages into one spot.

Young men and international tourists at risk

Millions of visitors access and enjoy Australia’s vast network of protected areas safely every year.

Park managers want locals and tourists to visit natural areas – it is good for health and well-being, the economy and society. Visitors to parks are also more likely to support national parks. Effective communication of safety information for visitors to national parks is essential, particularly where the potential consequences of mishaps are severe.

Visitor ignoring warning sign to ‘get a better shot’.
Author supplied

We know from previous research that certain groups, such as young men and international tourists, are particularly at risk – too often with tragic and sometimes expensive consequences.

Some park agencies are actively targeting high-risk groups at specific sites, as this example shows.

A signed aimed at high-risk visitor group (18-30 year old males) and complementing traditional approaches to safety signage.
Author supplied

The focus is to tell the story of past tragedies to get across the message that the risk is real and relevant to them.

Of course, risk is part of the attraction for some park-goers. But every visitor needs to know what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, and how to take responsibility for their own safety.

Thinking carefully about how we design signs to get safety messages across effectively is an important part of managing risk in national parks and natural areas generally.

Making signs noticeable and easy to comprehend

Based on our analysis of research findings both within and outside park settings, we developed checklists to help park managers assess how effectively their signs communicate risk to national park visitors.

We tested these “best practice principles” checklists at several sites with two Australian national parks agencies. The process proved valuable in strengthening current safety sign policy and practice.

For example, the following sign meets the criteria for being “noticeable” and “easy to comprehend”.

This is an exemplary sign.
QPWS

Limit the number of messages per sign

Park authorities often need to communicate a lot of information at once to park goers. However, this can be done by using clever graphics and limiting the number of messages per sign. It’s also important to put warning signs close to the risky site, not simply warning people when they enter the park.

The example below shows how having multiple signs grouped together can make it hard for users to get the key messages, even if they are driving at low speed. It is all too easy to drive past and ignore the signs altogether.

Information overload.
Author supplied

Our study also highlights that good safety signs can support and complement the dedication and personal responsibility of frontline park staff. Serious incidents can have a direct effect on staff personally, and on the reputation of certain sites, particularly in the eyes of local emergency service workers.

Safety signage will be more effective if embedded in a coordinated risk-management system.

Activities in nature will always carry some risks and some people will choose to engage in unsafe activities despite knowing better. Accidents will continue to occur.

That said, our best practice principles for signage help park managers to do the best they can to make visitors fully aware of the risks while preserving the integrity of the natural site.

They also have direct applications to other nature-based visitor sites. Signs can help address issues such as the recent incidents with kangaroos at Morisset Hospital near Sydney, where visitors were feeding the animals carrots to get a close-up picture.




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What we still need to know

We have a poor understanding of what makes different types of people (such as those with different cultural backgrounds and experience levels, or people responding to peer pressure) misunderstand or ignore safety warnings.

Best practice signage is already in place at many high-risk park sites. As park visitation continues to increase and visitor profiles change, we need more research on what can help persuade at-risk visitors to read and act on safety messages.

It is time to invest in targeted research on this issue, including trialling and evaluating more innovative and persuasive communication techniques.


The ConversationThis article and research was co-authored by Rob Saunders, an independent consultant focused on park and recreation strategy, planning and effective communication.

Pascal Scherrer, Senior Lecturer, School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University and Betty Weiler, Professor, School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.