An Australian Alps National Park
The National Parks Associations of Victoria, NSW and the ACT are proposing formation of a grand national park in the Australian Alps.
Snow Gum, Alpine National Park, Vic.
Photo ©Paul Sinclair
What is it?
The Australian Alps National Park can come into being simply by amalgamating existing contiguous alpine and sub-alpine national parks in the ACT, NSW and Victoria.
But this simple move will give consistent and dedicated protection to an area of international significance.
Covering over one and a half million hectares, through three states and territories, it will give sanctuary to most of the alpine and sub-alpine regions of the Australian mainland as well as extensive and varied forests on the slopes and foothills of the Great Divide.
Many rare or endangered plants and animals rely on the survival of threatened habitats within its borders.
Most of the major rivers of south-eastern Australia the Snowy, the Murrumbidgee, the Murray, the Kiewa, the Mitchell begin their journey within the park.
Visitors are presented with incomparable experiences, immersed in vast and stunning landscapes.
Why do we need it?
The State and Territory boundaries of the current parks are accidents of history, and bear little relationship to boundaries of landforms or bioregions. Each state and territory remains largely focussed on its own national park, sometimes adopting different management objectives and practices for key environmental threats.
Bogong High Plains, Alpine National Park, Vic.
Photo ©David Neilson
To ensure long-term protection of the parks considerable and diverse natural values, conservation objectives and prescriptions need to be clear, consistent and effective.
Consistent management will improve the protection of Australias unique mountain environment, and secure protection for the headwaters of many major river systems.
Consistent messages to visitors can encourage understanding of and co-operation with that management.
Development of the knowledge needed to repair and maintain ecosystems will also benefit if the alps bioregion is managed as a whole.
A great Australian Alps National Park will achieve an international profile for the alps, and generate tourism opportunities.
It will bring considerable economic benefit to local communities in the region.
What must be done to make an Australian Alps National Park a reality?
The greater park is simply an amalgamation of existing alpine and sub-alpine national parks in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Victoria. These parks (ACTs Namadgi National Park, NSWs Kosciuszko and Brindabella National Parks, and Victorias Alpine and Snowy River National Parks) are currently managed under the respective legislation of each state and territory.
Since 1986, there has been a Memorandum of Understanding, signed by the various governments responsible for the Australian Alps National Parks. The principle of co-operative management has been growing since then.
Many co-operative programs are already in place.
A logical extension of this understanding is the creation of a single protected area, with a single name (sections of the park can retain local names) and united, consistent management plans.
Management of the tri-state national park can remain the responsibility of the existing agencies in the ACT, NSW and Victoria, and remain under their current legislation (see Proposed Management Structure).
Traditional Aboriginal owners and environment groups should be ensured genuine involvement in any future collaborative management.
We can, with co-operation, give Australia one of its greatest protected areas.
Some management issues...
There are a number of conservation issues, and inconsistencies in management, that can benefit from effective and consistent cross-border management of the Australian Alps.
Veined Sun Orchid
Photo Phil Ingamells
Summer grazing of sheep and cattle has taken place in the Australian alps since at least the 1850s, and the practice has written itself into Australias folklore. Like a lot of old habits, however, it has proved unsustainable. Over the last 50 years or so, grazing has been removed from the mountains in the ACT and NSW, partly because damage to catchment values proved detrimental to the Snowy Scheme. Where it remains in Victoria, cattle grazing continues to lay waste to the once extensive sphagnum bogs of the high plains, damages waterways, introduces weeds, and adversely affects threatened vegetation communities.
Over the last ten years there has been a great increase in the number of feral horses throughout Kosciuszko National Park, and other alpine parks. Currently they number many thousands, and are damaging waterways and causing soil erosion. Alpine soils are particularly fragile and easily disturbed by hard-hoofed animals, and injured ecosystems take many decades to regenerate in harsh alpine environments. Effective cross-border programs are essential.
Pest plants and animals
Ramshead Range, Kosciuszko NP.
Photo © Paul Sinclair
The introduction of pest plants and animals is a rapidly growing problem worldwide. There are already a number of intractable problems in the Australian alps. High levels of co-operation, increased funding and co-ordinated research are needed now to successfully address this issue.
While winter resorts are mostly outside national park boundaries in Victoria, in NSW they lie within Kosciuszko National Park. Constraint to development is essential for these high-impact resorts wherever they occur in the alps, and operations must be reviewed for their sustainability.
Global warming is making the viability of resort facilities highly questionable.
Recreational demand, both summer and winter, continues to rise. Visitor access requires careful management for minimal impact, and visitor expectations should be consistent across the park. Opportunities for four wheel driving and horse-riding, in particular, should be managed very carefully to minimise impacts.
The Snowy Scheme has left a legacy of dams, aqueducts, roads and powerlines. Diverted waters have left many streams and rivers dry. As awareness grows, we must find ways to restore impacted ecosystems.