This paper examines the question of how local communities value the contribution of natural and cultural heritage to their well-being. The provision and management of protected areas is strongly influenced by the perceptions of managers and planners often from outside local communities. Experience has shown it is crucial that park managers ensure there is a coincidence of interest between their own perceptions of the benefits of conservation and those experienced by the local community. This common purpose is necessary to ensure that conservation is accepted and fostered by local communities and the wider public. The paper looks at these issues with particular reference to the role of nature-based tourism as a vehicle for incorporating conservation into regional and rural development strategies, and specifically as one of the mechanisms for the contribution by protected areas to the quality of life for local communities.
Protected Areas are defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (1994) as "land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, managed through legal and other effective means". They are considered to have biodiversity or cultural values which require protection and preservation. In Australia, they are often designated national parks, nature reserves or state recreation areas, but they can be privately owned (Bushell, 1999a). Since Yellowstone National Park in the Unites States was established as the first modern protected area in 1872, nearly all countries have seen the wisdom of protecting areas of outstanding importance to society. Over 30,000 protected areas have now been established, covering more than 8% of the earth's surface (Green & Paine, 1997). While the conservation outcomes of this phenomenal growth has been impressive, the establishment of protected areas have been surrounded by controversy and conflict since the approach was developed. A key reason for this conflict has been the displacement of people from these lands. Yellowstone National Park for example, was formerly occupied by native American Shoshone, Crow and Blackfoot people (McNeely, 1994). The effect of displacement caused by the declaration of conservation priorities over former land uses and land tenures has been disruptive to the livelihoods of people previously dependant on this land, creating great antagonism toward conservation. The deliberate destruction by local people of natural resources in protected areas of Togo, for example, is evidence of conflict between government programs and peoples' needs (Tchamie, 1994). Such examples can be found throughout the world in developed and developing countries (Figgis, 1999; McNeely, 1992; Phuong & Dember, 1994; Worboys, 2001). Governments and international conservation organisations now recognise that new management approaches are needed to build a positive relationship with people who live in and around protected areas (McNeely, 1992).
The preservation of biodiversity within community landscapes, whilst highly desirable from a western ecological perspective, is likely to be minimal and constrained by the immediate needs and views of rural people and those of NGOs and governmental agencies that serve them" (Bates & Tucker, 2001, p. 175-176).
Hence, natural resource management is now inherently a social science, heavily influenced by political priorities, policy settings and social values, not just scientific knowledge (Lockie, Higgins & Lawrence, 2001).
As the provision and management of protected areas is strongly influenced by the perceptions of managers and planners who often live outside local communities, it is crucial that park managers ensure that there is a coincidence of interest between their own perceptions of the benefits of conservation and those experienced by the local community. This common purpose is necessary to ensure that conservation is accepted and fostered by local communities and the wider public. Elsewhere, there is evidence that the perceptions of protected areas by Australian multi-cultural communities does not match with those of protected area managers (Staiff, Bushell & Kennedy, in press; Thomas, 2000). As with most public goods, there is regular conflict between the different values placed on such areas. In particular, the conflict between the biodiversity value of conservation, the social well-being value of public access and recreation, and the economic value of commercial use such as agriculture, forestry and mining (Brandon, Redford & Sanderson, 1998; Bourne, 1998; Tourism Council of Australia [TCA], 2001). Tourism is another form of commercial use in such places, but it can be seen as potentially useful by enabling economic benefit to be derived without depleting the resource, providing income to the conservation agency, private operators and at the same time providing for increased employment and recreational opportunities for local people (TCA, 2001). It can also be argued that increased public access with good visitor management and interpretative strategies will encourage a greater conservation ethic in the wider community (Gilligan & Allen, 2001; Simmons, 1993; Staiff et al., in press). There are however many current issues worldwide about the role and place of private tourism operators in national parks (Ceballos-Lascurain, 1996; Figgis, 1999; Watkins, 2000). For example, the debate in Australia over the Kuranda Sky Rail and Kingfisher Resort on Fraser Island, in which conservation lobby groups see tourism imposing significant compromises on the conservation values of these places and causing substantially increased ecological damage due to both the levels of visitation and the site hardening required (Figgis, 2000). Also, for many years there has been an ongoing public debate with action groups fighting and polarising communities over the designation of tracts of old growth forest for forestry use, and continuing now with their redesignation to national parks, such as the South East Forests of New South Wales (Geno, 2001; Worboys, 2001). Likewise, the public debate over agricultural, recreational and mining use of protected areas such as the Franklin River, Kakadu National Park and the Jabiluka mine, the Daintree, the Great Barrier Reef, and Fraser Island are all typical local examples of the protracted and sometimes fierce conflict between conservation, resource management, resource use, and economic development. In each of these, tourism can be seen as part of the problem or part of the solution (Australian Conservation Foundation [ACF], 2001), and nature-based tourism has at least, in part, replaced extractive industry as the economic activity but has not necessarily removed the controversy or the conflict.
Therefore, identifying and ameliorating the divergence between these community ascribed values and the value ascribed by external planners and policy makers, …