The Role of Nature-Based Tourism in the Contribution of Protected Areas to Quality of Life in Rural and Regional Communities in Australia

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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.

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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. …