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close this bookEcotourism and other Services Derived from Forests in the Asia- Pacific Region: Outlook to 2010. (FAO - Forestry, 1997)
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Services of forests are sometimes a subject of controversy and contested in a number of arenas in Australia:

· cultural attachments to place and sacred sites;
· sustainable hunting and gathering by indigenous groups;
· moral and ethical positions on the rights of nature; and
· aesthetics and landscape values.

In addition, and often in direct conflict to those advocating the above positions, there is a well organized forest industries alliance that seeks to use forests for production purposes, and a labour based movement that is concerned about timber-related job losses.

The National Forest Policy Statement (NFPS 1992) quotes the Ecologically Sustainable Development Working Group on Forest Use as specifying three main requirements for forest use:

· maintaining the ecological processes within forests;
· maintaining the biodiversity of forests; and
· optimizing the benefits to the community from all uses of forests within ecological constraints.

The fact that protection of native forests in Australia is such a contested issue is indicative of the difficulties in operationalizing such aims as “community benefit,” especially within a context where “community” is so contested.

This represents a good example of the ways in which different interest groups have acted upon competing values related to forests and services of forests, and is indicative of the ways in which these competing interest groups frame their arguments to be heard on the public agenda in Australia. Forests and their services are at the centre of a considerable amount of public debate and controversy over management, activities and actions.

The Office of National Tourism (1997) reports tourism generated export earnings of AU$13.1 billion (US$10 billion) in 1995, representing an increase of 17.2% on 1994. This figure is projected to increase to AU$21 billion by the year 2000. The industry accounts for some 500,000 jobs, or around 6.6% of Australia’s workforce. In 1995, there were over 3.7 million international arrivals, with an expected increase to 6.3 million by the year 2000. Still, domestic tourism accounts for about 75% of total tourism expenditure.

Japan, Southeast Asia and New Zealand currently are Australia’s three largest tourism markets. Though Japan is expected to remain the single largest market, tourism from other Asian countries is becoming increasingly important. Tourists from Asian countries other than Japan accounted for 26.3% of all visitors in 1994.

As noted by King and McVey (1994:5), “Australia’s appeal in the international marketplace has been based on its unique flora, fauna and landscape,” and images of nature figure prominently in Australia’s promotional material. However, the country has gone beyond simply marketing ecotourism and has made a significant commitment to research, government policy, and industry development.

Numerous studies of ecotourism visitors (e.g., Blamey 1995) and, increasingly, ecotourism impacts (Buckley and Pannell 1990; Powell and Chalmers 1995) have been conducted. The Commonwealth Department of Tourism (now the Office of National Tourism) developed a National Ecotourism Strategy (Allcock et al. 1994) and allocated funding for ecotourism infrastructure development, environmental management, and other projects through the Forest Ecotourism Programme and the National Ecotourism Programme. In addition, various tourism and land management agencies within state governments have undertaken ecotourism evaluations and/or developed ecotourism strategies (e.g.. Chapman 1996).

The national Ecotourism Association of Australia (EAA) was formed and includes members from the industry, government agencies, universities and other groups. Several ecotourism conferences and workshops are held each year at different geographic levels. In addition, a WWW site has been developed for ecotourism professionals, both in Australia and internationally, at:

Though the national government in many respects led the way in ecotourism, this is changing as the Labour government was replaced by the Liberal/National government in early 1996. The new government continues to support ecotourism, but at a lower level than was the case for the Labour government. Thus, the EAA and industry groups like the Australian Tourism Operators Association (ATOA) will need to take leadership roles. This is happening, as illustrated by their collaboration, with support from the Commonwealth, on the National Ecotourism Accreditation Programme (NEAP). This programme, which is industry based rather than government regulation, currently is being implemented and may serve as an important precedent for other countries.

Despite widespread interest and support for ecotourism in Australia, there remain significant points of controversy (Figgis 1996). Government funding for natural area management, though higher than for many countries in the region, remains inadequate, and indications are that it will generally decrease rather than increase. As a result, there is a trend towards user pays and greater roles for the private sector. The state of Victoria (most natural areas are managed by the states rather than the national government) recently has corporatized its service delivery functions, while the state of Queensland is pursuing private sector management of park visitation.

Though there are benefits to both user pays and private sector roles, there also are concerns. For example, user pays is contrary to the traditional goal of free access to all. Moreover, it may increase pressure to satisfy interest groups. Figgis (1996) cites the case of the Four Wheel Drive registration levy in Victoria. This helps to fund track (road) maintenance, but it may also increase pressure to accommodate the Four Wheel Drive lobby in its desire to keep tracks open when they otherwise would be closed. Likewise, there is concern that when managing infrastructure and activities, the private sector will be less attentive than public agencies to conservation objectives.