A second area governed by Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area management plan has been put forward as a candidate for rezoning to allow more people to “experience these magnificent areas”, the Government says — in a move that has raised alarm among conservation and bushwalking groups.
On Wednesday, Premier Will Hodgman was joined by businessman and philanthropist Dick Smith to reveal the 66-page draft plan for the popular Frenchmans Cap area in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, which could see visitors made to pay for the bushwalking experience.
The proposal was announced as part of the unveiling of a new hut for bushwalkers on Lake Tahune at the base of the Cap, and an upgrade of the walking track into the area, funded by Mr Smith, who was thanked by Mr Hodgman for his “extremely generous contribution”.
“Today, we will be releasing the Frenchmans Cap Recreation Zone Plan, which will outline future possible uses for this remarkable area and how people can interact with it, but also importantly how we can preserve and conserve it into the future,” Mr Hodgman said.
“A lot of people have a keen interest in our wilderness areas. Some would see them locked up forever and not have anyone enjoy them.”
Mr Hodgman said it was his vision to turn Tasmania into “the eco-tourism capital of the world”, a sentiment put forward in 2014 soon after the Liberals came to power in Tasmania.
The announcement comes a day after the ABC revealed an area at Lake Malbena, in the Central Highlands, had been reclassified from Wilderness Zone to Self-Reliant Recreation Zone.
The change allows for structures and commercial aircraft landings, which will take place under a proposal that has been approved by the Tasmanian Government and is currently being considered by the Federal Department of Environment and Energy.
Booking system would ‘provide assured funding’
Mr Hodgman said the reclassification of the area to allow for more development would “in fact, improve conservation and management if more people are able to sustainably experience these magnificent areas”.
He said the “the good thing” about the plan was it would be open to public consultation for a period of six weeks.
According to the “future recreation management” section of the Government’s document, at least 2,000 bushwalkers are expected to visit Frenchmans Cap each year, with an “upward” trend continuing.
“If walker numbers keep increasing, issues with hut overcrowding and increased site impacts may become more likely,” the document stated.
In the event the site’s track and infrastructure capacity was exceeded, the document said, “consideration may be given to introducing a seasonal booking system … to regulate numbers and protect the experience and the environment.”
“This approach would also provide for assured funding each year for track maintenance and a seasonal track ranger.”
At least one private accommodation development has already been proposed by the Tasmanian Walking Company for Frenchman’s Cap, and the Tasmanian National Parks Association (TNPA) said it had “real concerns” about the area’s future.
“We are concerned the spread of commercial developments in our national parks is going to degrade them,” the association’s Chris Bell said.
“By altering the management plans, it allows these developments to encroach on an area that was otherwise out of bounds to them.
“This hut at the moment is a public hut, but I’ve got real concerns that Frenchmans Cap, in particular, cannot stand any further intrusions by any other means.”
Mr Bell said he also had concerns about the “luxury” camp proposed for Halls Island in Tasmania’s Central Highlands wilderness area, which seeks to build a landing area for guests to arrive on helicopter at Lake Malbena.
“This intrusive industrial tourism is really starting to have big impacts on our natural areas and I don’t want to see that happen,” Mr Bell said.
“If people want to have a Disneyland experience they can go to Hollywood or the Gold Coast. But that sort of stuff should be kept out of our natural areas.”
Mr Bell said under Tasmania’s original World Heritage management plan, “these sorts of things were simply not allowed”.
“What the Government has done is come along, altered the management plans to accommodate 0.2 per cent of the population at the expense of 99.8 per cent of the rest of us,” he said.
“It’s about looking after the people who want to make money out of the wilderness, and that’s not what our national parks system is about.”
‘Thin edge of wedge’
The Wilderness Society has echoed the association’s concerns about the door being opened to unsuitable developments.
While the Government has said the new recreation plans won’t breach management protocols governing the Wilderness World Heritage Area, spokesman Vica Bayley said the Lake Malbena situation showed the process lacked transparency and he was concerned it would have a serious impact.
“It looks like Lake Malbena was excised from the wilderness zone, contrary to the requests of the World Heritage Committee,” Mr Bayley said.
“This is the first time that a commercial tourism helicopter access is being assessed for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and this project is one of dozens across the World Heritage Area to construct private commercial accommodation here.
“This plan fails to even mention the fact the Hodgman Government has approved a proposal for several private commercial accommodation nodes in the Frenchmans Cap area via its secret Expressions of Interest process,” he said.
Mr Bayley said while there was “extensive coverage” of the upgrades to existing public huts, “brand new private commercial developments that have purportedly been approved and are under lease negotiation don’t even rate a mention”.
“There is no transparency over location, size, construction and impacts of these developments,” he said.
“This is the thin edge of the wedge … there’s been a bit of a fiddle here when it comes to the zoning of this property.”
The Frenchmans Cap and Lake Malbena proposals follow the Government’s announcement late last year that it was “continuing to unlock new opportunities for sensitive and appropriate tourism developments in our stunning natural areas”.