Premier Carr's green legacy

The Sydney Morning Herald’s editorial of 30 July 2005, Carr’s green legacy is a black mark, includes information relevant to the present bushfires raging along Australia’s coast. Some relevant paragraphs:

The lack of emphasis on [bush] management stems partly from philosophical confusion. Many environmentalists believe, and have persuaded city people to believe, in the notion of pristine wilderness – a state to which nature can be returned by creating national parks. In their excellent book Going Native, Michael Archer and Bob Beale note that the NSW Wilderness Act 1987 (passed when Carr was environment minister) defines wilderness as an area that is “in a state that has not been substantially modified by humans and their works or is capable of being restored to such a state”. According to Archer and Beale: “This might apply to the surface of Pluto or the centre of the Earth, perhaps, but it would be arrogance or ignorance to presume that there is any place on Earth that hasn’t, at some time in the past, been managed or substantially affected in some way by humans.”

The problem with the pristine wilderness concept is that it ignores history. Much of our landscape was managed by Aboriginal people for maybe 60,000 years, through hunting and the use of fire. This management was sufficiently intrusive for it to have affected the distribution and density of many plant and animal populations. After the Aboriginal people were dispossessed, white people continued to manage much of the land that is now national park, with fire and logging. As with Aboriginal use of fire, the aim was to keep the land open, to avoid the vegetation thickening, and also to keep animal populations at certain levels through hunting. So, traditionally, people have been a part of nature, not separate from it.

Creating a national park and then, as this Government has done, largely letting “nature take its course”, means this history stops. Gradually the vegetation thickens, the fuel load grows, the animal populations expand, and weeds proliferate. The park becomes a sort of toxic ecological volcano, spewing out fire, kangaroos, weed seeds, and feral animals such as wild dogs into the surrounding countryside. It takes a few decades to reach this point. A lot of our national parks were created in the 1970s and 1980s, which is why these problems started to become acute in the 1990s.