Saturday, March 22, 2008

Road to Nowhere

The Tasmanian Greens are concerned that the Tarkine wilderness area may never recover from the impact of the fire that is still burning. The Greens claim their warnings that the Western Explorer road would prove an ignition source for wildfire have been regrettably proven correct.
Greens senator Christine Milne is seeking closure of the road, known locally as the Road to Nowhere.

She explained that there were many claims that the road was going to be a tourism mecca. "We said it would do nothing of the sort. It was always going to be a very difficult road to maintain. It would open up an inaccessible area to logging and arson. In the case of this fire, it appears not to be arson, however without that road, the fire that is there at the moment would not be burning."
"The Greens argued strenuously about the dubious claims about tourism. Interstate visitors don't often make it to the Tarkine as hire car companies rarely insure their cars to travel on gravel roads such as the Western Explorer Road."

"There were many thousands of Tasmanians who marched against the road. This is a fantastic area, it could be a tourism mecca. There would be much more value to people if the road was changed to a high class walking and cycling track."

Senator Milne has a long held dream that the Tarkine could be a location for a world class triathlon event. "Athletes could cycle down the road, paddle up the river, and run along the beach. It would become globally renowned as the Three Peaks race has become for sailing and as the Overland Track has for bushwalking. I think Tasmanians don't realise just what a fantastic resource the Tarkine is as a wilderness destination. It is the most magnificent temperate rainforest that should be managed appropriately. It is not just a mecca for four wheel drives."
Daniel Hanna, the CEO of the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania agrees that the Tarkine is an under utilised area for tourism.

"The only thing I agree with Senator Milne on is that the Tarkine has immense tourism potential. It already has a very strong brand, particularly amongst interstate visitors. If people want to see an area they need to be able to access it. There is an argument for upgrading this road rather than closing it."
"We know that a lot of visitors need access to the area with vehicles. Having walking trails and cycling trails would be good, but we need a combination."

Eco tourism is already happening in the Tarkine. Tarkine Trails have been running trips in the Tarkine for six years, and have had a great deal of international interest in wilderness. Numbers going on the walks have doubled in the past year, with interest coming mainly from the mainland and overseas. Walkers who are currently walking with the company in the Tarkine have had to backtrack, and other trips planned for the next month may have to be cancelled.

Company founder Mark Davis commonly indicated the fire will have an impact on business, but more importantly, a huge impact on the Tarkine. "The only way to avoid this kind of fire is to give it a boundary and world heritage listing and then it has a brand. World Heritage listing gives it a greater value in the mind of the public, who will then give it the respect it deserves."
Mark explained that he regularly sees locals driving four world drive vehicles over ancient Aboriginal middens. "The drivers justify it, saying that driving over the rocks is safer than driving on the soft beach. They see no harm in it as they have been doing it for years. However they are destroying what is an outdoor museum and a very special part of our heritage. There are many Aboriginal middens, hut depressions and relics along the Tarkine coastline, but if people access the area without knowledge of what living history is there, they may destroy it. "
Whilst the road plays an essential role in utilising the Tarkine, Mark Davis is concerned about people who may not be aware of the best way to respect the region.

"Unless the Tarkine gets World Heritage listing, the damaging four wheel driving will continue. Eco tourism companies like us have a high level of credential when it comes to respecting the wilderness. If the park was protected restricted access could be granted which would result in more people being able to experience this beautiful area. The best outcome for everyone is world heritage protection."
"Lighting fires to draw attention to yourself when lost is not the best way to respect the unique environment. If the area was given World Heritage status, access would be restricted, and rangers and parks staff would be able to protect the region more."

"This is the largest asset that North West Tasmania has. The Tarkine has an extraordinary story and amazing ecological values. It is absolute madness that it hasn't been listed on the World Heritage Register."

The process to get the Tarkine listed on the World Heritage Register starts in Australia. The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service have produced a report indicating the Tarkine has world heritage values. These claims have been confirmed by the international union of conservation of nature (IUCN), however before the region can be listed on the World Heritage register, it must be granted national heritage status and protection.

A proposal for National Heritage listing was put forward in 2004, however it has taken until 2008 for the Australian Heritage Council to undertake the first formal assessment of the Tarkine. If the Tarkine is listed on the national heritage register, an application for registration on the World Heritage register may be made.

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