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|The Landscape Classification System: How recreation use in Queensland’s national parks and forests is decided|
|Queensland has many of the world’s most spectacular and unique natural areas, including five World Heritage Areas. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) manages more than 8 million hectares of parks and forests across Queensland with an estimated 16 million visits each year. Many of these areas are high profile and are key attractions for the international and domestic tourism industry, for example Fraser Island, Moreton Bay Marine Park and Daintree National Park. People want to experience these areas and they do so in a variety of ways including by guided commercial tours, as part of community interest groups for example bushwalking groups, and as independent visitors. Managing the sustainable use of all areas is critical to the conservation of their values, the basis of their attraction to visitors. The EPA makes around 1700 decisions every year about how people can use these areas, with the aim of providing equitable and fair access within an overarching conservation framework.|
Making decisions about recreation use in parks and forests can be a complex process. There are often competing interests, priorities and issues to take into account. The type of activity, group size and frequency are some factors that influence how appropriate an activity is, and these need to be balanced with other management objectives for an area. The Nature Conservation Act 1992, Recreation Areas Management Act 2006, Marine Parks Act 2006 and Forestry Act 1959 provide the legislative framework for making these decisions. It is often difficult for people applying to use protected areas to understand the rationale and reasoning behind decisions. This article provides information on the Landscape Classification System, a tool used in deciding recreation use in parks and forests.
The Landscape Classification System for Visitor Management or LCS is a land classification and recreation management framework that allows land managers to allocate recreation opportunities through zoning. LCS aims to provide a range of settings for recreation activities to suit different visitor expectations and capabilities. For example, some people enjoy remote experiences where they can walk without seeing anyone else for days, whereas other people prefer and may require boardwalks and visitor facilities such as toilets to enable them to enjoy the bush. The LCS is a tool that helps to identify opportunities different areas provide and feeds into the overall decision about recreation use of areas.
|What is a setting?|
LCS is based on settings. A setting is a measure of naturalness on a spectrum from 1 to 9 where 1 is wild and 9 is urban. A setting describes the character of a place based on physical, social and managerial features.
Queensland’s parks and forests provide for most settings across LCS. The more pristine settings (class 1 and 2) and the highly developed settings (class 7 and 8) are less common. Class 9 settings are only found in towns and cities.
|Working out the setting|
The more a site has been changed by people, the higher the setting and the more natural the site, the lower the setting. A site with more facilities such as tracks, picnic areas, parking, campgrounds and signs is more developed and has a higher setting.
Physical, social and managerial attributes are considered when determining the setting. Size, beauty and ecological significance are not criteria for deciding a setting but are considered when making decisions about appropriate visitor use.
Physical attributes include:
• Past/present human uses such as grazing
• Water quality
• The presence of structures
• Vegetation condition
Social attributes include:
• Sights, sounds and even smells (such as a barbecue) of people
• Number of people present
• Bush skills of the people present
• Social group size
• Opportunity for solitude
Managerial attributes include:
• Presence/absence of Rangers and obvious regulations such as signs
• Number and obtrusiveness of signs and facilities
How EPA uses settings
When the EPA first considers a site to determine its setting, the Agency works out the setting as the site currently is. After working out the current setting, decisions are made about how best to manage a place. A site may be managed to become a higher or lower setting. This is done in a planned way by considering other special attributes of the site and the range of settings nearby. The aim is to provide a variety of settings so a range of experiences are available to visitors.
Visitor use can influence the setting by changing the social character of a place, and careful consideration is given to all requests to conduct activities on parks and forests, especially those activities that are more likely to impact a site and other visitors. Some recreation activities, such as trail bike riding, boat races or large group events, can have greater impacts on a site and often the decision is about appropriate place, timing and management.
The EPA uses settings for many visitor management decisions including:
• What kinds of visitor facilities and services (if any) to provide.
• Whether to permit group activities such as weddings and competitive events such as king-of-the-mountain races.
• Group size restrictions for bush camping and remote bushwalking.
• Where to locate horse trails and mountain bike trails.
• Whether to sign natural hazards.
Using a framework ensures decisions are made consistently and that all potential users of parks and forests are treated fairly.
What do settings mean for you?
When you apply to use a park or forest for a group or commercial activity, EPA staff are likely to include the LCS, among other considerations, to help guide their decision.
Under LCS, recreation activities are allocated to appropriate settings across a spectrum from 1 (most natural) to 8 (highly developed). For example, activities conducted in a more leisurely style and smaller groups may be appropriate for more natural settings. Other activities undertaken in larger groups in a way that could affect the experience of other visitors may be confined to more developed or less natural settings.
Who else uses settings?
Other land management agencies around the world use similar frameworks to decide the level and style of recreation use. In Queensland, the Department of Infrastructure and Planning and Department of Sport and Recreation have also adopted settings for outdoor recreation planning.
Over the past decade, three outdoor recreation surveys have been conducted in south-east Queensland. One of the most interesting trends to emerge from the Outdoor Recreation Demand surveys is that south-east Queenslanders increasingly prefer more natural settings for their favourite outdoor activities, namely swimming, walking and picnicking.
The EPA is the main provider of outdoor recreation in natural settings, so settings will continue to be an important planning tool for the Agency.
For more information about the way EPA manages parks and forests or settings in particular, check out the EPA website through the link below www.epa.qld.gov.au