Biodiversity publications archive

Reimbursing the future: an evaluation of motivational, voluntary, price-based, property-right, and regulatory incentives for the conservation of biodiversity

Biodiversity Series, Paper No. 9
M.D. Young, N. Gunningham, J. Elix, J. Lambert, B. Howard, P. Grabosky and E. McCrone
CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Ecology, the Australian Centre for Environmental Law, and Community Solutions
Biodiversity Unit, Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996
ISBN 0 642 24429 4

Appendix 2.6: Wet Tropics tourism case study

Prepared by Sally Driml
Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University

Introduction

This document presents a case study of the potential of incentive instruments and mechanisms designed to promote the conservation of biodiversity in the Wet Tropics region of North Queensland. The aim of the study is to describe the biodiversity values in the area, determine the threatening processes to those values, and recommend a mix of instruments to conserve them. In particular, the study focuses on the impact of nature based tourism and ecotourism on biological diversity and discusses the use of incentives and instruments to minimise threats to biodiversity values by the tourism industry.

The effects of nature-based tourism and ecotourism (NBE) include all visits that focus on nature appreciation and the associated infrastructure (park facilities, tours, accommodation, roads etc) which supports these visits. NBE can assist the conservation of biodiversity, and also be a threat to biodiversity conservation. It can be a threat where it introduces people into a sensitive area in an uncontrolled manner that results in trampling of vegetation, disturbance of wildlife, the extraction of flora or fauna, or where it involves extensive clearing and pollution. On the other hand, NBE can be carefully sited, it can utilise site hardening and visitor control and can be based on carefully designed accommodation and infrastructure that minimise clearing and employ practices to minimise impacts of visitors. In the latter case, NBE can be a positive force for biodiversity conservation on public reserves and private lands when it provides at least some of the following: an income-producing land use on private lands, funds for management of public lands, a rationale for placing extra land in conservation reserves, and a vehicle to increase the appreciation and support of biodiversity values amongst visitors and the local community.

Probably the greatest threat to biodiversity conservation in the Wet Tropics region is the clearing of native vegetation on private land. Agriculture, urban development and tourism which is not nature-based (eg golf courses) all require clearing of native vegetation, whereas by definition, all forms of NBE, including accommodation establishments, rely on retention of natural vegetation to the greatest extent possible. However, one unresolved issue is the extent to which NBE contributes to general pressures on the natural environment via the population and services that are supported by NBE (its 'footprint'). These effects are likely to be removed from the NBE activity itself and be difficult to identify.

Two questions arise when considering the potential for NBE to provide a means of financing biodiversity conservation. For private lands, the question is: 'Can NBE provide a superior financial return and substitute for other land uses, or does it provide just an additional pressure to clear land?' The ability for NBE to provide alternative enterprises will vary. In areas such as north of the Daintree River, where the tourism volume is high, substitution of NBE for grazing and horticulture is occurring. It is more questionable whether NBE could provide better returns than, for example, sugar cane in areas where cane assignments are allocated.

For public lands, the question is: 'Can NBE deliver the financial means to undertake management to neutralise the impacts of tourism on biodiversity, or even to fund more extensive works for biodiversity conservation?' In the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WHA) to date, visitor fees collected have fallen short of the direct costs of management for tourism. Research currently under way points to the potential for greater revenue collection from tourists.

There will inevitably be some environmental impacts associated with even well planned and managed NBE in natural areas. However, with care and appropriate limits, these can be managed in a manner consistent with biodiversity conservation requirements. The range and mix of incentive mechanisms suggested in this case study are aimed at promoting NBE in a form that is compatible with biodiversity conservation.

The area

The area under the focus of this case study is the Wet Tropics WHA and surrounding terrestrial region in North Queensland. The Wet Tropics WHA is approximately 9000 square kilometres in area and runs in a discontinuous band from north of Townsville almost to Cooktown. Most of the remaining tropical rainforest of this region is included in the Wet Tropics WHA, along with areas of adjacent wet sclerophyll forest and other vegetation assemblages (WTMA, 1992). The conservation of biodiversity is one of the management goals for the Wet Tropics WHA.

The term 'Wet Tropics region', as has been adopted for this case study, refers to the Wet Tropics WHA and surrounding region, roughly defined by the boundaries of the 14 Local Government areas and two Aboriginal Community Councils with some of their land in the Wet Tropics WHA (see Figure 2.6.1). The region is ecologically united and areas inside and outside the WHA are important for biodiversity conservation.

Figure 2.6.1: The Wet Tropics region, including the Wet Tropics WHA

Figure 2.6.1: The Wet Tropics region, including the Wet Tropics WHA

Surrounding the Wet Tropics WHA, much of the land has been cleared for agriculture and urban uses (including tourism infrastructure). The region includes the cities of Cairns and Townsville plus numerous smaller urban settlements. Some areas of native vegetation remain, and some of these are important in the context of conservation of biodiversity in the region. Much of the remaining native vegetation outside the Wet Tropics WHA is in private ownership and as such is under potential threat of clearing. Potential exists for areas of cleared land that link existing areas of natural vegetation to contribute to biodiversity conservation if revegetated.

Biodiversity status

The Wet Tropics WHA is of outstanding biodiversity status. The area was inscribed onto the World Heritage List in 1988 in recognition of its international significance. The area is one of about twelve WHAs to meet all four natural heritage criteria for inclusion on the World Heritage List. To meet these criteria, an area must:

Remaining areas of native vegetation outside the Wet Tropics WHA are also important to the overall biodiversity status of the region. The Wet Tropics region has been rated as one of the world's twelve tropical rainforest priority "hotspots" for preservation, based on having high biological diversity, high levels of endemic species and being under threat of species extinctions (Primack, 1993). The Wet Tropics is the only location for over 500 species of plants and 30 species of animals (plus unknown numbers of invertebrates) that are regarded as rare, vulnerable or endangered (RCSQ, 1994).

The flora of the Wet Tropics region is diverse. The majority of plant species are found in small numbers (uncommon) and/or found only in some parts of the Wet Tropics region (restricted)(RCSQ, 1986). Over 3,400 species of vascular plants have been identified and there may be more yet to be found. Of the higher plants (angiosperms and gymnosperms), about 710 species are Australian endemics, with 500 of these confined to the Wet Tropics (Werren, 1992).

The flora of the Wet Tropics region is also special in that it provides one of the most complete living records of the evolution of land plants (RCSQ, 1994:19). This includes primitive and relict members of fern, cycad and conifer families. These relict species also include primitive angiosperms. Of the 19 families of more primitive angiosperms in the world, 12 families are represented in the Wet Tropics region and this area may represent the highest concentration of such families in the world (RCSQ 1986). Within the Wet Tropics region these species are restricted to refugia areas on mountain summits and in wet valleys where they have survived through colder and drier periods in the past.

The Wet Tropics region is claimed to have the richest fauna of the Australian continent (RCSQ, 1986). Table 2.6.1 summarises current knowledge about species numbers for vertebrates and butterflies.

The Wet Tropics region is also believed to have the richest insect fauna in Australia (RCSQ, 1994). It is anticipated that the number of invertebrate species described, so far, is but a small proportion of those inhabiting the Wet Tropics region (Jones and Kitching, 1991). As an example of the potential magnitude of diversity, during a study of five transect sites on Mt Bellenden Ker, over 4000 species of invertebrates were identified (RCSQ, 1994).

Table 2.6.1: Species numbers, selected vertebrate and invertebrate groups, Wet Tropics region
Group No. species in Wet Tropics WHA No. endemic species No. endemic subspecies % of Australian species
Mammals
(excluding bats)
58 11 8 36% of mammals
30% of marsupials
Bats 36 - - 58%
Birds 370 13 10 50%
Frogs 53 21 - 25%
Repriles 170 22 - 23%
Fish 69 3 - 37%
Butterflies 200+ 10?* - 60%

Source: RCSQ 1994, except * reported in RCSQ, 1986 but not in 1994 revision

Resource use and conservation objectives in the region

The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area

The primary goal for the Wet Tropics WHA is the protection, conservation, preservation, rehabilitation and transmission to future generations of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area (WTMA, 1992).

Within the WHA, the majority of land is covered by native vegetation which is either basically undisturbed since European settlement, or is intact but has been subject to selective logging. A minority of the land has been cleared and some of the area is currently used for tourism and recreation, grazing, mining, water supply, telecommunications, roads etc. Around 8% of the WHA has some ongoing disturbance (WTMA, 1992).

The surrounding region

Land use in the surrounding region includes agriculture, aquaculture, tourism, manufacturing, transport, service industries, urban services and residential. Both agriculture and urban land uses are expanding onto land that was previously under native vegetation. There are a number of small State and Local Government reserves which are managed primarily for conservation. Other land-use management is via local authority planning schemes which provide for a variety of land uses including conservation. Control of vegetation clearing is exercised in some shires via regulation. Overriding Queensland government policies to promote sustainable use of natural resources include Integrated Catchment Management and Coastal Management Plans. Statewide clearing controls are being introduced on leasehold lands.

An area of particular concern for conservation is the area north of the Daintree River to Cape Tribulation (termed 'the Daintree' in the remainder of this case study). This area is a mix of Wet Tropics WHA, National Parks, Timber Reserve, Vacant Crown Land and private lands which together constitute an area of outstanding biodiversity. This is one of the last areas of lowland rainforest remaining substantially intact and is a site of numerous endemic species, some of which are rare and threatened (Werren, 1993). An integrated approach to the planning and management of the Daintree area has recently been established. A major component is the Daintree Rescue Package which is aimed at increasing conservation on private lands and improving tourism infrastructure in the area. More details of this package are given below. Complementing this is an initiative of the Douglas Shire Council which aims to limit development in the area to provide a sustainable future as essentially a low key, 'ecotourism' destination.

Other areas on the coastal plain with remaining areas of native vegetation include the Mission Beach area (rainforest) and lands adjacent to the Hinchinbrook Channel (sclerophyll/mangrove). Both these areas are habitat for rare and threatened species. On the Atherton Tablelands, the majority of the original vegetation was cleared for agriculture. A number of revegetation projects undertaken by government and voluntarily by landholders, are under way in this area to re-establish the benefits of forest cover, such as soil stabilisation, cabinet timber production and the provision of wildlife corridors.

Current nature based tourism and ecotourism

National and state level strategies

At the Commonwealth level, the National Tourism Strategy, National Ecotourism Strategy, National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development and the National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy present a vision for tourism which is consistent with environmental objectives. The Queensland government has issued an Ecotourism Strategy, with a similar theme.

Cairns region tourism

Tourism is a major economic activity in the Wet Tropics region. In 1992, tourism contributed 25% of Gross Regional Product and employment in the Far North Queensland region (Horworth and Horworth, 1993). This region, centred on Cairns, has seen significant growth in tourist numbers and infrastructure over the last decade.

Projections made in 1993 for tourism growth in the Far North region to the year 2001, were for an increase of between 5.2% and 11.4% per annum in visitor nights, with the medium projection resulting in a doubling in visitor nights over the 1992 level (NCST&T, 1993).

The majority of accommodation and associated infrastructure is located in Cairns, Port Douglas, Townsville and other coastal towns. The most distinct pattern for tourism is for people to visit the natural attractions of the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics WHA on day trips from these accommodation centres.

The natural environment is the major tourist attraction to North Queensland. During the 1980s, the most commonly nominated reasons for visiting were to enjoy the weather and to see the Great Barrier Reef, but an increased profile for rainforest attractions has been predicted (NCST&T, 1992). A recent survey of visitors to rainforest sites revealed that, for the majority of these people, the rainforest was 'one of a number of important attractions' to North Queensland (Driml, in prep).

The Cairns Region Tourism Strategy addresses infrastructure requirements to meet the projected growth. The Strategy acknowledges that increased pressure will be placed on natural areas and suggests that limits may have to be placed at some sites and that additional sites will have to be opened up to tourism. The Strategy does not address the question of whether there are ultimate limits to tourism in natural areas (Office of the Coordinator General, 1993).

Wet Tropics WHA tourism

The Wet Tropics WHA is the location of 4.77 million visits to different sites for tourism and recreation per year (Manidis Roberts Consultants & Taylor Environmental Consulting, 1994). Around 50 companies offer regular tours, mainly day trips, to sites in the Wet Tropics WHA. Other tours visit Wet Tropics WHA sites as part of Cape York safaris. The largest number of commercial tourism operations are small scale and focused on the attractions of the natural environment. Tours to the Daintree area employ four wheel drive vehicles or small buses and are limited in size to 22 seats. Atherton Tablelands tours which visit Wet Tropics WHA sites operate with both small buses and standard coaches. Whitewater rafting tours are offered on a number of rivers in the Wet Tropics WHA. The Kuranda railway and the Skyrail cable car facility, which is currently under construction, are more infrastructure-intensive but their focus is still NBE (Driml, in prep).

People are also able to visit the Wet Tropics WHA as independent travellers by car. This group of visitors includes local North Queensland people plus tourists visiting the region. Facilities within the Wet Tropics WHA for day visitors both on commercial tours and visiting privately include roads, picnic grounds, walking tracks, board walks, lookouts and toilet facilities. There are around 70 sites with some type of visitor facility (WTMA 1994). The location of roads and facilities currently defines where tourism takes place in the Wet Tropics WHA.

There is virtually no commercial accommodation within the Wet Tropics WHA. Camping is allowed, but a number of camping areas are adjacent to but outside the WHA. The vast majority of visitors are accommodated outside the WHA. Recent surveys indicated that the greatest number of visitors to the area stay in Cairns and Port Douglas (Manidis Roberts Consultants & Taylor Environmental Consulting, 1994; Driml, in prep). Some accommodation establishments are located close to the Wet Tropics WHA, in the Daintree, Mission Beach and Atherton Tablelands areas. A number of these are promoted as ecotourism facilities.

The gross expenditure associated with visits to the Wet Tropics WHA by tourists and local residents visiting for recreation was estimated at $377 million for 1991/92 (Driml, 1994). This figure includes money spent on commercial tours and private trips into the WHA plus, for tourists to the region, two nights' accommodation for each day trip to the WHA. In contrast, logging in the WHA, which ceased in 1987, generated a gross revenue of only $25 million per annum (Driml, 1991).

The Wet Tropics Ecotourism Strategy

A joint exercise is being undertaken by three government agencies and four tourist industry bodies to develop an Ecotourism Strategy that focuses on the Wet Tropics WHA but extends to forested lands outside the protected area. The aim of the exercise is: 'to cooperatively develop a sustainable and profitable nature based tourism industry in forested lands both in and around the Wet Tropics Region that fosters environmental understanding, appreciation and conservation and sustains and benefits the culture and well being of local communities' (DPIE-FS, 1994). Policies and practices are also being addressed. The approach taken is to assess the tourism potential of areas via a series of product reviews, complemented by information from land managers on environmental constraints to the use of these areas for tourism (Nevard, pers com.). It is anticipated it will be an input to development of the Wet Tropics Management Plan (Chappell, pers com.).

Threats to biodiversity values

Ecosystem and habitat loss

Clearing constitutes the greatest direct threat to ecosystem diversity in the Wet Tropics region. It has been estimated that 30% to 50% of the vegetation extant at the time of European settlement of North Queensland has been cleared. Extensive clearing on the coastal lowlands has left only 20% of original vegetation, much in fragmented remnants (Winter, et al., 1991). The other significant area of clearing was the Atherton Tablelands and the remaining rainforest is in small isolated patches.

The ecosystems within the Wet Tropics WHA are largely protected against clearing. The greatest threats to ecosystem diversity via habitat loss lie outside the protected area. The rainforests of the Daintree-Cape Tribulation area have been described as constituting 'an infra regional centre of plant diversity and endemism within the Wet Tropics' and 'the greatest diversity of any wet tropical lowland faunal [assemblage in the region]' (Brannock Humphreys, 1993:4). The freehold properties in the area support rare and threatened plant species, some of which are endemic, and associated fauna. The greatest threats to this area were identified in 1993 as clearing for residential subdivision, tourism infrastructure, and small scale agricultural and pastoral ventures (Brannock Humphreys, 1993).

Ecosystem and habitat decline and direct species loss

These processes are addressed together here by reference to a workshop held in 1992, amongst experts on Wet Tropics biota, with the purpose of identifying rare and threatened species and threatening processes and recommending solutions. The workshop assessed the status of: vegetation communities, plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, fish and invertebrates. In all cases, information available was not sufficient to permit an exhaustive assessment. The assessment was not confined to the Wet Tropics WHA but also included adjacent natural environments in the region between Townsville and Cooktown.

Some of these rare and threatened species are endemic; loss of these species from the Wet Tropics region would mean species extinction. Other species have populations outside the Wet Tropics region but the populations within the region are distinct sub-populations. Loss of these populations would represent a loss of genetic diversity. Where populations within the Wet Tropics are separated, loss of populations in one area of the Wet Tropics would mean a loss of genetic diversity. Naturally occurring population separation has resulted from the changing climate regimes that have operated since the time of Gondwanaland 120 million years ago. The restriction of some species to refugia areas on mountain tops and wet valleys has separated populations. Other populations have been separated as clearing has fragmented habitats. Conservation of rare and threatened species cannot be guaranteed simply by reservation of the Wet Tropics WHA for a number of reasons including:

Of the 3400+ vascular plant species in the region, 488 are considered rare or threatened. This figure is composed of: 11 endangered, 63 vulnerable, 323 rare and 91 insufficiently known species. Those species most under threat are populations known only from one site, under threat of clearing because they are not included in conservation reserves, or from accidental clearing within the Wet Tropics WHA.

The most endangered mammals are thought to be the Mahogany Glider, the Tropical Bettong and the Flute-nosed Bat (see Table 2.6.2). The habitat of the Mahogany Glider is lowland open forest/woodland, most of which is not conserved within the Wet Tropics WHA and is under threat of clearing for agriculture. The Tropical Bettong is confined to a few areas, due to habitat modification through grazing and changed fire regimes, and is vulnerable to predation by dogs (Werren, 1993). The Flute-nosed Bat is known from only one specimen collected in the Wet Tropics WHA.

At the workshop, another two species of bats were classified as endangered but presumed not critically. Species assessed as vulnerable included the two endemic species of Tree Kangaroo and six species with sparse or declining population numbers, including three subspecies restricted to the Wet Tropics. All other endemic mammal species were assessed as being rare.

It is thought that at least 16 of the 35 bat species recorded for the Wet Tropics WHA are rare or threatened or insufficiently known but suspected to be threatened (Werren, 1993). Habitat conservation outside the Wet Tropics WHA may be particularly important to these species.

Table 2.6.2: Wet Tropics rare and threatened vertebrate species warranting highest priority conservation management
  Taxon Workshop determination
Mammals Mahogany Glider Critically endangered by habitat loss, loss continuing
Flute-nosed Bat Threatening process not established
Tropical Bettong Endangered, threatening process, habitat modification, predation by dogs, possibly increasing
Birds Southern Cassowary Australian subspecies considered endangered due to habitat loss, disease, roadkills
Golden Bowerbird Appears to be in decline, possibly impacted by habitat loss, disease, roadkills
Frogs Sharp-snouted Dayfrog Massive and rapid range contraction; critically endangered, reasons for frog decline unknown
Northern Tinkerfrog Not recorded for 2 years; critically endangered
Waterfall Frog Declining; critically endangered
Mountain Mistfrog No recent records; critically endangered
Common Mistfrog Declining; critically endangered
Australian Lace-lidlid Declining, critically endangered
Fish Lake Eacham Rainbowfish Extinct in the wild; captive population

Source: Adapted from Werren (1993)

Cassowaries, which are also found in New Guinea, are the largest animals living in the rainforest of the Wet Tropics WHA. These birds are thought to play an important part in dispersing the seeds of rainforest trees and vines and may be considered as 'keystone species' for the role they play in rainforest regeneration and possibly succession (Crome & Moore, 1990; Winter, 1991). Crome and Moore (1990) consider the cassowary to be the most threatened species in the Wet Tropics WHA. Continuing threats to the species include: habitat loss, predation by humans, predation by dogs, road kills, disease, competition from pigs, and restriction of movement along regular routes (Crome & Moore, 1990).

The Golden Bowerbird is naturally sparsely distributed but concern has grown that bowers have disappeared from some areas in recent years. It has been suggested that ecotourism activities may be disrupting displays by males, reducing reproductive success (Werren, 1993).

Many species of reptile are rare, but none were assessed to be threatened within the Wet Tropics WHA. At least six species of stream-dwelling frogs have recently disappeared or undergone large reductions in population numbers. The cause(s) of this are not fully understood. The species are all confined to undisturbed upland forested streams within the Wet Tropics WHA. This is concurrent with a worldwide phenomenon of frog disappearances. Another group of at least nine narrowly distributed endemic frog species were assessed as of high conservation priority.

Information about freshwater fish distribution and status is very poor. The Lake Eacham Rainbowfish is extinct in the wild but a captive population remains in a government laboratory. Insufficient information is available to assess the status of invertebrate species. It is believed there are many species yet to be identified.

Threatening processes were identified and rated by the experts at the workshop (see Table 2.6.3). Vegetation clearance was rated as posing a high risk to most categories of biota: plants, terrestrial invertebrates, aquatic invertebrates, reptiles, birds and mammals. A number of processes causing habitat decline are significant.

Table 2.6.3 Relative importance of threats to biota of the Wet Tropics

Table 2.6.3: Relative importance of threats to biota of the Wet Tropics
Threatening process Plants T.Inv. A.Inv. Fish Frogs Reptiles Birds Mammals
Vegetation clearance                
  – lowland rainforest H H L L M M H H
– summit zones H H L L M H L H
– riparian H H H M M H M M
Infrastructure H L H M M M M M
Fire M M M L L M M M
Water management M L H H L L L L
Feral species                
  – pigs M M M M M M M L
– others L M H M M M M H
Weeds H L L L L L L L
Collection M L M M L L L L

T.Inv. = Terrestrial Invertebrates, A.Inv. = Aquatic Invertebrates
H = high, M = medium, L = low

Source: Nias et al., 1993, p.27

Gene loss

Logging on private lands is the main form of commercial utilisation of species in the Wet Tropics region. Generally the rate of logging is up to the individual land owner and there is no requirement for it to be sustainable. As logging is often associated with clearing, the effects are similar.

Tourism impacts

There is little published information about the environmental impacts of tourism within the Wet Tropics WHA. This author has conducted a survey of a number of scientists and managers with direct experience of the Wet Tropics WHA (Driml, in prep). Amongst those interviewed, there was no dissent on the proposition that tourism impacts are currently generally not significant on the scale of the Wet Tropics WHA. Some participants were of the view that impacts have the potential to become significant, and irreversible, at particular sites or where rare species may be involved. The mountain summit zones have been identified as particularly vulnerable, even to bushwalking (Fisher and Stanton, 1991).

The story on the impacts of tourism on biodiversity conservation varies greatly between inside and outside the Wet Tropics WHA. Most importantly, the amount of vegetation clearance for tourism is restricted within the Wet Tropics WHA. Within the Wet Tropics WHA, clearing for tourism is restricted to minor clearing for provision of walking tracks, car parks, picnic sites etc. Measures currently taken by management agencies to minimise clearing include directing infrastructure development to sites already cleared and surveying sites that may be cleared for facilities to avoid impacts on rare and threatened species (Hess, pers com.). Nevertheless, there is pressure in popular areas for extra clearing, for car parks in particular, to accommodate increased visitor numbers.

The majority of infrastructure provision is designed and installed by the management agencies themselves. A recent exception is the private Skyrail cable car development. This has been designed to minimise clearing by using helicopters in its construction. However, some commentators still believe this is an inappropriate development for a WHA (Figgis, 1994). Development of private tourist accommodation has been restricted to a parcel of private land that was included in the Wet Tropics WHA. It is expected that policy on the construction of accommodation and private infrastructure within the Wet Tropics WHA will be made clear in the Wet Tropics Management Plan.

The majority of tourism activities in the Wet Tropics WHA involve walking, driving on roads and rafting. These activities can lead to habitat decline, but not necessarily to a level that threatens biodiversity conservation. The level of impacts of litter, human wastes and trampling depends upon visitor behaviour and the provision of facilities. Trampling causes vegetation loss and soil compaction, which in turn can exacerbate erosion and siltation (Graham, 1994). To put this into some perspective, the majority of walking in the Wet Tropics WHA is restricted to tracks, of 36 km in total length (Prociv, 1992). Hardening of tracks and sites using board walks and other structures is usually successful in containing impacts.

None of the roads in the Wet Tropics WHA were constructed specifically for tourism although tourism may now be the major use of some of the roads. The construction of roads causes fragmentation and increases the vulnerability of the forest to invasion by feral animals and weeds (House & Moritz, 1991). Road traffic is responsible for animal kills but most mortality occurs at night and is attributed to local traffic.

There is little evidence of tourism contributing to direct species extinction. The apparent reduction in breeding success of the Golden Bowerbird is the only documented possible specific direct threat to a species from tourism within the Wet Tropics WHA. Guidelines have now been put in place for tour operators who wish to view Golden Bowerbirds. Research is planned to establish the causes of decline and develop scientifically based guidelines for viewing (Moore, pers com.).

Clearing for tourism accommodation and infrastructure has occurred outside the Wet Tropics WHA and tourism continues to be one of the land uses which threatens biodiversity conservation outside the protected area. Also associated with the level of tourism activity in the Wet Tropics region is clearing for residential settlement by people employed in, or indirectly supported by, the tourism industry. The impacts on biodiversity conservation of past clearing associated with tourism are not known with any precision.

Controls on activities inside reserves means that the support services must be located outside their boundaries. Some of these services will be sensitive to natural environment quality, and presumably biodiversity conservation. These include that segment of the accommodation market aimed at providing ecotourism experiences. Other services such as transport and some accommodation are not directly dependent on environmental quality. An important issue is whether tourism is compatible with biodiversity conservation and whether the impacts of tourism are, or can be designed to be, minimised in absolute terms and relative to those of other land uses.

In summary, the environmental impact of tourism, and presumably the impact on biodiversity in the Wet Tropics WHA, is minor and contained. This can largely be attributed to the high standard of management practised. Outside the WHA, there is potential for tourism to threaten biodiversity conservation through clearing and other associated impacts leading to habitat decline. In simple terms, biodiversity conservation would be most secure without NBE or any other forms of land use other than strict conservation. Given that this is not likely to be an option for all land remaining under natural vegetation in the Wet Tropics region, NBE if sensitively sited and managed should be more compatible with biodiversity conservation than many alternative land use options.

Existing regulations, incentive instruments and mixes

Wet Tropics World Heritage Area

Within the Wet Tropics WHA, the regulatory environment is directed specifically towards biodiversity conservation. Strong regulatory measures include the prohibition of activities such as clearing of vegetation without permission, and the taking of fauna. Within the boundaries of the WHA, lands have retained their pre-existing tenure. The vast majority is Crown land: 46% of the WHA is State Forest and Timber Reserve; 29% is National Park; 6% is Vacant Crown Land and 1% is in other reserves. Around 2% of the WHA is freehold land, another 16% is leasehold and small parcels are reserved or granted to Aboriginal people. Current and potential Aboriginal land claims cover large areas of the WHA.

The State Forests and Timber Reserves continue to be managed under the Forestry Act 1959 by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries Forest Service. As logging is prohibited in the Wet Tropics WHA, the focus of management is on multiple use, including recreation and tourism. The National Parks are managed by the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. The Queensland Government has stated an intention to convert State Forests and Timber Reserves within the Wet Tropics WHA into National Parks (Hess pers com.). There are 14 local authorities including two Aboriginal community councils with part of their area in the Wet Tropics WHA.

The Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993, a piece of Queensland legislation, establishes the objectives for the WHA and mechanisms to achieve them. Under the Act, the overall management of the Wet Tropics WHA is the responsibility of the Wet Tropics Management Authority. The Authority provides a structure for the coordination of all parties with an interest in the WHA. The Act allows for the participation in management by Aboriginal people 'particularly concerned with the land' through joint management agreements. No such agreements have been drawn up yet.

The Act requires the preparation of a management plan for the WHA. Development of a management plan requires public display and invitation of submissions on a draft plan. The initial draft Wet Tropics Management Plan is under preparation and is yet to be released for public comment. The Wet Tropics Management Plan will define the activities allowed in the Wet Tropics WHA and the conditions under which they can occur. Currently uses include tourism and recreation (the major direct uses of the area), limited grazing and mining (both of which are expected to be phased out), roads and communications facilities which traverse the area, water storage facilities, and hydro electricity generation and distribution.

Until such time as a Wet Tropics Management Plan comes into force, and unless it overrides existing legislation, lands within the Wet Tropics WHA are being and will be managed according to the pre-existing legislation.

Management of tourism and recreation in the Wet Tropics WHA utilises a number of strategies. At the broadest level, it is expected that the Wet Tropics Management Plan will delineate the areas in which tourism is permitted and is not permitted. The Plan will be complemented by more detailed Area Management Plans. Currently draft plans have been prepared for a number of areas within the Wet Tropics WHA but are on hold pending the Wet Tropics Management Plan.

Commercial tour operators are obliged under both the Forestry Act and the Nature Conservation Act to hold a permit to conduct commercial tours on Crown Land (except gazetted roads). The land management agencies use the permit system to require operators to comply with standard conditions of operation and to set special conditions at certain sites or for certain types of operation.

Private visitors do not require a permit to visit most areas, except those specifically not managed for public visitation. Permits are required for camping. There are no limits placed on the number of private visitors allowed at any site, though limits are proposed by QDPI-FS at a number of sites (Hess pers com.). The provision of signs and interpretive displays are an important component of visitor management.

The Daintree Rescue Package

The Daintree Rescue Package (DRP) is a program of incentives specifically aimed at the conservation of biodiversity and the development of ecologically sustainable tourism in the area north of the Daintree River. A significant proportion of the forested area north of the Daintree is in private ownership and was not included in the Wet Tropics WHA, although heritage values in the uncleared areas would generally support World Heritage listing (Brannock Humphreys, 1993).

The Daintree Rescue Package was formulated to address the potential for clearing of private land and to put the growing tourism industry on a sustainable basis. The package was formulated on the basis that the broader public of Australia should contribute financially to the dual objectives of biodiversity conservation and securing the benefits that flow more broadly from a sustainable tourism industry in the area.

Commonwealth Government funding for the DRP was announced in the budget of May 1994. The Queensland Government subsequently provided matching funding. The total funding for the DRP is $23.16 million over three years. The Douglas Shire Council is the other government partner in the DRP, providing in-kind expertise. Implementation is coordinated from Cairns.

Elements of the DRP include:

Tourism Planning and Infrastructure (budget $6 million):

The DRP is in the early steps of implementation; the measures that relate to private landholders are entirely voluntary. There has been great interest in the buy back scheme, with 292 properties offered for sale, but as of May 1995, only one transaction had been completed; 118 landholders have expressed interest in negotiating a CMA.

The DRP emphasises community support with the delivery of information via an extension program that employs a Cassowary Conservation Officer and a Rainforest Officer. The tourism infrastructure program aims to minimise impacts by providing adequate facilities and encouraging community support with the provision of recreation facilities for locals only.

It is too early into the program to assess its likely success. The community north of the Daintree has been divided over a number of issues regarding future development and lifestyle in the area; acceptance of the DRP has been influenced by this division. Following a public meeting in April 1995 and the adoption of a strategy to involve the community directly in the implementation of the DRP, the Manager is hopeful that implementation of the package will pick up speed (Henderson, pers com.).

Local Authority planning schemes

The primary regulatory control over activities on private lands is through Local Authority planning schemes and regulations. Details of the planning schemes of each Local Authority are different, but in all cases the major tool for control over land use is zoning, accompanied by regulations.

The attitudes and approaches of the Local Authorities towards clearing of land differs. At least one Local Authority has the ability to prevent vegetation clearing on private lands. Some Local Authorities are attempting to promote biodiversity conservation through incentive mechanisms. Encouragement of tourism as a land use providing for economic development and conservation is included in some of these approaches (see more detail later). Proactive conservation measures, including tree planting schemes, are practised in a number of the Local Authority areas.

Nature Conservation Act 1992

Queensland's Nature Conservation Act 1992 and Nature Conservation Regulations 1994 provide for the conservation of flora and fauna on private lands. There are two general approaches provided in the Act, the conservation of wildlife wherever it occurs, and protection of areas as Nature Refuges. The Act provides for protection of prescribed wildlife (plants and animals) on and off reserves.

The Act contains mechanisms for the declaration of Nature Refuges on private lands where the landholder retains rights to the property and enters voluntarily into a Conservation Agreement with the Queensland Government. Included in the agreement are the management intent for the area, the responsibilities of the land holder, plus penalties for non-compliance. The Conservation Agreement may contain terms requiring the Queensland Government to provide financial assistance, material assistance, or technical advice. The option is available for Conservation Agreements to be binding on title to successive land holders. There is also a provision for compulsory declaration of a Nature Refuge where the land holder and the Government cannot agree on conditions for a voluntary agreement. In this case, the declaration is made via regulation. A covenant on the land, which is binding on title, specifies the responsibility of the land holder. A land holder is entitled to be paid reasonable compensation if injuriously affected by a compulsory declaration. The Act also has a mechanism to declare a Coordinated Conservation Area where the area covers lands owned by more than one land holder.

Potential incentive instruments and mechanisms

In this section a range of policy opportunities for biodiversity conservation in the Wet Tropics region, with an emphasis on those that involve NBE, is presented. These policy opportunities are aimed at addressing threats to biodiversity conservation and consider those on public and private land. A priority for biodiversity conservation on private land is incentives to prevent habitat loss through clearing of native vegetation. Emphasis is placed on promoting tourism opportunities as an alternative to enterprises that require clearing. For the Wet Tropics WHA the priority is for incentives to encourage tourism to operate in a way that minimises habitat decline and direct species extinction.

Regulatory safety net

It can be argued that the biodiversity values of the Wet Tropics region are sufficiently important to justify a regulatory safety net to prevent any losses that might occur if all land allocation and use were left to the market. The declaration of the Wet Tropics WHA is the cornerstone of this approach. Other regulatory mechanisms are available to be used if necessary to prevent clearing on private land. The three mechanisms listed here can contribute directly to biodiversity conservation by preventing clearing, and, in the case of the Wet Tropics WHA, providing the means of regulating other activities.

Policy opportunity 1
Declaration and management of protected areas

This option has been exercised to a great extent with the creation of the Wet Tropics WHA. Although there was considerable community opposition to declaration of the WHA, public support for the WHA in the region was 80% in 1993 (AGBMcNair, 1993). This can be attributed in part to recognition of the economic importance of the area for tourism. Compensation programs were put in place for businesses and individuals involved in logging who were negatively affected by the declaration, but not all affected people feel they have been sufficiently compensated (Survey Research and Consultancy Unit, 1991).

Policy opportunity 2
Compulsory declaration of nature refuges on private lands

This option is available under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. Compensation is payable. This option may be less effective than voluntary agreements as the latter provide greater incentive for the land holder to be involved in ongoing management. It should be a last resort measure where endangered species need a high level of protection.

Policy opportunity 3
Vegetation clearance controls on private lands

This option is available to the Queensland Government for leasehold land and to Local Authorities for private land. The former Mulgrave shire (now amalgamated with Cairns) had a By-law allowing Council to declare any part of the Shire a 'tree preservation area'. This By-law makes the killing or removal of trees illegal without permission. Any approval for tree removal may require that the trees be replanted elsewhere. Other Local Authorities in the Wet Tropics region have not adopted vegetation clearing controls on private land. Arguments against controls include not wishing to limit actions people take on their own land, and fears that panic clearing would occur if the intention to introduce controls became known. As noted by Clairs and Young (1995), the introduction of vegetation clearing controls may be accompanied by a compensation provision for land holders denied permission to clear. There is no provision for compensation in the Mulgrave Shire By-law.

Incentives for biodiversity conservation on private lands

The incentives listed here aim to minimise clearing of private lands and encourage land use in a manner compatible with biodiversity conservation. The range of agreements suggested between private land holders and other land holders or public bodies are designed to either provide financial assistance to land holders who want to promote biodiversity conservation or reimburse them for financial opportunities forgone. The opportunity to engage in NBE is an important means of financing biodiversity conservation. The likely viability of NBE with respect to other potential land uses will vary across the Wet Tropics region.

Policy opportunity 4
Tradeable vegetation clearance rights

Where vegetation clearance controls have been implemented, an opportunity may exist, in specific situations, to make vegetation clearance rights tradeable. Within an area subject to clearing controls, clearing rights could be granted on an undertaking to revegetate another area. Trade could also occur between areas with clearing controls and areas without clearing controls. In this case, permission to clear (eg. for tourist accommodation) could be obtained in the area with clearing controls on the undertaking that an area outside the clearing control area will not be cleared or will be revegetated. It needs to be recognised, however, that revegetation may not achieve the same biodiversity value as held by the original native vegetation.

The trade could be based on securing a larger area of preservation or revegetation than the area of clearing permitted, thus benefiting biodiversity conservation. Conservation Management Agreements (see below) would provide a useful mechanism to secure these trades. Private land holders wishing to clear would have to provide financial compensation or materials and labour for revegetation to other private land holders in exchange for clearing rights. Because vegetation clearing controls are likely to be implemented in areas of priority for biodiversity conservation, an approval process for trades would need to operate where proposed trades would be assessed for impacts on biodiversity conservation. This opportunity is currently not available in the Wet Tropics region. The caveat must be made that such a scheme may be expensive to monitor and enforce.

Policy opportunity 5
Change land valuation and rating system

The Queensland Lands Department values private blocks according to their 'highest and best use' given their location, zoning and other qualities. The valuations are based on recent sales in the area. Blocks with virgin rainforest are rated according to their highest and best use rather than the presence of rainforest. Generally uncleared blocks near the coast and north of the Daintree are valued as rural homesites while those further west may be valued as potential grazing land. Those blocks with bona fide primary production receive a concession in valuation. Local Authorities use land valuation as a basis for charging rates. Unless a differential rating system is used, the higher the valuation, the higher the rates. This has the effect of making rates higher for an uncleared block than for a comparable block fully or partially cleared for primary production. In the Douglas Shire, for example, this can make the difference between $2000 in rates for an uncleared block of about 100 ha and $500 if the block is in primary production (M. Berwick, pers. com.).

Intervention in this system to remove a perverse incentive favouring clearing could be at the valuation stage or in Local Authority rate structures. The concession for primary production distorts the land market so perhaps this is the priority for change. Where Local Authorities lose rate revenue through such a change, compensation could be made by the broader community through funds from the State or Commonwealth Governments.

Policy opportunity 6
Performance bonds

The use of performance bonds for tourism projects is now well established in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (ABARE, 1993) and a performance bond is in place for the Skyrail development in the Wet Tropics WHA. Performance bonds involve the private developers lodging security to cover the cost of rehabilitation of a site in the event of an accident, unforeseen impacts or the developer going bankrupt. The security can be in the form of an up-front payment to the management agency, insurance policy or a bank guarantee. The bond provides an incentive for developers to internalise the cost of accounting for the risk associated in undertaking their investment in a valued natural environment. Performance bonds are not limited to public lands, they may be applied wherever permission for a development is required, for example Local Authority approval of tourism facilities. James (1993) points out that performance bonds may not be able to compensate for irreversible environmental damage and, where there is a risk of this, direct regulations may be more effective.

Policy opportunity 7
Tradeable vegetation title

This option is a concept being investigated by a Local Authority in the Wet Tropics region. The idea relies on separating title to vegetation from title to land. A landholder may then sell all or part of the vegetation on the land to a conservation organisation, or government body or even a neighbour who wishes to retain a view. It could be in the interests of tourist resorts to purchase vegetation title on neighbouring land or for tour operators to purchase vegetation corridors alongside roads. It would be the responsibility of the purchaser to maintain the vegetation or enter into an agreement with the land holder to maintain it. This option is in effect a variation on Conservation Management Agreements (see below) in that they are private conservation covenants. Further investigation of legal feasibility and mechanisms and potential effectiveness for biodiversity conservation is required.

Policy opportunity 8
Transferable development rights

The Douglas Shire's Draft Development Control Plan (DCP) for the Daintree-Bloomfield area contains many measures which together are designed to retain the area's character of a low-key, undeveloped, nature-based recreational environment. The Draft DCP places a maximum limit on accommodation in the area and the only commercial tourism services allowed are those that involve exploration and appreciation of the environment. The Draft DCP places a maximum limit on the floor space of any accommodation and commercial developments. The Draft DCP also limits the type of development, to the extent that this can be done without the Council being liable to pay compensation.

The Draft DCP favours the clustering of tourist accommodation to concentrate impacts; this may allow more effective management of threats to biodiversity conservation. The DCP includes the option of transferable development rights to promote this. Where development approvals have been granted for sites elsewhere in the area, Council may allow these rights to be transferred to blocks in the preferred precincts and may allow conversion to a more formal type of accommodation development (which may generate higher revenue) to encourage such transfer (DSC, 1994).

Policy opportunity 9
Conservation easements and covenants

Conservation easements and covenants are means whereby positive rights and negative limits may be effected on private lands in the interests of a body who is not the land holder. Agreements between land holders and government can be made at all levels of government. The Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992 provides for agreements with land holders where a Nature Refuge is declared on their land. In the Wet Tropics region, the Wet Tropics Management Authority is entering into agreements that may be for a specified period or binding on title as part of the Daintree Rescue Program. Local Authorities may enter into similar agreements, although there is some concern about the robustness of agreements intended to be binding on title (Bob Devine, JSC, pers. com.). Private agreements between land holders and private tour operators or conservation organisations are also possible but may be more difficult to enforce. The agreements between private land holders usually involve the specification of the land holder's obligations in respect to maintenance of native vegetation in return for financial or material assistance. Several options are described below.

Policy opportunity 10
CMAs based on development rights

Conservation Management Agreements (CMAs) are agreements between private land owners and government, conservation organisations or private entities. They are arrangements whereby the land owners agree to manage, in a specified way, habitat and wildlife on their land, in exchange for some form of incentive. The agreements may be for any defined length of time or may be binding on title. Incentives include increased development rights.

Under this approach, Local Authorities will rezone a parcel of land to allow a higher yield land use on part of the parcel in exchange for an agreement to maintain the natural environment on the balance of the land. The advantage of this incentive is that there are no financial costs to government and the land owner assumes responsibility for ongoing management. Such a scheme is proposed for the Johnstone Shire in the Wet Tropics region. In this case, the incentives apply only to land which has been identified in the planning scheme as having biodiversity values (generally with existing rural use rights) and no further development rights will remain for the balance of the area that is rezoned for conservation purposes.

Policy opportunity 11
CMAs based on rate rebates

Rate rebates are another incentive that can be used to promote CMAs. In this case, the Local Authority experiences an opportunity cost in revenue forgone. This may be an opportunity for the broader community to compensate local land owners for their conservation efforts by making up the revenue to the Local Authority. Both the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments are currently investigating funding rate rebate schemes for biodiversity conservation.

Policy opportunity 12
CMAs based on other incentives

Under the Daintree Rescue Package, funding is provided for Cooperative Management Agreements between land owners and the Wet Tropics Management Authority. It is intended that a range of incentives will be offered, with an emphasis on material assistance rather than direct payments. The range of incentives currently offered has been developed in consultation with land owners and may be expanded in the future. The current list of incentives includes: payment for work done to improve land management; technical advice on flora and fauna on the property, a management plan, a revegetation plan, feral animal and weed control; display and interpretive signs; fire fighting equipment; plants for revegetation; labour for revegetation; materials to construct board walks or fences; pig control; contribution to the cost of alternative energy schemes.

The scheme is voluntary and to date there has been interest from over 100 land owners but no agreements have been finalised. The emphasis on material assistance may mean that the system appeals most to land owners who are already inclined to practise conservation on part of their land. It may be that greater financial incentives will be needed to induce land owners who intend to clear land for agriculture or other economic development.

Providing material for the construction of board walks is an example of NBE acting as an incentive for conservation of biodiversity. The DRP has advertised for expressions of interest for land owners who wish to construct a board walk on their land. It is considered that the area needs three or four interpretive walks on private land to take the pressure off public facilities. Construction materials will cost around $200 000. Private owners who can guarantee exclusive use at different times of the day to, say, four tour operators stand to earn around $20 000 to $30 000 a year at a charge of $2 per person.

Policy opportunity 13
Private tour operators compensate private land owners

Private tour operators offering NBE experiences rely on a landscape consistent with their product. In many cases in the Wet Tropics region, in the Daintree area for example, tours use roads that pass a mix of public protected area and private land. It may be in the interests of private tour operators, individually or as a group, to make financial arrangements with private land holders to maintain a vegetation corridor alongside roads. Owners of tourist resorts could be advantaged by retention of vegetation on neighbouring properties. Arrangements between private tourist operators and private land holders could be facilitated by an ability to enter into Conservation Management Agreements (see above) or purchase vegetation rights (see above), but may also proceed on an informal basis.

Policy opportunity 14
Set visitor fees on public lands at a level that promotes the provision of facilities on private lands

In many areas there is potential for private land holders to develop NBE facilities for day visitors or campers. This may be beneficial for biodiversity conservation by drawing visitor pressure away from public reserves. However, where there are no fees, or very low fees, charged for entry to public reserves it is difficult for private nature based enterprises to compete. Prices that do not reflect the cost of service provision act as a disincentive to private enterprise to supply conservation benefits. Entry fees to public conservation reserves should at least reflect the cost of supplying visitor facilities and infrastructure. The cost of supplying non-use benefits should not necessarily be levied against visitor fees. This is an argument to raise fees at public sites to levels that would provide an incentive to private providers of conservation benefits.

Policy opportunity 15
Voluntary buy back of priority areas

Buy back of priority areas for conservation from private land owners for inclusion in public protected areas provides perhaps the most complete form of protection for these areas. Buy back is an important element of the Daintree Rescue Package. Participation is purely voluntary. It is intended that land acquired will generally be incorporated into the Wet Tropics WHA, but some strategically sited parcels may be used in the recreation and tourism infrastructure program.

The ability for the public to fund buy back programs is clearly limited. In the case of the DRP, the undeniable importance of the area for biodiversity conservation and the high public profile of the area led to securing of public funding. This is a clear case where the benefits to the wider Australian and Queensland communities of biodiversity conservation and the securing of a sustainable tourism industry justified the funding to conduct the buy back scheme and other elements of the program.

Once a buy back scheme has reduced the supply of land available on the private market, the value of the remaining land is likely to increase. One option is to place a levy on private land transactions to secure some of this increased value and place it in a trust fund for further land buy back.

One drawback of buy back is that land placed in the public estate has to be managed over time and this requires continued public funding. Land in the Daintree which is on the periphery of the Wet Tropics WHA will perhaps require relatively intensive management. It is likely that some funds for management will be raised from user fees for tourism in the area. There is however an argument for schemes that leave land in private ownership and encourage stewardship, such as the Conservation Management Agreements. There are no legal barriers to NGOs buying blocks of land with the intention of managing them for biodiversity conservation. A project of this nature is operating north of the Daintree.

Policy opportunity 16
Regional tourism and environmental planning

As noted above, there are a number of Commonwealth and Queensland government strategies for tourism development, ecotourism development and environmental management. It is at the regional scale where strategies are usually translated into more concrete proposals for infrastructure and environmental management. The Cairns Region Tourism Strategy is an example of a regional planning process to address the anticipated tourism growth in an integrated manner. The existence of such strategies and the commitment to infrastructure provision adds certainty to planning for investment by the private sector. Regional environmental planning is important to the NBE industry. The natural environment is the industry's resource and secure plans for its retention are important to investment decisions.

Policy opportunity 17
Extension advice for NBE opportunities

A program to provide extension advice on NBE opportunities could be effective in spreading the message to private landholders about the larger and smaller scale private NBE land use alternatives for their properties. The program would need to supply landholders with information about what strategic tourism plans the forecast for their area, suitability of their sites for various alternatives, design requirements, maintenance requirements and the indicative financial costs and possible returns from facilities. Care would need to be taken to make information available in an objective manner to allow land holders to assess private investment decisions.

Policy opportunity 18
Extension advice on biodiversity conservation

A program to provide advice to land holders on the biodiversity values of their lands and measures they can take to protect biodiversity values could be very effective in developing a stewardship ethic. Advice could also be provided on the various schemes available, such as CMAs, as well as introducing land holders to community based schemes such as Landcare.

An extension program is an important part of the Daintree Rescue Program. The program funds a full time Rainforest Officer and, with the Douglas Shire Council, funds a full time Cassowary Conservation Officer, both of whom have extension as their major tasks. The funding of extension officers attached to local government could be contributed from Commonwealth or State Government funds. At a cost of about $55,000 to $60,000 per annum, employment of one officer is equivalent in cost to buy back of one block of land, and has been rated as likely to be more cost-effective in meeting biodiversity conservation goals (P Morrison, Environment Officer, Johnstone Shire, pers com.).

Planning and management of public lands

The contribution to biodiversity conservation made by planning and management activities on public land include: avoidance of activities in sensitive areas and minimising disturbance. Visitor fees contribute to the funding of biodiversity conservation and allowing tourism in protected areas is generally thought to promote public support for conservation. A number of incentives in this section are aimed at promoting stewardship by tour operators and visitors.

Policy opportunity 19
Limit visitor numbers

The impact of tourism is not necessarily related to absolute numbers but to the manner in which people behave, the infrastructure in place etc. Issues of site crowding and amenity are important as well as consideration of biophysical impacts when setting site capacity. Regardless of the complexity of analysis of site capacity, the most usual way to limit visitor impacts is to limit numbers within a defined recreational setting and specify the degree of development and infrastructure. There are currently no limits set for the Wet Tropics WHA. It is likely that limits on visitor numbers will need to play a part in future management planning in the Wet Tropics WHA. A strategy practised elsewhere which may be relevant in the Wet Tropics WHA is closure of sites during breeding seasons or other times when species are vulnerable to disturbance.

There is a system currently in place to limit visitors carried by commercial tour operators (see below) but no system of limiting access by private visitors. Options include using first come, first served or ballot systems or rationing use via visitor fees (see below). It may be administratively easier to close sites altogether for some time and/or to rotate sites.

Policy opportunity 20
Harden and manage sites

This approach is practised extensively throughout the Wet Tropics WHA. Hardening of sites is generally effective in containing environmental impacts such as erosion and siltation. The provision of infrastructure usually brings a change in recreational settings, moving them further away from the wilderness end of the spectrum. This can be minimised with sensitive design and choice of materials. A $10 million capital works program over the last four years has upgraded infrastructure in the Wet Tropics WHA to catch up with demands of current use levels. A further $6 million program is included as part of the Daintree Rescue Program. Ongoing funding will be required for maintenance and to keep pace with expected growth in visitor numbers. This represents a significant public subsidy to tour operators and visitors to the Wet Tropics WHA. It is suggested below that funds be raised for at least part of this management from visitor fees.

Policy opportunity 21
Visitor fees to ration use

It is possible to set visitor fees high enough to ration visitor numbers, however concerns regarding equity are important. Information on demand functions would be required to define a fee to successfully restrict use to a desired level. This approach is rarely used in practice, in Australia or elsewhere. Demand for unique natural environments is relatively inelastic so very high fees may be needed to reduce use (Tisdell, 1988).

Policy opportunity 22
Visitor fees to fund management

Visitor fees are a mechanism for biodiversity conservation that provide a signal to visitors of the cost of managing their impacts on the environment and, in addition, raise revenue for biodiversity conservation. Currently there are no entry fees for private visitors to the Wet Tropics WHA. Camping fees are $2 and $3 per night in State Forests and National Parks respectively. Commercial tour operators pay $1.15 or $2.30 per client (see below). The extent to which operators pass on these fees or inform their clients of the fees is not documented. It has been calculated that visitors to the Wet Tropics WHA spend approximately $377 million annually in the region. The management budget of the Wet Tropics WHA was approximately $12.1 million in 1991/92 and only $300 000, or 2.5% of the management budget, was raised in fees in that year (Driml, 1994).

Research amongst international visitors to the Wet Tropics WHA revealed that 61% of international visitors agree that there should be an entry fee to sites in the Wet Tropics WHA. The modal value of willingness to pay is $10 per day (Driml, in prep). The major limitation to introducing an entry fee is the practical problem of finding a cost effective means of collecting fees. The Wet Tropics WHA has a large number of individual parks and reserves, visitor sites and entry points. Options include: issuing passes for visits to any site in the Wet Tropics WHA from central points; self serve machines at park entry points; and gates at high use sites. The Douglas Shire Council takes advantage of the fact that all people travelling north of the Daintree River must use the Ferry and collects a levy that is put towards road maintenance.

Potential also exists for raising the visitor fees by charging commercial operators, but further economic analysis is required to determine whether operators can pass this on to clients and the potential impact on demand. Operators would oppose an increase in fees if they are not spent on improving facilities where they are raised. Operators must advertise prices two years ahead of time for international marketing and ask for this amount of lead time on any fee increase (A. Steel, pers com.).

Policy opportunity 23
Tradeable tourism access rights (permits)

Commercial activities, including tourism operations, require permits in areas administered by QDEH and QDPI-FS. The permit system, as it currently stands, provides permission to operate tours with specified numbers of passengers to specified sites, often with conditions specified. The permits are for periods of one to three years and are not transferable. This system theoretically provides maximum control to the management agencies to allow them to adjust numbers or activities for environmental protection purposes. In practice, permits have been issued to some sites for numbers vastly in excess of subsequently assessed carrying capacities, although the evidence is that actual use is far short of permitted capacities. There is now a moratorium on issue of further capacity to National Parks north of the Daintree River.

Fees raised from visitors on commercial tours are set at $1.15 per passenger spending up to three hours in the protected area, and $2.30 for over three hours. The revenue is spent in the region but not necessarily exactly where it is raised. This is seen by the industry as a disincentive for cooperation in fee paying. The industry would prefer that a priority be placed on improving facilities where fees are raised (A Steel, pers com.). The commercial tour industry has asked that permit periods be extended to six years.

Longer term and tradeable access rights may give commercial operators greater incentive to use the resource in a sustainable manner. If access rights for commercial tours were well defined, secure and tradeable, operators would have the incentive to manage the sites they use and the behaviour of their clients so that the access right retains its value as a tradeable commodity. The current permits system in the Wet Tropics WHA does not have all these features.

Development of such a system could bring advantages for biodiversity conservation with a high level of dedication by tour operators to protection of the resource. It is difficult however to assess whether any significant differences to current behaviour would result. Management agencies have generally been happy with the operating records of commercial tour operators, evidenced by the high rate of re-issue of permits. Other advantages of tradeable rights are increased economic efficiency, which is an objective not directly related to biodiversity conservation.

Land management agencies are reluctant to reduce their control over permits as they believe this is required to ensure environmental management objectives are met. An argument exists to introduce tradeable permits before growth reaches a point where trade-offs have to be made on a continual basis. The main question that arises is whether we have enough information to set up such a system and reduce direct control or whether the lack of information and the potential for irreversible damage means a more regulatory approach is more effective for biodiversity conservation. Approaches for incorporating regular review of conditions and information have been developed to make tradeable rights systems relatively flexible (Young, 1992).

Auction of rights may raise funds that can be invested in management; however, the payment of compensation is also a feature of this system.

Policy opportunity 24
Interpretive centres for visitors

Interpretive centres for visitors provide an indication of the behaviour expected of visitors to natural areas and provide an understanding of the area; this also acts as an incentive to behave appropriately. The Wet Tropics Management Authority has recently installed interpretive displays in several locations adjacent to the Wet Tropics WHA.

Policy opportunity 25
Extension for tour operators

Extension training for tour operators in the field could be useful in encouraging appropriate behaviour by operators and their clients. A program run in 1992 has been discontinued and training has since been centred on the TAFE course. Extension may be most effective in targeting those small operators who have little time to attend formal courses.

Policy opportunity 26
Self regulation: codes of practice, voluntary accreditation

Appropriate behaviour by operators and their clients is critical to preventing habitat modification and direct threats to species. Industry stewardship of the resource can take the form of voluntary codes of practice, voluntary accreditation and participation in monitoring. Incentives to encourage these approaches include: government funding of training and government assistance to industry to develop practices.

Currently, the tour industry in the Wet Tropics WHA does not have a code of practice or an accreditation scheme. The industry association is awaiting the results of current discussions of accreditation at the Commonwealth level and by the Ecotourism Association (A Steel, pers com.). A Heritage and Interpretive Tourism course developed at the Cairns TAFE, with advice from the industry, has good support within the industry. Graduates of the course have been employed by tour operators in the Wet Tropics WHA. This course can provide the basis for an accreditation scheme by providing training and a means for recognition of prior learning.

Generation of information

Policy opportunity 27
Identification and mapping of biodiversity values

Effective Local Authority and regional planning and management for biodiversity conservation is dependent on information describing biodiversity values. Examples of how such information is being used by two Local Authorities in the Wet Tropics region illustrates its value. In the Johnstone Shire, all remaining native habitat has been identified and rated according to priority for Cassowary conservation. Areas of cleared land have also been rated as priority areas for revegetation. In the Daintree area, the Douglas Shire Council is conducting a vegetation audit on private lands and several new species have been discovered in the process. Information will be used in implementing the Daintree Rescue Program and town planning and extension work.

Funding to conduct surveys and process, interpret, store and update information could be made available to Local Authorities, or the research could be undertaken at a regional level and information made available to Local Authorities. Information at this scale is vital to the most cost-effective use of public money, by all three levels of government, in funding any of the different incentives for biodiversity conservation.

Policy opportunity 28
Funding for species recovery plans

Species recovery plans may be drawn up for individual endangered species. There are rudimentary species recovery plans in existence for a number of the Wet Tropics species considered threatened, but in most cases information on species and threatening processes is very poor (Werren, 1992). The first requirement therefore is to fund acquisition of the information required to develop plans. A well developed species recovery plan may be able to target priority actions. In this case, the Australian community may be called upon to directly fund priority actions such as land purchase, fencing etc.

Policy opportunity 29
Research and monitoring

In the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, a substantial portion of the $1 Environmental Management Charge levied on every visitor on commercial tours is dedicated to the Reef Cooperative Research Centre. The Reef CRC has a number of representatives of the tourism industry on its board and its research program has a large component dedicated to research for sustainable tourism. There is no such direct connection between tourism and research for the Wet Tropics WHA, despite the existence in Cairns of a CRC for Tropical Rainforest Ecology and Management. There have been only isolated research projects on biophysical impacts of tourism.

The QDPI-FS monitors for obvious signs of wear and tear and obvious impact on wildlife and vegetation at sites but this does not include monitoring of impacts on biodiversity conservation (QDPI-FS, 1994). The ability for QDEH to undertake monitoring is limited by funding and staff availability. Active direction of funds already made available for rainforest research into research specifically investigating tourism issues is one option, as is additional funding from visitor fees.

Policy opportunity 30
Community programs for species conservation

Enthusiastic community programs for Cassowary conservation operate in the Daintree and Mission Beach areas in the Wet Tropics region. These programs include dissemination of information, revegetation and monitoring. Community based programs are important elements of biodiversity conservation. Government can assist community groups by providing financial assistance and assistance in kind such as meeting facilities and expert advice. Importantly government can organise ways to actively consult with and respond to advice from these groups.

Preferred mix of incentives

The preferred mix of incentives for the Wet Tropics region should take account of the national and international significance of the biodiversity values in the region. Having a strong regulatory safety net that underpins other policy opportunities is recommended. This is largely provided by the Wet Tropics WHA. Mechanisms exist to prevent clearing on private land if necessary.

Another priority is the generation of information, including vegetation and fauna audits and species recovery plans to determine what actions are most necessary to achieve biodiversity conservation. This information can be used to design a cost-effective approach to biodiversity conservation. The collection of policy opportunities designed to minimise clearing of private lands is based on the assumption that all native vegetation clearing is a threat to biodiversity. This premise could be better informed with the type of information recommended above.

Opportunities for NBE to provide viable land use alternatives and the attractiveness of the schemes to individual land holders are likely to be variable. The uptake and effectiveness of these options for preventing clearing and encouraging stewardship of land are also likely to be variable. It seems that, where high priority for biodiversity conservation has been identified, as in the Daintree, targeted public funding (voluntary buy back, CMAs based on financial or material payments) will be the most effective means of ensuring the outcome desired. The various options described for Conservation Management Agreements are all worth pursuing. Those that do not rely on public funding (tradeable vegetation rights, increased development rights) could be a useful adjunct to publicly funded schemes. Provision of information to land holders via extension may be a cost-effective means of encouraging effective stewardship of private lands under native vegetation.

On public lands, such as the Wet Tropics WHA, the regulatory safety net is extended from reservation of lands to planning and setting limits on use. Within these limits, tradeable permits may provide security of access for tour operators and hence an incentive for stewardship of the area. A major benefit claimed from tradeable permits is economic efficiency but this can be only indirectly linked with incentives for biodiversity conservation. Funding of the management necessary to allow tourism to occur with minimal impact is essential for biodiversity conservation. Levying fees on visitors will contribute to funding and free up public funds for other aspects of biodiversity conservation. It is recommended that comprehensive visitor fees be introduced.

The financing of biodiversity conservation is an important issue both from the point of adequacy and equity. The international and national significance of the biodiversity of the Wet Tropics region calls for a significant amount of funding to be provided by the widely dispersed beneficiaries, not just the local community. Some funding is needed to be for actions that will benefit future generations. There is still an argument for the local community to fund actions that deliver economic benefits to the community, especially through NBE.

The argument for Commonwealth and State government stewardship has been recognised in the Wet Tropics region through funding by the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments for management of the Wet Tropics WHA and the Daintree Rescue Package. This funding represents a significant injection of funds, but they are intended to be of limited duration. The initial funding for the Wet Tropics WHA included a large component for capital works and the annual appropriation is likely to reduce from next year. It may be necessary to find alternative sources of funds for management in the future and the NBE sector is a likely target.

All of the CMA options described provide tangible economic incentives for biodiversity conservation. Some require outside funding, either from the local community or higher levels of government. A greater ability to engage in NBE is one option provided by several of the incentive mechanisms described. This may be effective in reducing vegetation clearing in some, but not all, cases. The search for a cost-effective means of promoting biodiversity conservation is important; measures such as research, extension and encouraging community involvement are a valuable part of any program for biodiversity conservation.

Conclusions

The Wet Tropics region is indisputably an internationally and nationally important area having high biodiversity value. A major contribution to biodiversity conservation is the regulatory safety-net provided by the declaration of the Wet Tropics WHA. The challenge for management of the WHA is to allow the benefits which flow to the community and to visitors from NBE to continue, and grow, in a manner consistent with biodiversity conservation. There is potential to better harness NBE for biodiversity conservation by levying fees on visitors to pay for management.

The major threat to biodiversity conservation outside the Wet Tropics WHA has been identified as clearing of native vegetation on private land. The Daintree area has been identified as particularly important for biodiversity conservation and Commonwealth and Queensland Government funds are being made available for a program to reduce the potential for clearing. Other areas of private land within the region are also important for biodiversity conservation. Several mechanisms designed to provide effective incentives to private land holders to minimise clearing have been suggested where outside funds are likely to be limited. Opportunities to engage in NBE are amongst the potential incentives, but NBE has been assessed as unlikely to provide a viable alternative in all cases. NBE itself can potentially threaten biodiversity values but, with good design and operation, can be compatible with biodiversity conservation.

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