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Management of the NSW park system: 1. Introduction

This report reflects the NSW park system at June 2010. Since this date, the NSW Government has passed legislation to preserve 100,000 hectares of River Red Gum forests, as well as protecting more than 71,000 hectares of land, comprising woodland forests on the western slopes and tablelands and more of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area. These additions will be included in the next report.

The role of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water

The Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) is the lead agency for establishing and managing the NSW park system and providing protection to the State's native plants and animals.

DECCW has wide-ranging responsibilities including:

  • climate change and greenhouse issues, including the Climate Change Fund
  • sustainability programs, including environmental education, energy efficiency and water conservation programs
  • policy and regulation for air and water quality, noise control, chemicals, radiation and forestry
  • programs to reduce the amount and toxicity of waste, litter and illegal dumping
  • management of national parks and reserves, marine parks and botanic gardens
  • biodiversity, threatened species and native vegetation policy and programs
  • Aboriginal cultural heritage and historic sites
  • environmental water management; protection of soils; and land and policies for catchment management
  • reliable water supply for critical human and industry needs and the secure and sustainable allocation of water between communities, industry, agriculture and the environment.

Parks are the cornerstone of conservation efforts in NSW.  DECCW works with other land managers and the community to protect Australia's plants, animals, ecosystems, unique geology and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultural connections to the land. The State Plan 2009 commits NSW to protecting our native vegetation, biodiversity, land, rivers and coastal waterways with a target to meet our state-wide targets for natural resource management to improve biodiversity and native vegetation, sensitive riverine and coastal ecosystems, soil condition and socio-economic wellbeing.

At June 2010, DECCW manages a network of 800 parks and reserves consisting of over 6.76 million hectares of land (over 8.4 per cent of the state), with the aim of protecting the natural and cultural heritage values of the NSW landscape and providing opportunities for education and public enjoyment of our environment. Parks are an important part of achieving natural and cultural conservation objectives, and bring a range of benefits to local communities.

Native flower (Image: M Whitmore/DECCW)

Native flower

Within the reserve system, DECCW manages a wide variety of infrastructure that provides visitor services, protects Aboriginal cultural heritage (places and objects) and protects and maintains historic heritage in parks. For example, DECCW currently maintain 152 helipads, over 3800 buildings and sheds, 6930 gates and 3030 water tanks and dams together with 1380 vehicle and pedestrian bridges and 180,000 drainage culverts within the park system. It is interesting to note that the 3900 kilometres of fencing and road-side barriers would comfortably stretch from Sydney to Perth, while 37,600 kilometres of roads and vehicle trails exceeds the distance of a return trip to London.

DECCW is one of four fire-fighting authorities in NSW, along with the Rural Fire Service, NSW Fire Brigade and Forests NSW. Its significant fire preparation and suppression responsibilities include approximately 400 incident management personnel and 900 staff trained for fire fighting, of which approximately 550 are trained and equipped to undertake remote area fire fighting.

Through the Marine Parks Authority, DECCW jointly manages the state's marine park system with Industry and Investment NSW and the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Marine parks are areas of marine waters and lands permanently set aside to protect the biological diversity of our marine plants and animals, and to provide protection for unique and representative areas. Thirty four per cent of NSW waters (345,000 hectares) are currently protected by marine parks.

For more information, see the nature conservation section of this website.

Overview of the Park Management Program

Around the world, protected area managers are working to monitor and evaluate the condition of parks and reserves, the pressures they face and to ascertain how effectively they are being managed. This information is vital for park managers to learn from past practices and inform future management. In the NSW park system, this occurs through the Park Management Program.

The NSW Park Management Program approach is based on an internationally approved framework for assessing the effectiveness of the management of protected areas. The framework was developed by the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and incorporates a management cycle with seven key elements: context, vision, planning, inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes. DECCW has adapted this management cycle to develop a 'park management framework' that also considers policy, monitoring and evaluation (Figure 1). For more information, see the NSW case study in the second edition of the IUCN framework for assessing the effectiveness of the management of protected areas.

Figure 1: The NSW park management framework, based on the IUCN framework for evaluating management effectiveness in protected areas, is the basis of the Park Management Program

Diagram of the NSW park management framework

Within NSW, the State of the Parks program (a component of the Park Management Program) provides a systematic approach to monitoring and reviewing park management strategies and actions. This program has been supporting park management through:

  • improving our understanding of the condition of and pressures on the park system
  • evaluating the effectiveness of management activities against objectives and planned outcomes
  • informing planning and decision-making at all levels of management, from state-wide to individual parks
  • measuring the establishment of the NSW park system
  • promoting effective communication of our management performance to communities.

Where the information for this report comes from

This report is based on information from a range of sources, including: state-wide datasets held by DECCW and other public sector agencies (e.g. Industry and Investment NSW, CSIRO, State of the Environment Reports); research and reviews; planning documents; specialist opinion; monitoring programs; and community opinion. It also makes extensive use of a comprehensive park-by-park assessment of management effectiveness (the State of the Parks survey), which was completed by experienced DECCW park managers.

The State of the Parks survey was last undertaken in late 2007 and captured information on almost every park in the NSW system (in 2007 this represented 759 parks covering over 6.5 million hectares). Park assessments by park managers were based on the best information available for each park. This survey captured both quantitative data (e.g. how many visitors does this park receive?) and qualitative data (e.g. is there sufficient information to support planning and decision-making for visitation to this park?).

In undertaking the State of the Parks survey, a number of steps were taken to ensure consistency and comparability of the information across all parks in the state. This included the use of independent auditors to ensure the process was effective. DECCW also undertook an audit of data both before and after the survey to ensure the information was as reliable, accurate and useful as possible. DECCW park managers are currently undertaking the 2010 staff survey.

Managing to the precautionary principle

As part of meeting our responsibilities as land managers, DECCW policy ensures management actions apply the precautionary principle. This principle states that if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, a lack of full scientific certainty is not a sufficient reason to postpone measures to prevent environmental degradation. In order to achieve this, DECCW:

  • evaluates management actions to avoid serious or irreversible damage to the environment
  • considers the risks of various management options
  • prioritises actions
  • pursues options that maximise environmental, cultural and social benefits within practical considerations of resource availability.

The Park Management Program helps to operationalise the precautionary principle and guide DECCW's strategic and operational planning. In this way, surveys such as State of the Parks can help to act as an early warning to identify problems and provide an opportunity to respond as necessary. As an early warning system, the survey results are considered to be indicative, not conclusive.

How this report relates to broader environmental reporting and requirements

This report, like other environmental and natural resource management reports, provides an assessment of the status of values we are trying to protect and an analysis of how well we are doing based on a range of information sources. As a result, this report provides both context for what is happening in our parks and contributes to broader reporting at a state and national scale.

For example, in NSW our parks are a part of the 13 Catchment Management Areas, which are also concerned with natural resource management. State of the Catchment Reports and State of the Parks also feed into the NSW State of the Environment Report, which subsequently feeds into National State of the Environment Reporting. They also feed back into performance analysis of how the NSW park system is being managed as they provide greater context for many of the results within the park system.

Our approach to evaluating management effectiveness is similar to evaluation at the national scale. For example, the Commonwealth Government's Monitoring, Evaluation, Reporting and Improvement Framework (MERI) provides a conceptual framework for evaluating and improving natural resource management programs from regional to national scales.

Further information

Page last updated: 03 March 2011