Nature conservation

Parks, reserves and protected areas

Environmental carrying capacity in Kosciuszko alpine resorts – public consultation

The National Parks and Wildlife Service is reviewing if an environmental carrying capacity framework can be applied in the Kosciuszko alpine resorts.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is looking at better ways to measure and regulate the environmental carrying capacity of alpine resorts in Kosciuszko National Park. Currently, carrying capacity is addressed using ‘bed limits’.

The review of carrying capacity may lead to changes to the way new development proposals are initiated and managed in the alpine resort areas of Thredbo, Charlotte Pass, Perisher Range and Selwyn. We have sought feedback on ideas and concerns. An initial (Stage 1) public consultation took place from 15 February to 14 March 2016 and a summary of submissions (PDF 1MB) from that event is available. The project is now being finalised.

What is the issue?

The alpine resort areas are unique places in the park that are managed for recreation and tourism, and the conservation of natural and cultural heritage. The current plan of management recognises that opportunities should be available to modernise the resorts and improve visitor facilities while protecting environmental values. One way of achieving these twin objectives is to apply the concept of carrying capacity.

The ‘environmental carrying capacity’ of an area is the scale of human activity that can occur without degrading the environment beyond an acceptable level.

In this sense, the ‘environment’ includes biological, physical and social factors. For example, waterways, wildlife, habitats, landscapes, cultural heritage, sustainability outcomes (for waste, energy, recycling) and visitor experiences.

Currently, carrying capacity in alpine resorts is primarily addressed by the plan of management setting limits on the number of people that can stay overnight in each resort area – this is referred to as ‘bed limits’ or ‘bed numbers’. Other thresholds are set by other laws for specific issues such as threatened species management and pollution prevention.

The plan of management acknowledges that the relationship between bed numbers and the environmental health of the resort areas is unclear. Bed numbers on their own do not tell us about the quality of water in streams, the impacts of visitors on native plants and animals, the condition of walking or cycling tracks, visual amenity, or the quality of visitors’ experiences.

In recognition of these shortcomings, the plan of management commits NPWS to look at alternative ways to measure and regulate carrying capacity in the alpine resorts.

What is current best practice?

There are a number of approaches used to set environmental carrying capacity in many popular national parks around the world. Best practice approaches establish carrying capacity ‘frameworks’. These frameworks set acceptable social outcomes (or goals) balanced with conservation outcomes. A system for monitoring, reporting and regulating is also put in place to ensure that goals are achieved.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognises the benefits of such frameworks. They suggest effective frameworks for managing carrying capacity should be designed to suit local conditions, include stakeholder views, aim to overcome information gaps, and be adaptable to changing conditions.

What are we doing?

Based on current best practice, we are exploring options to move towards a performance-based approach to measuring and managing environmental carrying capacity in the alpine resorts. A performance-based approach is consistent with NSW Government endeavours to promote more targeted regulation that takes account of risk to the environment and the economic, social and environmental needs of business and the community.

A performance-based approach focuses on the condition of the environment, rather than rules around what can and cannot occur, for example by specifying the required outcomes for native vegetation condition and extent.  Most importantly, performance-based approaches place less emphasis on the process by which outcomes are met, and more emphasis on flexible methods to achieve the end goal.

In establishing an environmental carrying capacity framework, key decisions are required on:

  • social outcomes (e.g. economic benefit, visitor experience and sustainability)
  • conservation outcomes (e.g. water quality, biodiversity, landscape and heritage)
  • what environmental factors are to be monitored and who will do the monitoring
  • mechanisms needed to address situations where the outcomes are not being achieved.

A key challenge in establishing a framework is to identify a set of factors that adequately represent the environmental health of the resort area, and which can be monitored against acceptable outcomes. Factors that could form part of the framework include (amongst others):

  • water quality and stream condition
  • soil and landscape condition
  • native flora and fauna
  • Aboriginal and historic heritage
  • aesthetic and amenity values
  • park visitor enjoyment
  • infrastructure capacity
  • sustainability, including waste, water, energy and transport. 

How can you have a say?

We understand that the proposed framework may be of direct interest to many people. A background paper has been prepared to help you understand the issues involved, current best practices and how these might apply in Kosciuszko.

Consultation on this background paper is now complete. A summary of submissions (PDF 1MB) is available. The project's finalisation has been informed by the points raised in submissions.

Visit the Perisher Range and Charlotte Pass Resorts page for information about the review of management arrangements for those resorts.


Page last updated: 22 March 2018