New Approach to Arthur-Pieman Reserve Management

The Tasmanian Conservation Trust was involved with preparation of the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area Management Plan in 2002 and has participated since in attempts to improve management of the area. Frustration over a lack of progress in management of the area, even though most stakeholders have identified much common ground, culminated recently in the preparation and public release of a report by the North-West Environment Centre. The report points the finger firmly at the Parks and Wildlife Service as being responsible for holding up this process and makes some telling recommendations on how the Service needs to change the way it works with community groups.

Below is the Executive Summary of the report, A Review of Community Involvement in the Management of the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area, prepared in August 2009 by David Henderson and Matthew Campbell-Ellis for the North-West Environment Centre.

The Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area (APCA) is a large and unique reserve on the West Coast of Tasmania. The reserve contains one of the greatest concentrations of Aboriginal heritage sites in Australia, is home to an array of threatened and endangered species, is a recreational area for adiverse range of users and is also managed for primary and extractive industries. In 2002 a comprehensive management plan was approved by both houses of the Tasmanian Parliament prescribing a unique community-based management structure to be implemented by the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS). This report reviews and evaluates the effectiveness of both the prescribed structures and their implementation by the PWS. The review is based on the results of a series of interviews with a wide range of stakeholders, secondary data sources, academic literature, observations of formal meetings and insider knowledge as the authors are also participants in the management process. The report makes 44 recommendations aimed at improving the community involvement in APCA management.

The main finding of the review is that while the broad structure for community involvement is sound, significant confusion surrounds the roles and responsibilities of the various groups created by the APCA Management Plan (APCA MP). The central point of confusion is whether the APCA Management Committee (APCA MC) is an advisory group or a management committee. This confusion permeates throughout the varied structures and interactions between the PWS and the community. The review has collected evidence suggesting this confusion has fostered conflict, frustration and a paralysis of management action leading in turn to cultural heritage and environmental degradation.

There is consensus that involving the community is important, however the review found that PWS staff have an outdated view of community relationships, attitudes and values toward management issues and are not actively fostering and supporting the strong stewardship ethic that exists within the community toward the APCA. The review found that the PWS could make significant gains in their relationship with the community through the implementation of current best practice community engagement processes and procedures. The PWS requires officers with specialist community facilitation, strategic planning and communications skills to implement the community involvement prescriptions contained in APCA MP. These are not the traditional skill set of PWS staff managing the APCA.

The review argues that building the capacity of the PWS through the appointment of community engagement and strategic planning specialists, combined with increased resourcing of the more traditional reserve management activities and a greater commitment of PWS senior management to the community involvement structures would significantly decrease the levels of angst within the community directed towards the PWS. These small changes would also increase the effectiveness of community involvement and lead to significantly better onground outcomes. Supporting the community to make the difficult management decisions as well as implementing these in an effective and timely fashion should be the key strategy employed by the PWS to manage the often complex and sometimes politically charged task of managing the APCA.

David Henderson and Matthew Campbell-Ellis for the North-West Environment Centre