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The Need

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Australia's natural resources including private, local,
state and federal holdings are being used by more and more people for more purposes. As numbers of visitors increase so too does the impact and we may be regarded as "loving our natural heritage to death". One bushwalker heading off the trail or one group creating a new campsite may seem of little significance, but the combined effects of thousands of such instances leave a substantial and cumulative mark on the land. Trampling causes loss of vegetation cover and we increasingly see other changes such as in species composition, exposure, compaction and erosion of soil, damage to trees, campfire scars, litter and improperly disposed human and animal waste.

These changes degrade the quality of outdoor experiences because they are most evident along trails, at recreation or camping sites where visitors spend a majority of their time. The increase in human impacts has an effect on wildlife and their natural habitats. The disturbance of wildlife can displace animals from critical foraging or nesting sites. Wildlife is further impacted when animals are habituated to human presence or food. Archaeological and cultural resources and heritage are also at risk from visitors who enter sites, take artefacts and fail to respect indigenous custom. Sustaining outstanding natural resource conditions and recreational opportunities are primary goals for public land managers, most of whom operate under the dual "preservation" and "use" legal mandates.

Research has demonstrated that resource degradation is an inevitable consequence of natural area visitation. Similarly, as visitor use increases, so too will the number of visitor encounters, jeopardising the opportunities for solitude. The challenge for managers is to eliminate avoidable impacts and to minimise those impacts that are unavoidable. For example, visitors who use a fuel stove avoid a number of resource impacts related to the gathering and burning of firewood.

Effective educational opportunities can enhance visitor outdoor ethics, encouraging visitors to modify their own behaviour through the adoption of low impact practices. Such indirect approaches preserve visitor freedom and can also delay or obviate the need to limit visitor use. Educational programs such as Leave No Trace provide a vehicle for promoting awareness of recreation impacts and encouraging visitors to learn how to reduce their impacts. To halt and reverse current trends of recreation caused resource degradation, visitors must become aware of their responsibility to reduce their impact on the land and to the experiences of other visitors. Low impact ethics and skills need to become a standard code of conduct that promote the stewardship practices necessary to protect the ecological, cultural and social health of the land

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