Hidden away in this newsletter, written by the Australian CEO assigned to the Kokoda Track Authority by the Department of Environment in Canberra, is the following innocuous paragraph:
Following are the Australian Parks and Wildlife Services specifications for Class 4 walking tracks and our response to each one.
Opportunity for visitors with advanced outdoor knowledge to find their own way along often indistinct tracks in remote areas. Users can expect frequent opportunities for solitude with few encounters with others.
Response: This opportunity exists for eco- trekkers to use the Kapa Kapa track across the Owen Stanley Ranges to the east of the Kokoda Trail. Kokoda is not about ‘solitude’ and ‘few encounters’. It is a military historical pilgrimage that should not be restricted to elite bushwalking purists.
No minimum width. Maximum 0.5m.
Response: Are we serious about instructing landowners and villagers along the trail how wide their tracks can be?
Bridges and Water Crossings Bridges or other constructed crossings generally not provided, except for essential environmental purposes. Flood delays acceptable and expected under normal conditions.
Response: PNG villagers will construct these to meet their social/community/economic needs. Local PNG villagers know how to handle the wet season – nothing needs to be prescribed for them.
Signage is limited and only for management purposes.Response:
Response: Signs should be limited for ‘safety’ purposes.
Visibly impacted (long-term) sites for up to 4 tents.Toilets of minimal design to be provided only where necessary for environmental purposes. Toilets of minimal design to be provided only where necessary for environmental purposes.
Response: The Australian ‘extreme green’ agenda is starting to emerge here. Whilst we cannot stop customary landowners from providing for more than four tents ‘big brother’ can obviously restrict the number of trekkers through a licensing system. Is this why there is not a single environmental toilet along the track after 10 years?
To be defined where required for social, environmental and management purposes.
Response: We should respect the sovereign right of the PNG government to made these type of decisions in consultation with local landowners.
RECOMMENDED MAXIMUM PARTY SIZE
Recommended max party size 6. Party size of four will be encouraged. Parties of up to 8 acceptable on some T4 tracks in the Central Plateau SRRZ, subject to environmental conditions.
Response: This restriction makes it economically unviable for all trek operators apart from small groups of elite Australian eco- evangelists. This is a decision for the PNG Government in consultation with local landowners
All publicity to be discouraged.Not to be included on maps except for internal management purposes.Authors will be encouraged to keep route descriptions vague (eg in accounts of past expeditions).
Photographers and publishers will be encouraged not to identify the precise location of photographs taken in areas accessible only by T4 tracks.
Response: It is difficult to comment on this standard without using a range of expletives!
Inclusion of T4 tracks in route guides will be strongly discouraged.
Response: Does this mean a mass burning of Lonely Planet books and our own trek guides?
Licences may be issued on condition that guided parties conform to the recommended party-size limit and to the guidelines relating to the publicity of tracks and destinations
Response: This is the sting in the tail – an instrument that will limit trekking operations to a few Australian eco-evangelists and mung-bean advocates from the extreme green movement!
If this report has been completed it has certainly never been circulated.
If these provisions are enshrined in the legislation for the World Heritage listing for the Owen Stanley Ranges it will be goodbye to trekking and goodbye for any opportunity for local villagers to earn an income.
What are your thoughts?