Plan for Our Parks (PFOP) is a Western Australian State Government programme to increase the state’s conservation estate by 20 per cent, or five million hectares, by 2024. The initiative is an important aspect of the State Government’s A Liveable Environment target, which itself is a part of the Our Priorities: Sharing Prosperity programme published in February 2019. The initiative involves opening new marine and conservation parks and adding new areas to existing parks. A key goal of the initiative is to protect the state’s biodiversity hotspots; eight of the 15 nationally recognised biodiversity hotspots are in WA.
The creation of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands National Park, on 25 July 2019, marked the first outcome from the PFOP. An ongoing process is the engagement of stake holders with key interest holders, as sites in Preston Beach, the Buccaneer Archipelago and close to the Wellington and Fitzroy River National Parks, pass through the consultation stage.
The initiative will have a number of positive social, environmental and economic impacts on the regions within its scope and on Western Australia as a whole. The creation of new conservation sites and enhancement of existing sites, will help protect the state’s environmentally significant areas. According to the United Nations, biodiversity hotspots are an essential means of identifying and addressing the loss of biodiversity. They can also be a tool to guide investment in land conservation and management. To qualify as a biodiversity ‘hotspot’, an area must have at least 1,500 endemic vascular plants and, at most, 30 per cent of its original vegetation remaining. Protecting and managing this additional five million hectares of land, will help increase Western Australia’s biological resilience in the face of the increasing threat of climate change. Furthermore, it will protect the biodiversity hotspots in the state and provide potential future opportunities in the growing carbon market.
PFOP has been launched to work collaboratively with the pre-existing and successful Aboriginal Rangers Program. The new parks and additions to existing parks will be jointly managed with local Indigenous people. Indigenous joint management has, in the past, been proven to confer “cultural, social, health and economic benefits” on those groups involved. It will bring continued investment in training, skill development and employment of Aboriginal rangers. This investment should help to address the long-term problem of high levels of Indigenous unemployment in regional areas, through the provision of training and employment pathways and opportunities. Furthermore, joint management of the sites and collaboration with the Aboriginal Ranger Program, will provide the opportunity for the application of traditional Indigenous land management practices.
PFOP will be a means to help facilitate economic diversification in regional WA; increasing the size of the conservation estate will provide more opportunities for eco-tourism. This represents a step toward increased regional travel, which was identified as a priority in previous state government tourism plans. Furthermore, the potential for increased culture-based tourism, led, run and managed by local Indigenous people, is an important enabler for meeting Indigenous-based tourism goals, as outlined in the State Government Strategy For Tourism in Western Australia 2020.
An important component of the PFOP is the State Government’s plan to fight the effects of climate change, which was first recognised as a threat to WA in 2012. In a more recent Climate Change in Western Australia-Issues Paper, Indigenous land management strategies, fostered through the PFOP initiative, are cited as opportunities to better manage the land in the face of the challenges of climate change. In that same document, protecting the state’s biodiversity values, by expanding the conservation estate, is outlined as a key pillar of the state’s climate change response. The McGowan government has specified that targets set to achieve a liveable environment, of which PFOP is one of three key pillars, are explicitly aimed at addressing the “the challenges of climate change”.