Land of the smokey bears

To: "'Peter&Bev Morgan'" <>, "'birding-aus \(E-mail\)'" <>
Subject: Land of the smokey bears
From: "Geoffrey Dabb" <>
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2020 11:49:12 +1100

Thank you Peter. I see your point.  This is indeed an area of confused public expectations and changing jurisdictional responsibilities.  I may be pushing the subject a little too much for this forum, but I shall try to take it a little further. 


It is true that ‘national park’ had an earlier meaning, from the 19th century: ‘a flora and fauna reserve open to the general public’ (Macquarie Dictionary 4th ed.). That sense has been taken up in a category in the IUCN system of classifying different kinds of protected areas.  It is also true that in Australia the States have had traditional responsibility for land management and hence for ‘national parks’.  There are no Commonwealth-managed ‘national parks’ apart from offshore areas and the external territories.


However in Australia the term ‘national park’ is confusing given that those areas are State-managed and that in nearly all other countries such areas are a national responsibility. There is another dimension to the matter, of growing importance  -  as demonstrated by the demand that the Prime Minister take greater responsibility for bushfires.  There is an expectation that the Commonwealth bear more responsibility, perhaps the main responsibility, for environmental matters.  This is a legacy of the Tasmanian Dam Case, before which the environment was a State concern.  Commonwealth legislation (the EPBC Act, currently under review) has gone about as far as possible to assert Commonwealth control over environmental matters, drawing on available heads of power.


I now return to bushfires, and the absence (perhaps temporary) of an Australian equivalent of Smokey Bear. The Commonwealth department website has a heading that you reach under ‘EPBC Act’: ‘Bushfire management and national environmental law’. It is stated that certain fire prevention activities may require federal approval  -  if there might be ‘a significant impact on a nationally protected matter’.  The activities could include ‘proposed new burning regimes in world heritage sites, national heritage places or Ramsar wetlands’.  Listed ‘national heritage places’ include Australian Alps National Park and Royal National Park in NSW.  When the Commonwealth department is less busy I shall be interested to find out how the Commonwealth proposes to control the burning regime in those places. Perhaps the Prime Minister will be out there with a hose after all, as many wish to see.




From: Peter&Bev Morgan <>
Sent: Tuesday, 11 February 2020 6:11 PM
To: Geoffrey Dabb <>; birding-aus (E-mail) <>
Cc: Gary Dunnett <>
Subject: Re: [Birding-Aus] Land of the smokey bears


I don’t have the exact wording, or source, but my understanding is that the term national park is used by the highest legislative authority responsible for land management. In our federal system governed by the Constitution, the States are that authority, other than some exceptions where the Commonwealth has jurisdiction.

The case for Australia is generally accepted.

America works differently, presumably through different constitutional arrangements.

So, we should not shy away from calling our national parks what they are. They are correctly called “national parks” where the relevant State has declared them to be.

Peter Morgan


The conservation battle is never finally won the development battle is.


               eiπ + 1 = 0

On 9 Feb 2020, at 11:36 am, Geoffrey Dabb <> wrote:

I found the below link about the now slightly contentious , perhaps outdated, Smokey Bear, an emblem of the agency in the United States that manages National Parks  -  real national parks, that is, not like our State-managed parks that are labelled ‘National’ in imitation of those Americans.  Some entertain the idea that some quite large wildfires should be allowed to burn unchecked to avoid really serious fires.  I don’t believe the ‘thinking’ in Australia has gone quite that far, but we are going to hear quite a lot about beneficial controlled fires, a subject complicated by the absence of a national agency with any responsibility in this area.




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