Our Wilderness World Heritage and national parks are what makes Tasmania special as a place to live and to visit. We live in a state which has been recognised as having places so special they are of outstanding universal value to humankind. We should be proud of that and bend over backwards to look after them.
That's why we need genuine agreement on what sustainable eco-tourism is if we are going to protect our parks in the long-term.
Tasmania's Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) has had a successful management plan that's been in place since 1999, overseeing the maintenance of and access to this varied and unique landscape, consistent with the values for which it was recognised as World Heritage.
The plan was due for a review, but what should have been a straightforward process has been delayed and shrouded in secrecy by a government seemingly intent on pushing development at the cost of the environment and the values which make the area of World Heritage significance.
The TWWHA review is being rushed through, now conveniently finishing after the close of the government's call for expressions of interest for tourism developments in protected areas.
The great concern is that the government is going to bend to the will of the white-shoe brigade and destroy the goose that laid the golden egg. With development comes the risk of a World Heritage In Danger listing or delisting.
The UN's nature conservation body says the primary purpose of national parks is to protect the plants and animals of an area, and to promote education and recreation.
This is what the TWWHA and our national parks do, and they do it well with limited funding and support. This is especially so considering the increasing impact of climate change and invasive species on our ecosystems.
Eco-tourism ventures should fit into this framework of respect for nature and minimising human impact.
The recent push to open the TWWHA and other protected areas to development is the latest in a long line of attempts by people who can only value our natural areas in monetary terms.
If the government is serious about being "open for business" then it should be funding basic infrastructure in our parks to boost sustainable tourism.
Providing good quality roads to our protected areas, better signs, marketing and interpretation would be a huge boon for tourists wanting to enjoy parks throughout the state, as well as providing economic benefits for nearby towns.
Hartz Mountains, for example, is one of the closest access points from Hobart to the TWWHA, but the road into the park is unsealed and riddled with potholes. And the local community had to run a media campaign before the government would provide timely funding to repair the Cockle Creek bridge at the end of the stunning South Coast Walk.
Underfunding of the parks service has also led to a handful of iconic parks getting the lion's share of funding while others are effectively starved.
On the East Coast we have two magnificent national parks a short drive from each other but the infrastructure differences are a world apart.
Freycinet National Park has a sealed road leading to the many short and long walks in the park and top-notch marketing, interpretation and signage. Whereas the northern access road to the stunning three-day Leeaberra Track in the Douglas Apsley park was washed out years ago and never fixed.
This focus on picking winners doesn't help spread the benefits of marketing our natural areas throughout the state or the communities adjoining parks.
The contentious Three Capes walk process is a case in point. The local community wanted to adopt a model similar to Victoria's Great Ocean Walk where you can choose to camp in the park or use local accommodation just outside the park. Instead, we've been lumped with an expensive public and private hut system that walkers are forced to use, has a higher impact on the environment and doesn't involve local small businesses.
We already have examples of successful eco-tourism ventures that have thrived under current conditions so it's difficult to see why this government feels it needs to change the rules.
The successful boat trips around Bruny Island and the Tasman Peninsula have infrastructure outside the national parks they rely upon and bring people to local towns for accommodation and food. Award-winning guided walks show how light-touch, quality camping accommodation and base camps near the entrance of parks mean people can enjoy heritage areas without leaving a permanent mark.
Tasmania's wild, undeveloped landscape is one of its biggest drawcards. Degrading this "brand" through development that imperils the very natural values that draw people will shoot our growing tourism industry down before it has a chance to soar. It could also impact on our World Heritage listing. After the decades spent getting this area protected it would be devastating to endanger it through mismanagement.
First published in The Mercury newspaper on 23 October 2014.