Russell Thomas – MEM Course Day 1

From my review of the course pre‑readings, I had developed a view that there seems to be a definite issue with lack of funding as applied to both the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, and protected areas generally worldwide.  Given my background in heavy industry, a perceived lack of funding is a common complaint from personnel attempting to manage a process, area, or facility.  I am interested to gain a deeper understanding of the funding model and find out whether similar processes that we employ in industry would be suitable for managing protected areas – that is, accept that funding is inadequate, make best use of that funding, to run a small scale project or trial and use the results of that trial to then justify a larger investment in a larger project.  However, the nature of government as the main source of funding may make this approach not feasible due to excessive time frames associated with review processes.  In either case, the outcome of this deliberation is of great interest to me, and is something I plan to follow through this course.


I can see a number of similarities between engineering management and management of the natural resources in the park.  In both cases, systems are established and maintained to manage complex natural forces, and if we are completely honest, there appears to be as much that we don’t understand as we do – but through careful observation, we can make a number of assumptions within known limits that will allow us to manage the system by making a large number of small changes with controls in place to limit losses if we are wrong, measuring the result at each step, and then adjusting both our understanding and planned course of action.  In terms of natural systems, this is my understanding of adaptive management.  It is also my understanding of managing complex engineering systems.  Much as a dislike the mantra of “Plan‑Do‑Check‑Act” the actual approach seems to fit into an adaptive management framework.


The problem orientation approach discussed by Clark (2002) is a slightly new approach for me.  The basis is identification of stakeholders and understand their wants, then look at trends, understand what is causing the trend (eg buring fossil fuels at an increasing rate is releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is causing climate change), and then look at how the trend projects into the future.  With any luck, the trend is moving towards a desired outcome, but Murphy’s law being as it is, the trend will more likely than not be heading somewhere.  That is where alternate measures, or interventions are required to attempt to move the process back to the desired state.


The detail associated with protected areas appears to be real problem.  If we look at Australia “on average”, we are meeting the CBD (Convention on Bio-diversity) targets of having 17% of the country in a protected area.  However, the devil is in the detail.  By that, I mean that of the 89 different bioregions that are currently identified in Australia (note that this number is not fixed), there is 17% of each bioregion in a protected area.  That is, we have an over representation of some bioregions, and an under representation of others.  The problem gets trickier in that some bioregions, if they happen to find themselves native to high quality farmland may not have 17% of the bioregion remaining, so it is practically impossible to meet the target for each individual bioregion.  The issue is further complicated by the different effectiveness in terms of biodiversity that the size of a bioregion is.  Apart from the fact that there are no rules in ecology, the only rule in ecology is that “larger areas contain more species than smaller areas” – which gets us to the final complicating factor in truly meeting the CBD target, that is, it would be ideal to have a continuous connected nature area, but unfortunately 200 years of colonisation means this is impracticable, at least at the moment.



Clark (2002), The Policy Process, Yale University Press.



Russell Thomas


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