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ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND MANAGEMENT

 

Henry Nix, CRES, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT Australia

 

Environmental planning and management encompasses a wide range of disciplines and techniques, but must be an integral component of wider national planning and management to be effective. Environment and environmental issues should not be considered as separate from normal government functions, but as central to all. Five key components of the dynamic, interactive, process that services natural resource management and environmental protection are inventory; evaluation; planning; management and monitoring. These are discussed within a framework of basic principles and practical applications

 

 

Building a sustainable society demands attention to three essential conditions;

        economic viability,

        social equity,

        environmental sustainability.

Each is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition. The first two conditions are highest on the agenda for East Timor but, ultimately, they are unattainable without giving equal consideration to the third condition. Ample evidence exists of widespread degradation of land, water and wildlife in East Timor with concomitant soil erosion, flash flooding and loss of biodiversity. These were not planned outcomes, but the cumulative impact of ordinary people seeking to make a living using their available resources of land, labour, capital and available technology. But the land resource is finite, the labour force diminished and demoralised, capital severely limiting and the available technology remains at a very basic level.

The challenge then to build a sustainable society might seem insurmountable. But, people have created the problems and people can solve them. A civil society, whose people are educated to understand the vital connections between land, water and life and whom use this understanding to plan and manage resource use and to protect their environment must be a primary goal. Only with such a broad understanding can appropriate technologies be identified and applied. While responsibility for planning and management must be shared between national, regional and local sectors, the role of the individual, family and local community in managing the environment for sustainability is emphasised.

At the national (and regional) level we can identify five key components of a dynamic, interactive process that services natural resource management and environmental protection; inventory; evaluation; planning; management; monitoring. Traditionally, and almost universally, these key functions are separated and fragmented among bureaucratic agencies. Therein lie many of the problems of modern environmental planning and management. Environment is seen as separate, as something outside those agencies responsible for economic planning, public works, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, education, public health, law enforcement and so on. In fact, it is central to the function of all. How then can we embody environmental/ecological considerations within every function of government?

For a start, we should ensure that everyone, but especially the policy makers, bureaucrats, educators, lawyers and every kind of planner and manager, has a working knowledge of fundamental ecological principles and environmental processes. In the short term, crash courses in consciousness raising of key individuals (a series of focused, relevant, targeted half-day, one-day and two-day workshops) will be essential. In the longer term, such knowledge must be integral to the curricula for schools, colleges and tertiary institutions. In addition to this necessary upgrade of human intellectual capital, very careful consideration needs to be given to the structure and composition of Government and associated management agencies.

Now let us consider responses to the immediate, complex, multiple and seemingly intractable problems of natural resource planning and management in East Timor in terms of the five key functions identified earlier.

 

(1)               INVENTORY

Traditionally, maps and reports documented the natural resource base and the uses made of it. Now, new technologies (Geographic Information Systems, Remote Sensing, Spatial Interpolation Techniques, Simulation and Modelling) make it possible to shift from a static landscape pattern/polygon approach to a parametric approach that focuses on just those primary environmental attributes that are needed to model landscape processes and biological responses. The minimum data set so defined provides essential input to engineering; hydrological; agronomic; silvicultural and ecological models. The result means that the widest possible range of production and conservation options can be evaluated within a common spatial referencing system. Examples of such data base development for developed and developing countries will be provided.

 

(2)               EVALUATION

The use of abiotic data (climate, terrain, substrate) as the basis for evaluating land for agricultural, pastoral and forestry production is long established. More recently, their use in conservation planning and environmental management has gained momentum. The fact is that both production and conservation options are driven by the same key physical processes and biological responses. Relatively simple models of key processes such as the water balance and plant growth response can yield invaluable information for land evaluation for agricultural development and can be run on a hand calculator where necessary. Even the most sophisticated crop models can be run on a very basic PC. Similar kinds of computational models are used by engineers in assessing the location of infrastructure such as roads, buildings, drainage works and so on. But the price of admission to any of these models is the availability of the basic data needed to run them. Local experience should never be ignored and many land evaluation procedures incorporate simple rules based on this (eg. in this district, slopes > 6 per cent on metamorphic rocks are highly erodible when cleared).

 

(3)               PLANNING

Formal definitions of planning indicate a very wide range of approaches to this essential process. Whatever, to be effective, planning must take into account a whole range of physical, biological, economic, social, cultural, legal and administrative factors. Environmental protection and conservation of biodiversity in many countries, including my own, is viewed primarily as a land allocation process. Inevitably, land allocation for conservation requires assessment of trade offs between competing uses. A number of methods are available that facilitate this process and some make explicit provision for stakeholders participation. However, parks and reserves are a necessary but not a sufficient condition. Inevitably, management of the matrix of land uses within which reserves are embedded must be considered.

 

(4)               MANAGEMENT

Neither a discipline of environmental management nor a profession of environmental manager yet exists, but de facto professionals can be found in applications ranging from urban and industrial development; mining; agriculture; forestry; ecotourism as well as park and reserve management. Most remain securely bound within the confines of economic rationality through application of technology. Management of the environment is mostly indirect as it seeks to control and regulate the behaviour of producers and consumers, people and institutions. But, environmental management for sustainability must be based on a solid foundation of ecological principles. Unfortunately, while ecology does provide essential understanding and valuable insights, it rarely provides the level of precision and control that land resource managers, engineers and technologists have come to expect.

 

The environmental manager for the new millenium will have a rigorous systems training and will operate from a broad knowledge base that includes political, administrative, legal, economic and social as well as scientific components. Most important will be the need to understand the linkages between component subsystems, the need to balance inputs from diverse stakeholders and the need to communicate effectively.

 

(5)               MONITORING

Last, but not least, management cannot succeed without effective monitoring of system performance, whether this is for a whole country, province, local government area or a specific production system. While major financial institutions and industrial corporations recognise this, not all governments and their agencies do. The collection of relevant statistical data is frequently given lower priority in times of fiscal stringency. But then how can success/failure of key government programs and expenditure be evaluated?

Unquestionably, modern technologies such as remote sensing coupled to geographic information systems and strategic ground-based sampling can make the task of monitoring much more cost effective. Also, these can provide a more rigorous framework for community participation in monitoring for ongoing management. Australia has a number of successful examples of local and even continental scale community monitoring of flora and fauna. A nation-wide, voluntary, integrated monitoring system for environmental management and biodiversity conservation is a distinct possibility in a civil society, but remains a challenge for the future.