Human pressure is an environmental issue pretty much everywhere the average human can reach. Protection figures are the common answer but they often are of limited effectiveness: they often fail to address the root of the problem: ease of access.
The core issue is that access goes before protection, overtly or covertly. Ease of access is often just taken for granted. It’s out of the question.
Ease of access generates overuse. Protection schemes address the overuse part but hardly ever mention the access. So in fact we are focusing on addressing what’s effectively a consequence, not the cause. So we fail.
When we fail, we try further and we keep the same mistake on. So we fail further. On top of the failure to protect the land, there are collaterals in the form of a poor user experience and use restrictions that affect honest, low impact activities.
Motorized access: the physics
Excessive human pressure doesn’t come from a few people doing very harmful things but from a large number of people doing nothing special. It’s just the numbers that are not compatible with a healthy natural environment. This begs the question: why do people visit in such large amounts?
The apparently obvious answer is it’s because of the inherent appeal of a particular place but that’s only the surface. We’d need to dig deeper. The masses will only visit if it’s easy to get there. As easy as sitting down on the mobile sofa and drive or being driven. People and stuff.
How many of those would still visit if they needed to hike in?
Motorized access: the emotional side
The problem is actually not only in the numbers, it’s also in the attitudes but the root cause is the same: getting there takes no effort. This devalues the place, it’s an emotional degradation of the area.
We are used to measure the value of things for what it takes to get them, it’s something we all understand. In the context of a natural area, the value is easily measured in the effort to get there. Zero effort means zero value. This is immediately understood and the attitudes of those who get there will reflect this view. When there is no perceived value, there’ll be no motivation to take care of the place. Then you get mall rat visitors that behave like mall rats. In the wilderness. In large amounts.
The ease of access conundrum
The ease of access issue is seldom questioned. It’s actually pretty much taken for granted, as if it was there by divine intervention and we couldn’t change it. Even when a protected area is seriously overused and we start thinking about possible measures to take, motorized access is rarely put into question. Authorities may have vested interests on the subject but it’s striking that not even legitimate, honest users that would surely benefit from a car-free experience dare to even mention the possibility. It’s just not in the air.
The access issue is often even weaved as a legitimate goal in itself with such arguments as let the people come so they get to feel the beauty and prompt awareness. Commercial interests are usually behind such arguments. Access schemes are often “improved” (to make access even easier), just making the problem worse, then allegedly justifying restrictions on the consequences. They bring the crowds, then ban the camping.
The farthest we dare to go as for relieving pressure from the land is to consider reducing the numbers of visitors. The strategy is usually twofold:
- Imposing quotas
- Establishing use taxes
Both measures are rather unfair and what’s worse, mostly useless.
Quotas may reduce the gross number of visitors and what’s more important, portray some message about putting the land into value but both effects are rather lame. Quotas may come with a total ban of free motorized access, being changed by some sort of mass transport system but that’s still motor access!
Use taxes are even worse. They mostly affect the small number of frequent users and have little effect on the large number of occasional visitors. These latter are hardly discouraged. The net effect is that a small number of regulars flee and the large army of mall rats remains.
What actually works
The best way to protect the land is to allow the land to protect itself. Let its natural filters do the work. Put nature into value for what it is.
If you have an overuse problem in an area, get the cars farther away from it. This always works. It works for the environment and it works for the people.
Those who still want to visit will understand the value of the place and will show a natural tendency to take care of it. No major restrictions will be necessary, no strict law enforcement either.
Those who no longer visit will have found other places that will suit them better.
It’s a win-win thing. Actually, if you can think of anyone who’d be at a lost, you have probably identified who pulls the strings.
Sometimes it’ll not be practical to think on a motor exclusion area in places with a consolidated road network. I certainly would not expect such ideas from authorities, too worried by the image costs, at best, too much in the hands of the other powers, at worst. I do still miss this being a concern at all among hikers/backpackers/mountaineers. I don’t hear it often, if at all.
Outdoors people with a true love and concern about the visited place get a poor experience due to the crowding and get increasingly cornered by use restrictions. Worst of all, the environment keeps suffering.
I encourage you all to raise your voice and address the real culprit. Nobody else will.