Assessing heritage management outcomes requires informed evaluation of the way in which current pressures and emerging risks to heritage values are being reduced and the resilience of heritage is being improved to retain values. In short, this is an assessment of whether management objectives are being met.
A nationwide lack of monitoring and evaluation programs makes these assessments challenging and highly reliant on individual examples, anecdotal evidence and phenomenological data. Therefore, the judgements presented in this section are based on opinions expressed during the workshops held as part of the SoE 2011 reporting process (as outlined in Chapter 1).
Australian national parks and other recognised natural heritage places are accessible to the community, strongly promoted both within Australia and overseas, presented to visitors in engaging ways and often important elements in community identity and sense of place.
Each Australian jurisdiction has a separate statutory basis and different structures and processes for natural heritage place management. At a national level, there is a strong focus on the National Reserve System, whose targets provide one way to assess the outcome for Australia's reserved lands. Judged in this way, our reserved lands include a sample of more than 10% of 51 of the nation's 85 bioregions. However, taking other factors into account such as subregions determined by vegetation communities, habitat and whole-of-landscape connectivity, reserved lands possibly cover as little as one-third of an adequate selection.18
Limited information is available on the conservation outcomes for natural heritage in Australian national parks, as only New South Wales and Victoria undertake substantive formal monitoring and evaluation of the state of parks (Box 9.34). Australia's Strategy for the National Reserve System 2009–2030 proposes that the states and territories standardise approaches to data collection and evaluation of management effectiveness.17 The sparse data that are available suggest that heritage values are generally being retained, although some decline in habitat and species loss is evident. Virtually no reliable national data are available to make objective judgements about natural heritage outside the parks system. The data we have relate primarily to inputs—many natural heritage areas have management measures in place to address threats within the bounds of available resources.