Over the past few decades there has been a rapid increase in the use of motorbikes, quad bikes and four wheel drives in the Tarkine’s coastal region (the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area). This has led to some major environmental problems due to poor regulation of off-road vehicle use, and also due to reckless, irresponsible and illegal behaviour on behalf of a small minority of recreational vehicle users. It should be noted that most users attempt to do the right thing by the natural and cultural values of the region, and that the established 4wd clubs often try to lead by example through established codes of conduct and other rules and guidelines. However, the unfortunate reality is that it only takes a handful of people that do the wrong thing to spoil it for everyone else, and that is unfortunately currently occurring in the Tarkine’s coastal region. Significant and irreparable damage is being caused to fragile vegetation and important Aboriginal sites on the Tarkine coast due to illegal off-road vehicle use.
The broad, flat, open nature of the landscape in the Tarkines coastal region, and the fragility of the soil structure means that track formation is an accelerating process. An examination of aerial photography in the Arthur-Pieman / Tarkine coast indicates that new tracks are being opened up continuously. (PWS 2000) There are many places within the Arthur-Pieman conservation area that are currently being accessed by off-road vehicles illegally. Opening of the Western Explorer (commonly known as the Road to Nowhere) has tended to increase unregulated access to the Eastern parts of the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area. Vehicles are now driving new tracks off the highway and reopening old disused tracks. In recent years a 4wd user who drove off the main Road to Nowhere track and then (apparently) got lost, started a fire which then went out of control and destroyed hundreds of hectares of rainforest in the Donaldson river catchment. This experience highlights the fragility of the Tarkine and importance of good management and protection.
The environmental problems caused by irresponsible off-road vehicle use in the area have been described by the work of Wood and Robertson and more recently Good. This work developed a checklist of the effects of irresponsible off-road vehicle use, which includes:
- social impacts, including interference with other users of the reserve, injuries, vandalism, theft, trespass, disruption of domestic life
- physical impacts, including soil compaction, soil erosion, destruction of vegetation, disturbance of wildlife, destruction of animal habitat and generation of fires
- hydrological impacts, including disturbance of drainage patterns, lowering water quality by generation of turbidity
- pollution, including generation of noise, oil, fumes, litter
- introduction of weeds and pests, including the spread of species of fungal and bacterial pathogens; (such as the root-rot fungus, Phytophthora cinnamomi which threaten buttongrass moorlands)
- aesthetic impacts, including impairment of wilderness experience of other recreationalists, leaving evidence of having been present (litter)
- cultural impacts, including damage to historic and prehistoric sites including Aboriginal sites
- impacts on scientific sites, including damage to important geomorphic features indicating major past events such as past sea levels.
The Tarkine’s coast is one of the worlds great archaeological regions, and contains hundreds of recognised Aboriginal sites. There is significant evidence of ongoing and unacceptable damage to Aboriginal sites. These Aboriginal sites are irreplaceable evidence of thousands of years of Aboriginal stewardship of this landscape. It is vitally important that they are properly protected and cared for.
There needs to be a significant injection of funding into the Parks & Wildlife Service to be able to have more staff and capacity to manage the Tarkines coastal region to provide more guidance to visitors, and to help to enforce the existing rules. The Tarkines unique beauty and natural and cultural heritage can not be allowed to be degraded due to the recklessness of a handful of irresponsible users. It is important that all people can see and experience the majesty of this timeless landscape and its outstanding features into the future.