Protected area management and planning challenges: sustainability and integrity – a cursory investigation of the role of the management plan.
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Formally established protected areas in South Africa date back to the turn of the 19th century, yet requirements for protected area management plans only became mandatory approximately a century later. Before the promulgation of the Environment Conservation Act No. 73 of 1989 and subsequently the World Heritage Convention Act in 1999 and the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act 57 in 2003, requirements for management plans were voluntary, and guidance to its content was fragmented across various international, national and provincial policy instruments. There has been little academic debate on the relevance and content of protected area management plans to date and how such a long-term planning document can respond to emerging threats and opportunities. An improved understanding of these plans, and the role they play in biodiversity conservation, is required. The aims of this investigation were two-fold. The first was to gain insight into the challenges of effective management of protected areas, the long-term protection and sustainability of these areas, and, notably, the management plan’s role in addressing these challenges. The second was to evaluate the contribution and legislative weight that the management plan has in the efficient management, sustainable and ethical use, and long-term sustainability of protected areas within South Africa. Given that the above aims cover a potential insatiable field of research, this thesis was focused on the legal and policy framework for management plans and the management plans role in effectively managing these areas. Within this context, the following questions were addressed: ▪ What is the role of management plans in the effective management of protected areas? ▪ How does the legal and policy framework ensure that the derived plan is relevant and achievable and ultimately accomplishes the protected area purpose? ▪ What decision-making principles should be considered to facilitate sustainable and ethical use of protected areas, and what role does protected area management plans play in ensuring justifiable use of protected areas? ▪ What are the consequences when a long-term public-interest decision potentially isolates it from its transfrontier context, and what is the legislative weight of the management plan in mitigating such consequences? ▪ What role does the management plan, a long-term planning document, play in mitigating the impacts of or responding to immediate emerging threats and opportunities? It was found that despite being the principal legislative framework for management plans, the World Heritage Convention Act and the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act did not consolidate the plethora of management plan requirements for protected areas. As a consequence, the legislative provisions for protected area management plans were, in several instances, fragmented, conflicting and ambiguous. A consolidation of relevant provisions in these two statutes together with emerging best practice is, therefore, recommended. This consolidation may also provide greater clarity on the contemporary understanding of the contribution of protected areas to conservation and people’s well-being, i.e. it may entail a refurbishment of the ‘purpose’ of protected areas. Furthermore, the parallel evolution of the management of protected areas, the recreational use of these areas, and protected area management plans over the last century have brought about a complex relationship between these three aspects. Because of the fragmentation of legal and policy frameworks relating to these aspects, a need for a consolidated decision-making framework that provides for the basis for ethical and transparent decision-making could exclude inconsistent interpretations of legislation and policies. Incorporating such a decision-making framework in the protected area management plan can enhance transparency and accountability by the State or management authority to fulfil its fiduciary duty. Understanding of the above aspects was enhanced through a literature review and a case study of a development application in the area bordering the Tembe Elephant Park. The case study highlighted some of the potential consequences of a long-term public-interest decision that isolates a protected area from its transfrontier context and the role of an adaptive management plan in responding to these impacts and other current emerging threats and opportunities. A robust management plan remains the most relevant planning tool to address the complexities around protected area management and the fragmented legislative and policy frameworks for the effective management of protected areas in South Africa. Whereas management plans cannot be expected to cover explicitly every emerging circumstance – the principles included in such plans should provide the necessary guidance to decision-makers for unique circumstances and decision making.