The loss of biodiversity through the destruction of native habitats is one of the most severe environmental problems in Australia today. The agricultural/pastoral sector is a major contributor to native ecosystem destruction. Agricultural/pastoral activities have resulted in vegetation clearance, soil degradation, altered plant species compositions as a result of grazing by cattle and sheep and water contamination by fertilizers and pesticides. This environmental degradation has not only caused biodiversity loss, it has also reduced agricultural/pastoral production.
In recognition of the extent and severity of the environmental degradation associated with current agricultural/pastoral land management practices, the government has implemented a series of conservation incentive schemes and income tax concessions for improved water and soil management. These schemes are, however, limited in their effectiveness in encouraging greater conservation of native ecosystems on agricultural/pastoral properties. The primary limitations of the current government approach is that conservation incentive schemes are under-funded and tax concessions are contradictory.
Given the failure of current schemes to encourage greater conservation of native ecosystems on agricultural/pastoral properties, it becomes necessary to find alternative financial incentives for landholders to engage in conservation activities. The purpose of this study is to investigate whether ecotourism ventures (and, more specifically, the implementation of user/entrance fees to agricultural/pastoral properties) can provide greater incentive for landholders to engage in conservation compared to current schemes. In this respect, the objectives, advantages and limitations of ecotourism are analyzed with particular reference to Australia's experience of ecotourism.
The study employs a dicrtotorgpus choice contingent valuation format to measure individuals' willingness to pay for native ecosystems conservation in Australia, in general, and on Nappa Merrie Station. The data analysis indicates that individuals are willing to pay a yearly sum of $280 for the conservation of native ecosystems in Australia, thereby proving that they place value on native ecosystems conservation. However, mean WTP for conservation on Nappa Merrie Station is negative. This indicates that individuals object to the proposed bid vehicle as a means of financially compensating landholders for engaging in conservation activities. Although the potential may exist for ecotourism to provide the necessary financial incentive to engage in conservation on private agricultural/pastoral properties, the imposition of entrance/user fees would appear to be the incorrect approach.
The study argues that the government should address the problems associated with current conservation incentive schemes and income tax laws. It is further recommended that alternative mechanisms to entrance/user fees be devised, such that landholders will be provided with a financial incentive to engage in native ecosystems conservation.