Our article in the Conversation – make sure you are prepared if you are hiking in the winter

First – a small shout out and congratulations to our master student Noelle Nemeth who has been the model student. Last week a paper from her thesis research was published. She had an outstanding radio interview with ABC and has written media articles for The Mercury and also helped us draft an article out in the Conversation today. Her research is timely and important and she’s made the most of interpreting the data she collected and feeding it back to the public and relevant organisations. Congrats Noelle! I’m re-posting the Conversation article below.

If you’re planning to hike this winter, invest in the right gear. Being unprepared for Australia’s harsh terrain can be deadly

Vanessa Adams, University of Tasmania; Jason Byrne, University of Tasmania, and Noelle Nemeth, University of Tasmania

Two years ago, emergency workers rescued a hiker in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. He had spent nine days in his tent in freezing weather with dangerous blizzards, trying to keep dry from infiltrating snow and rain.

Because he was an experienced and prepared hiker, he had the skills and gear needed to keep himself safe and relatively warm until rescuers could find him. His preparedness ultimately led to his survival.

Such experiences, however, don’t always have happy endings.

Of the hikers, trekkers and bushwalkers who need rescuing from Australia’s harsh wilderness each year, a small proportion never make it back alive. And as we head into winter, the likelihood of accidents increases, especially in places like Tasmania.

Our recent research on hikers in Tasmania shows just how important preparedness is to prevent injuries and deaths. So let’s look at what it means to be prepared for a hike and who’s most at risk.

Slips, drops, hypothermia

Tasmania is quickly becoming known worldwide as a hiking destination, with Cradle Mountain National Park the crown jewel, from short two-hour walks to the multi-day Overland track.

In 2017-18, an estimated 280,000 people visited Cradle Mountain, and 9,000 hikers completed the Overland track between October and May.

Two hikers on a grassland trail
The Tassie wilderness provides awe-inspiring but physically demanding hikes for visitors. Noelle Nemeth, Author provided

But in winter, Tasmania’s weather conditions can change rapidly, particularly in alpine areas that draw people in with the promise of snow-capped mountains. One hour it can be clear and sunny. The next, bad weather can worsen into a blizzard.

The island’s sometimes severe weather means risks are amplified. These can include getting lost, running out of food or water while sheltering, and having an accident such as falling from steep and slippery terrain.

Read more: Photos from the field: capturing the grandeur and heartbreak of Tasmania’s giant trees

Across Tasmania, bushwalker rescues fluctuate substantially by year, from lows of six (2018) to highs of 44 (2019).

Of the recent hiker deaths in Tasmania, some have been due to falls from great heights, while others are attributed to a lack of preparation and appropriate gear causing hypothermia. https://www.youtube.com/embed/TTBfRftPTCE?wmode=transparent&start=0 Hypothermia is life threatening. This video explains how you can be prepared in Tasmania’s parks and reserves.

For park management agencies, rescuing injured hikers or recovering the deceased can be dangerous and expensive. Estimated rescue costs range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars per incident.

At times, bad weather conditions means rescue agencies can’t access sites. They have to make the challenging decision not to respond to rescue calls, to protect the lives of volunteers and rescue staff.

What is preparedness and why does it matter?

Preparedness is about providing yourself with the necessary resources to safely tackle unexpected issues that may arise.

How prepared you are can be the difference between severe injury or death, and survival. We define preparedness as the process of:

  • packing essential clothing and equipment
  • conducting pre-planning and familiarisation with a destination (what are the weather conditions, or trail conditions like?)
  • self-assessment of capabilities (what’s your fitness level, and what are your wilderness knowledge and skills like?)
  • notifying others about your travel intentions.
Hiking boots overlooking a lake in Cradle Mountain
Wearing the right shoes on your next hike can save your life. Shutterstock

Some hikers are better prepared than others

Our research surveyed overnight hikers in Tasmania. And we found a lack of preparedness is related to people’s backgrounds (such as age and sex) and behavioural traits (such as risk taking).

Young men, for example, appear more likely to take risks, overestimating their skills and experience. Some tourist groups, who are unfamiliar with local weather conditions and landscapes, are also at higher risk.

In many accidents, inadequate clothing or footwear is a culprit, such as lack of woollen base layers, hats and gloves, and waterproof outer layers. This can result in hypothermia, frostbite, falls and other major problems.

Read more: We accidentally found a whole new genus of Australian daisies. You’ve probably seen them on your bushwalks

We were surprised by what many hikers didn’t carry, including maps, compasses, whistles, and first aid kits — essential items for all hikers. Some told us they didn’t own that equipment, others thought it was unnecessary.

People in a tour group were less likely to carry food, a first aid kit and safety items, believing their guide would carry it for them. But if group members become separated, the consequences can be fatal.

Hiker beside an orange tent
Maps, compasses, whistles and first aid kits are essential on every hike. Shutterstock

Our research also suggests hikers out for day trips or shorter walks, appear to feel there’s less risk and seem less prepared than if they were doing a longer trip.

They’re unlikely to take an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or personal locator beacon (PLB), which can send a distress signal and alert rescuers to your location in places with no phone reception. They may also wear sport shoes instead of hiking boots, and some don’t carry essential items for winter walking, such as a waterproof jacket or tent.

Being prepared with the right gear and experience is important regardless of how long you plan on being out. The reality is weather conditions can change suddenly, even if you’re not out for very long.

So how can you be better prepared?

In response to past hiker deaths, coronial inquests have identified better education, improved visitor management and safety measures as possible solutions.

But we’ve also identified a simple, but likely effective solution that could supplement a continued lack of appropriate gear: the use of a “gear library”.

A gear library would be set up at visitor centres where you’re usually expected to start hikes and would allow people to hire speciality gear items, such as personal safety devices (EPIRB, PLB). These can usually cost more than $200, but would be substantially cheaper in a gear library, ensuring rescue workers are notified and can find you after an accident.

Read more: Stick to the path, and stay alive in national parks this summer

It’s also important to keep a checklist to pack essential items. Some key items include:

  • adequate supply of food and water, including contingency items for unexpected additional days hiking because of bad weather
  • warm clothes, such as a waterproof jacket with hood and storm front, waterproof over-trousers, sturdy walking boots and warm clothing (a fleece or woollen jumper, thermal base layers, hat and gloves)
  • appropriate footwear, such as hiking boots
  • a tent for overnight hikes
  • a first aid kit
  • a torch.

There are plenty of resources for people seeking information about how best to prepare for their bushwalk, including national park visitor centres, Westpac Rescue Tas and the Parks and Wildlife Tasmania website. These websites provide essential bushwalking guides on what to pack and how to prepare for bushwalking.

Anyone can safely enjoy a good day out in the Tasmanian wilderness — it’s beautiful, but can also be deadly. You can never be too prepared.

Read more: Good signage in national parks can save lives. Here’s how to do it right

Vanessa Adams, Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Geography and Spatial Sciences, University of Tasmania; Jason Byrne, Professor of Human Geography and Planning, University of Tasmania, and Noelle Nemeth, Master’s Research Student, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Managers drive biodiversity conservation success

Conserving biodiversity, that is the full range of wild nature, often requires trying out many methods to see what works best. While the success of a conservation project is usually determined by comparing different conditions, methods and techniques, it turns out that the human component also plays surprisingly important role in the outcome of projects. We have a perspective paper in Biological Conservation, led by by Richard Primack from the Boston University, in which we highlight the importance of considering the human element of conservation when evaluating success and designing future programs. Meaningful consideration of the human dimensions in conservation will require an interdisciplinary approach. We make a case that greater integration between the social and natural sciences will improve our understanding of these systems and lead to better results.

So what made us decide to write this perspective article (other than our collective interest in the human dimensions of conservation of course)?

Our perspective article was inspired by an article that Dr Anna Sher published with colleagues in a special issue of wetlands. Anna and colleagues explored the impact of the characteristics of managers and managing organizations on vegetation restoration projects in the southwestern USA. They evaluated 243 sites where invasive tamarisk trees had been removed, measuring the recovery of native vegetation and using multivariate analysis to determine what factors predicted success (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Four stages of restoration in river woodlands invaded by tamarisk in Western USA

Along with the typical predictive measures such as climate and removal method, they included quantitative human data from surveys and interviews with the managers of all of the sites.  While environmental characteristics like temperature and precipitation were important in the successful recovery of the ecosystem, the human variables explained an even larger percentage of the variability in outcomes.  Perhaps most importantly, they found that the more collaborators there were on a project, such as different government agencies, non-profits and scientists, the better the outcomes for the plant community. These findings could radically change how conservation projects are carried out and evaluated. Human dimensions and results from other social science disciplines should be integrated much more into research designs to promote their successful implementation.

Take home message? Simple – go out and make friends and do some interdisciplinary research – if you are a social scientist find some ecologists and similarly if your an ecologist go find a social scientist. The answers to conservation success are likely to be a mix of the human and natural. We must explore both in tandem.

Another year another round of congratulations to students

Congratulations to another great round of Master students. Congrats Lykke and Thorsteinn on submitting some amazing work! This year it was all things private land conservation – Special Wildlife Reserves in Queensland and Land for Wildlife in Tasmania. Thanks also to our research partner Tasmanian Land Conservancy for Lykke’s thesis and also thanks to expert advisors at the Department of Environment and Science in Queensland for informing our survey instrument.

An important statement on Trophy Hunting by Dickman et al. and reply to defamatory press

In August, my colleague Amy Dickman led an important piece in Science on the role that trophy hunting has to play in conservation of imperiled biodiversity (https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6456/874?_ga=2.5965936.2109965310.1572238018-1862346559.1572238018).  This is a contentious space and admire Amy’s thought leadership on this piece. The Science article summarizes key evidence around the role that Trophy Hunting plays in supporting conservation and also calls for the support of African countries to have self-determination in establishing policies for wildlife management.  The last two sentences of this piece strongly articulate this point:

“Crucially, as African countries call for a “New Deal” for rural communities that allows them to achieve the self-determination to sustainably manage wildlife and reduce poverty, it is incumbent on the international community not to undermine that. Some people find trophy hunting repugnant (including many of us), but conservation policy that is not based on science threatens habitat and biodiversity and risks disempowering and impoverishing rural communities.”

It is on this basis that I am a signatory of this article.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, given the contenious nature of this debate, the article has received a great deal of negative press (different to the healthy debate of peer reviewed replies that have been published by Science). This negative press includes incorrect and defamatory statements against Amy Dickman and the other lead authors. I take this opportunity to share the statement of signatories below in response to this press.

Signatory statement

We are aware that there are some false and highly misleading statements in the press, regarding our recent letter to Science about trophy hunting. These imply that the lead authors of the letter were hiding financial links with the trophy hunting industry. These allegations  are completely false. The authors have always been completely open and transparent about their interests and affiliations, including with Science. Their financial links with trophy hunting organisations are tiny to non-existent, and are certainly no stronger than their equivalent links with, say, photo-tourism organisations.

Furthermore, any suggestion that the conclusions of our letter are invalid because of perceived conflicts of interests is fundamentally incorrect. Researchers work with – and often receive grants from – a wide diversity of funders with very different beliefs on a range of topic. However, this should not even come into the debate, as we do not accept funding with strings attached and our conclusions are always based on evidence.

These false allegations are intended to discredit reputable scientists. This is not how conservation debates should happen – we should be able to discuss different views respectfully, and should not tolerate or perpetuate any attacks on scientists for stating their views. This media campaign could well be interpreted as an attempt to silence the voices of many well-respected conservationists and community representatives, who highlight the valid point that banning trophy hunting without better alternatives in place is likely to make things worse for conservation, animal welfare and local livelihoods.