NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has reneged on a pre-election promise to refuse access for hunters to NSW national parks, a move that will put parks users in danger and potentially set back feral animal eradication programs.
The Coalition government is pushing through changes to the NSW electricity sector, seeking to privatise state-owned generators. Without the numbers to push the privatisation bill through the upper house, O’Farrell back-flipped and supported a bill by the Shooters and Fishers Party.
The NSW Greens, environment groups and the Public Service Association, which represents NSW government employees in the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), have criticised the bill. Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said the bill was “the dirtiest of deals”.
Of NSW’s 799 parks and reserves, 79 are to be opened to hunters. The hunting zone is about 40% of land managed by the NPWS. A further 48 parks have been excluded from hunting, mainly around Sydney and other metropolitan areas. World heritage and wilderness areas are supposed to be excluded, but some of the included parks contain such areas. The NSW environment minister will have control over which parks are open for hunting.
Some parks where hunting will be allowed draw large numbers of tourists, including Barrington Tops, the Warrumbungle National Park and Kosciuszko National Park.
Hunting parties will need to book with the NSW Game Council. “Conservation hunters” — a category invented by the Game Council — will be allowed. Parks will be closed to the public during a hunt, as now happens in NSW state forests.
However, allowing hunters into parks and reserves for sporting shooting will inevitably put other park users at risk. With parks having multiple entry points, and many bushwalkers enjoying hiking trips over several days, advertising park closures and ensuring that walkers will not venture into a hunting area is problematic.
NPWS staff involved in park management or feral animal control will also be affected.
In New Zealand, hunters who failed to properly identify their target have killed eight fellow hunters in the past decade. A camper was accidently shot at a New Zealand campground in 2010.
Park rangers organised through the Public Service Association have declared they will not help any recreational hunting activity.
Questions will always remain about the welfare of animals shot. No one will be on hand to ensure a quick kill. During an official cull, a park ranger or vet would work alongside a professional hunter.
Opening up areas to hunting could further threaten plants or animals on the threatened species list. In the past, any activity within a habitat for these species has been heavily regulated to help protect them.
Ensuring that only licensed hunters use the parks and reserves will also be harder to police. With a parks closed to the public, enforcement will be self-regulated by the hunting party. At best, Game Council officers, instead of park rangers or police, will carry out spot checks.
Recreational hunting is widely recognised as ineffective in feral animal control. More effective control programs include a diverse range of measures such as aerial shooting, baiting and trapping. Ground shooting can often be the least effective response to an established pest and may even set back other eradication efforts if poorly or inconsistently conducted.
For example, if an adult fox is killed, a juvenile fox may be ready to take its place — one that may not have survived if it did not have its own territory. If an unskilled hunter shoots at and misses a fox it will be extremely wary of humans and later attempts to kill that fox will most likely fail.
Supporters of the bill say that volunteer hunters can take out large numbers of their prey. The Game Council says 30,000 feral animals have been shot by hunters in NSW state forests over four years. However, during Victoria’s fox bounty in 2002-03, 170,000 foxes were killed, or about 4% of the total number of foxes in that state. The fox numbers quickly recovered afterwards, resulting in the Department of Primary Industries abandoning the scheme.
This type of hunting is a sport for those involved, rather than a serious attempt to eradicate a pest. Many of these hunters will not, for example, shoot a female because she will be the one to produce next year’s game. Deer hunters, in particular, will usually go for the trophy shots — larger bucks, preferably with large antlers — and leave the does and younger males alone.
Feral animals are increasing in numbers. But introducing a system that puts a hunter’s sporting activities ahead of the safety of parks officers and members of the public, as well as environmental management, will not help eradicate these pests.