THE state government’s decision to let people hunt feral pests in national parks has come under fire from northern conservation groups, but hunters say the move will benefit the environment.
Safety was among the top of the list of fears for some recreational park users.
“We’re not impressed, as you might imagine, because we want to go bushwalking without the fear of being shot,” National Parks Association (NPA) of NSW Tamworth-Namoi branch president Robin Gunning said.
Amendments to legislation will allow licensed shooters to apply for access to 79 of the state’s 799 national parks, reserves and conservation areas.
They will need written permission, and will have to be licensed by the Game Council, undertake special training and comply with access conditions imposed by the Environment Minister.
Protections for native animals will remain in place.
The changes were made to secure the support of the Shooters and Fishers Party in order to privatise the state’s electricity generators.
In the northern region, people will be able to hunt in about 18 parks, reserves and conservation areas, including Gilbraltar Range National Park, Barrington Tops National Park, Pilliga East National Park and Watsons Creek state conservation area.
Aside from fears of being caught in the crosshairs of shooters, Dr Gunning said the Tamworth-Namoi branch members were concerned that native animals could be harmed and shooters would be allowed access without adequate training.
She dismissed government assertions it would help the eradication of feral animals, saying it should be left up to professionals monitored by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
It was a sentiment shared by WIRES general manager Leanne Taylor, who said the decision had not been made in the interests of animal welfare.
“There’s no research to support the fact that hunting on a recreational basis substantially reduces feral populations,” Ms Taylor said.
But hunters say the strict controls will provide a successful pest-control measure with little to no risk of harm to either humans or native animals.
“I think it’s a good idea, not only from the hunting perspective but from the perspective of conservation,” Tamworth man Axel Schneider said.
He said recreational hunters could reduce feral animals in a more cost-efficient, effective and humane way than government-run programs, and this would benefit native wildlife and farmers.
Shooters have been hunting legally in some NSW state forests for about six years and Mr Schneider said that, in that time, there had been no reported incidents of native wildlife being harmed nor any safety issues.
The national parks in which hunting would be allowed were not high-traffic areas for people, he said, and strict regulations would mean not all licensed shooters would be issued with the necessary permits.
“It’s not going to be open slather,” Mr Schneider said.
Northern Tablelands MP Richard Torbay opposed the move because it would allow the state-owned electricity generators to be sold off.
But he also said he could not support the proposal to let people hunt in national parks because the government had not provided enough detail.