In order to win support for the privatisation of NSW’s remaining electricity assets, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has made a deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to allow recreational hunting of feral animals in 31 nature reserves and 14 state conservation areas. Close to 40 per cent of NSW parks will now be open to volunteer hunters, ostensibly to cull feral animals.
Feral animal control in these areas is important to preserve our unique native wildlife but claims that recreational hunting provides an effective or low-cost option to control feral animal populations is not supported by the facts. Evidence has shown that hunting does not provide effective animal control and risks making the problem worse.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries’ own guidelines state that ground shooting of feral pigs is ineffective as a method of population control. Controlled programs such as baiting, trapping and aerial culling run by national parks rely on the animals being undisturbed to maximise effectiveness.
Allowing hunters on the ground disrupts these coordinated programs because it disturbs the normal movements of the animals, causing them to move away from controlled areas. Shots fired can frighten animals away from controlled areas and makes them warier of the efforts of professionals.
The NSW Games Council’s 2010-2011 annual report states that 15,080 licences were issued for recreational hunting on public land. In that year a total of 14,161 animals were killed, resulting in only 0.9 feral animals killed per hunting trip; 50 per cent of these were rabbits and hares.
Similarly, in 2002-03 Victoria had a fox bounty that resulted in 170,000 dead foxes. The task was abandoned as it didn’t prove successful. In a 2003 Victoria University review of the scheme, scientists concluded "broad scale population reduction did not occur and the trial probably only achieved a temporary and insignificant reduction". What’s more, anecdotal reports said some shooters were avoiding culling foxes during breeding periods to ensure "next year’s supply".
National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) rangers and field officers already have in place professional, targeted, well-conducted and designed — and importantly, humane — eradication strategies in identified environments that are thoroughly monitored for effectiveness.
These involve baiting, trapping and aerial culling. Baiting is preferred on animal welfare grounds as it is the most cost efficient and humane way to kill the animals. Amendments to the Game and Feral Animal Control Act 2002 will ban the use of baiting.
These tasks are well planned and take into consideration land conservation. For example, during an aerial culling program, around 200 to 300 feral animals such as goats, pigs and deer are culled. Most programs run over a number of days, resulting in the removal of thousands of feral animals over hundreds of national parks.
O’Farrell has admitted that these humane methods of killing feral animals were effective, with 24,000 culled last year.
Moreover, licensed shooting in state forests is permitted, so why endanger national parks with activities likely to harm native wildlife?
Rangers in national parks are concerned, as hunters regularly break through gates, cut fences, damage signs, dump rubbish and lose or abandon their hunting dogs, which then turn feral. Dogs are not permitted on national parkland as they are prone to attack native animals.
The proposed changes will also affect public enjoyment of tranquil national parks across NSW, where an estimated 3.5 million people, including bushwalkers, photographers and bird watchers, visit each year.
These activities are quiet and usually undertaken around sunrise and sunset, which coincides with the best times for hunting, leaving the public less visible to hunters and making it more likely hunters will mistake them for animals.
Experience in New Zealand shows that since 1979, hunters injure and kill each other on average every nine months. In 2010, recreational hunters killed two innocent park visitors. One woman was bending over brushing her teeth when a hunter mistook her for an animal, killing her instantly.
The government currently allocates $3.5 million each year to hunter’s licence and training fees. The Protected Area Workers Association NSW (PAWA) believes this money would be better spent on coordinated large scale animal control programs that would deliver better control of feral animals.
Angry protesters rallied outside Parliament House in Sydney on Thursday June 14 carrying signs saying "Don’t Shoot". The Australian Workers Union joined them, dressed as kangaroos and owls.
NSW Opposition leader John Robertson spoke to the 150-strong crowd. "Barry O’Farrell has broken his promise to never allow hunting in national parks, putting his own political interests ahead of protecting the environment and keeping people safe," he said.
Keith Evans, chief executive officer of the National Parks Association of NSW, said the deal was a dramatic backflip that would "forever change the way the people of NSW relate to our national parks".
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