Parks in shooters' sights

HUNTING HAVEN: In the line of fire – Nightcap National Park.
HUNTING HAVEN: In the line of fire – Nightcap National Park.

SEVERAL North Coast national parks have been included on a "hit list" of parks to be considered for recreational shooting.

Last week Premier Barry O'Farrell announced changes to the Game and Feral Animal Control Act (2002) that would allow 79 of the state's 799 national parks, nature reserves and conservation areas to be used by licensed shooters.

The list includes the Nightcap, Richmond Range and Yabbra National Parks.

The announcement has been widely criticised by environment groups and the Opposition as a "backroom deal" to secure the support of the Shooters and Fishers Party in return for support to privatise the state's electricity assets.

Premier O'Farrell said prior to the last election: "There will not be a decision to turn our national parks into hunting reserves."

Vice president of the North Coast Environment Council Jim Morrison said he was "absolutely outraged" by the election backflip.

"We're disappointed because we were given assurances before the election this would not happen," he said. "I've got little faith in the O'Farrell government now to manage the environment... I think the difficult issue will be compliance because when there are people running around with guns, it will be impossible for National Parks staff to know who is legal and who isn't... I'm frightened people who visit some of the more remote parks where there aren't any services will be turned off visiting for activities such as bushwalking."

Mr Morrison said he also feared a resurgence of "cowboy shooting activity" in remote areas.

"It's a bad message to be supporting a blood sport and I don't believe it will be an effective way to do feral animal control. It should be managed by park staff."

The NSW Public Service Association, which represents park rangers, has directed its members not to assist with any activity involved with establishing recreational hunting in national parks in NSW.

"Our members have expressed serious concerns about the danger to themselves and the community when shooting is allowed in bushland popular with walkers and picnickers. Our members have been working very hard to control and manage feral animals in parks. Recreational shooting will compromise the professional and scientifically proven feral animal control programs run by National Parks staff, placing native plants and animals at risk," PSA general secretary John Cahill said.

"Industrial action like this is not a decision we take lightly but we simply cannot let the State Government's compromise of our national parks to go ahead."

Spokesperson for the North East Forest Alliance

(NEFA) Dailan Pugh issued a statement calling for the Federal Government to intervene.

"The fact that Premier O'Farrell can say in one breath that they will exclude World Heritage, and in the other identify six World Heritage listed parks for shooting, shows how ill-conceived his backflip is... The Federal Government needs to intervene to over-ride the State Government's announced intention to allow shooting in world-heritage properties," Mr Pugh said.

CEO of Northern Rivers Tourism Russell Mills issued a cautious warning.

"My initial view is that national parks like the Nightcap that are part of the World Heritage and their primary drawcard is the pristine nature of the wilderness areas... If National Parks (management) are considering the pros and cons of shooting, I hope they take into consideration the motivation for visiting parks, and I believe they would."

The Echo attempted to speak to two local shooting groups and also the NSW Game Council about what feral animals were found in the region and whether recreational shooting was really the best strategy for control, but they declined to comment.

However Rob Andrews from the Northern Zone Hunting Club said he had been "deluged" by up to six calls a day since the Premier's announcement from people wanting to know how to go about getting licences.

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