Beginning later this year, any person with a recreational hunting license will be able to shoot “feral pests” across almost 80 national parks and reserves in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW), including the highly popular Kosciusko, Warrumbungle and Myall Lakes National Parks.
The program, which the NSW government calls “Supplementary Pest Control,” targets pests including rabbits, hares, wild dogs, pigs, goats, deer and foxes. It is currently expected to go into effect in July, although the start date remains under discussion. Similar schemes have been introduced in Victoria and South Australia.
A 2009 report by the Invasive Species Council of Australia stated that “it is likely that greater harm than good has resulted from recreational hunting of feral animals” and that “evidence indicates that recreational hunting is not effective as a major or primary method of feral animal control.”
A NSW parliamentary paper published the following year cited recent studies indicating that “professional, targeted feral animal control is much more successful than recreational hunting.”
Last month, an opinion poll revealed that the majority of NSW residents are opposed to the new laws. Alex Greenwich, the Member of Parliament who commissioned the poll, said this shows how concerned the community is about these proposed changes.
“The community is gravely concerned about the impact this will have on the families, ecotourists and bushwalkers who value the safety of our national parks,” he said. “National parks should not be turned into shooting grounds where hunters kill and maim animals for fun while ruining peace with gun shots and putting visitors at risk.”
The National Parks Association of NSW echoes this sentiment. “The results of this poll are a reminder to the Premier that his choice of actions around the hunting in national parks issue are politically motivated and do not serve the majority of NSW residents,” said Justin McKee, Campaign Coordinator for the organization. “No one disputes that there is a pest animal problem, but the Premier is failing to deal constructively with the issue. Recreational hunters have not achieved any real conservation gains through hunting in State Forests.”
Russ Nelson, President of the Brisbane Catholic Bushwalking Club, believes that while the government should act to minimize feral animal populations in national parks, the implementation of such processes needs to be carefully considered. “Such action should be properly resourced and managed and at the same time minimize the risk to people with in the vicinity of such action,” he said.
“We’re worried, a lot of bushwalkers are,” David Trinder, president of Bushwalking NSW, told news.com.au. “It’s a common conversation topic; bushwalkers are afraid that the native animals might be shot and that they’ll cop a stray bullet as well.”
One experienced bushwalker who frequently visits national parks in northern New South Wales said he will be staying away from tracks there once the new hunting rules take effect. “I won’t be walking there anymore,” said the bushwalker, who prefers to remain anonymous. “People will die.”
He added that “rangers working across the proposed national parks have expressed concerns for their safety.” During a recent walking trip, rangers told the bushwalker that they were asking for flak jackets and other safety equipment once the new laws come into effect.
“The risk of serious injury or death to park visitors and staff from accidental shooting is very real,” said another ranger, who also wishes to remain anonymous.
In New Zealand, where recreational hunting in national parks is legal, approximately one person is killed every nine months. In 2012, Alexander McDonald was killed when a member of another hunting party accidentally shot him in the head, and school teacher Rosemary Ives was killed during a camping trip when she was mistaken for a deer and fatally shot. In the majority of cases, the accidental shootings are due to human error – failing to properly identify the target before firing.
The NSW Government Game Council has proposed several safety measures, including a required Restricted Game license and a mandatory code of practice. Only time will tell whether or not these measures will be successful in minimizing fatalities.