Claims that recreational shooting could take place close to the Princes Highway just 5km north of Merimbula have been made by opponents of the move by the state government to allow recreational hunting in National Parks.
The Greens have revealed, from a leaked document, an area of the South East Forests National Park which straddles the Princes Highway has been designated “zone C”, meaning unsupervised hunting would be allowed in that part of the park.
The area is believed to be close to the intersection of Merimbula Drive and the bypass to Pambula via the Princes Highway in the Yurramie section of the South East Forests National Park.
A petition, calling on Premier Barry O’Farrell to “repeal the legislation permitting recreational hunting in National Parks and make our National Parks safe again”, was presented to the office of member for Bega, Andrew Constance during a rally in Bega on Friday, March 15.
However Mr Constance told the News Weekly that the government was putting the program on hold whilst a review of the NSW Game Council is completed.
Mr Constance added final approval for any zoning arrangements would not be given until the risk assessment process, being overseen by the Office of Environment and Heritage, was complete.
Last year Mr O’Farrell announced 79 national parks and reserves would be opened to amateur hunting of feral animals, including pigs, dogs, foxes and deer, under a deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to pass the government’s electricity legislation.
Mr Constance said: “This issue has come about as for over 18 months the Greens and Labor Party have blocked government bills in the Upper House and we were held to ransom.
“There are billions of dollars tied up in capital because of this and we needed to untie this capital to get on with repairing the state,” he said.
“The deal reached with the Shooters and Fishers Party meant we would see a targeted and regulated program put in place designed to work alongside the National Parks feral animal eradication program that is already happening with professional shooters.
“Many farmers have lost hundreds of sheep over the years due to wild dogs and native flora and fauna is also being affected,” Mr Constance said.
But concerns motorists using the section of the Princes Highway, north of Merimbula, may be in the firing line has caused angst among the local community.
“All the hunting was meant to be away from residential areas and the unsupervised parts, these so-called remote zone C parts of the national parks, were meant to be in the deepest, darkest parts of New South Wales,” Greens MP David Shoebridge said.
“But here we’ve got it right next to a township, right next to the busiest arterial road on the south coast which thousands of holiday makers and school kids use on a daily basis.”
The NSW government said the area in question, officially known as the Yurammie section of the South East Forests National Park, will be closed during peak tourist time from December to Easter.
However as well as the Princes Highway, about 20 private properties are believed to be in the middle of a “Zone C” unrestricted shooting zone, according to opponents of the move.
But Mr Constance has denied that any shots could be fired across the Princes Highway.
“There is absolutely no shooting going to occur across the Princes Highway as claimed,” Mr Constance said.
“It will be done in a highly regulated way with a risk assessment done.”
Friday’s rally and march attracted a crowd of 250 people representing communities from Batemans Bay to the Victorian border.
Keynote speaker at the rally, George Malolakis, local delegate for the Public Service Associate (PSA) and member of the Protected Area Workers Association (PAWA), said there was no merit whatsoever in having recreational hunters in national parks.
“All recreational hunting will do is disperse feral animal populations and make it harder for the professionals to do their job well.”
The rally participants marched to Mr Constance’s Bega office to deliver a giant letter, signed by all of those attending the rally.