The Sporting Shooters Association of Australia NSW executive director Diana Melham has expressed her disappointment over an article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and other Fairfax publications aimed at scaring up fears about the national park hunting scheme.
State politics editor Kirsty Needham wrote the article entitled “Sporting Shooters’ Association at odds with parks on hunting trial”, which leads with the paragraph, “The state’s biggest shooting lobby has told its members it will run the trial of hunting in national parks, and aims to convince the O’Farrell government to drop any supervision by National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) staff.”
The thrust of the article appears to be to scare up safety fears and to create speculation of a rift between the SSAA and the NPWS, all on the basis of a sentence in an article that appeared in the SSAA’s publication The NSW Shooter which indicated a desire to demonstrate hunters were able to operate autonomously.
“We were disappointed to read the article in the Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday, having provided the journalist with answers to all of her questions that demonstrated our commitment to this trial,” Ms Melham told Sporting Shooter.
“It is not the first time this journalist has misrepresented SSAA NSW. We have since made the journalist aware of our thoughts on the matter, and have asked that any future articles more accurately reflect our true position.”
Sources say that Ms Needham contacted Environment Minister Robyn Parker some days before the article was published, giving her office plenty of time to respond, then gave the SSAA just a couple of hours on Friday afternoon to respond to a series of questions.
The SSAA complied, however, we’re told many of the responses were left out of the article with only the statement about the possibility of targeting other feral animals than the goats, pigs and foxes specified included in Ms Needham’s story.
“Goats, pigs and foxes are listed as the pest species targeted by culls in the 12 parks near Dubbo, Cobar, Griffith and Albury involved in the NSW trial. But the association is telling members they can also shoot other pest animals, such as deer, if they are encountered,” it said.
“’Feral pest control activities will be conducted with specific goals and targets in mind,’ Ms Melham said. ‘However if volunteers can humanely dispatch another feral pest during their time in the national park, that’s a good outcome.’”
Inevitably, The Greens were approached for comment and David Shoebridge didn’t disappoint with a comment supportive of the article’s angle, which is to push the idea that there is a conflict between Ms Parker and the SSAA.
”Now it appears that large parts of it [the hunting trial] will be run by the gun lobby,” he said.
The SSAA entered into an agreement with the state government to help govern the three-year trial of the Supplementary Pest Control Program by providing training programs and requiring those who want to take part to be members of the SSAA.
This came after much criticism of the National Parks and Wildlife Service trial scheme from the Shooters and Fishers Party, who originally brokered the deal with the O’Farrell government, for its heavy restrictions and expensive accreditation processes.
After dooming the program to fail through a lack of interest from NSW hunters, the SFP then publically supported the SSAA’s involvement with the attitude that at least a strong representative body was taking control of the scheme.
In the SSAA’s monthly newsletter, The NSW Shooter, the association explained the reasoning behind its involvement with a Q&A that addressed concerns expressed by hunters about the scheme’s viability.
Among the explanations, the article touched on the issue of supervision by NPWS staff during organised hunts and this is where the Fairfax media seized the opportunity to highlight its concern that supervision may be dropped after the trial period.
“Why the need for supervision from a NPWS staff member?” the article questions, responding with, “This is consistent with the approach NPWS have taken in both Queensland and South Australia during their initial trial periods. Following the success of the initial trial in Queensland, NPWS have granted more autonomy to volunteers in their pest control programs.
“We hope to be able to demonstrate to the Government that the volunteer hunters involved in the NSW Program are suitably experienced, skilled and responsible to operate autonomously to achieve the required outcomes of these types of programs.”
In a statement to Sporting Shooter, Ms Melham went on to say that the SSAA wanted to demonstrate the effective role hunters would play in feral pest management.
“Conservation hunters play a significant role in feral pest management on both public and private land throughout NSW,” she said.
“We strongly believe there is a larger role for these volunteers to play, and one of our aims is to demonstrate that through our participation in this trial. Hunters make an enormous contribution to conservation that has gone widely unrecognised, and that’s something we are working to change.
“Following trials in other States we have seen hunters in National Parks gain greater autonomy, and this is definitely something we would like to see in NSW. But before that can happen we need to work with our partners at NPWS to ensure this trial is managed towards a successful outcome.”