The NSW Greens have issued another press release criticising the addition of a further 39 state forests to the NSW Game Council’s hunting areas. Their press release is copied below. Robert Borsak’s post on the same topic is also copied, based on a media article. Borsak is Chairman of the Game Council.
The Greens have opposed the Game Council from the beginning. However, plenty of hunters are reserving judgement as well. It is without doubt a major new government intrusion into an activity traditionally seen as a basic freedom. After all, the origin of hunting is to feed the family. Yet the Game Council’s supporters argue there are substantial compensating benefits. Are they right?
But first, a declaration. I was an original member of the Game Council (comparable to being a director). Despite some reluctance (I am an infrequent hunter), I agreed to the appointment in the hope it might help shooting in NSW. Using the free services of hunters to control feral animals in state forests, it seemed to me, offered the potential to increase public support for shooting generally.
I was heavily involved in the Council’s early development, including the recruitment of its previous and current CEO. However, Robert Brown (now MLC) resigned as Chairman and was replaced by Robert Borsak, who had an interventionist approach to operational matters. I sympathised with the CEO and wrote to the Minister pointing out the Act did not give the Chairman executive authority. The Minister responded by removing me from the Council. The CEO was dismissed by the Chairman soon after. He sued for wrongful dismissal, gaining a handy payout. I complained but to no avail. Oh well.
This post is not about the rights or wrongs of all that. It just needed to be mentioned here. I think I am objective about the Game Council, if not about some of the individuals associated with it.
The question I am asking is whether the Game Council now makes sense. Will it achieve what its proponents claim and thereby justify its considerable coercive powers? [Check these out here and here for yourself] Or do the Greens, those reluctant hunters and others have valid concerns?
First, the Greens. As usual, their arguments are duplicitous. I know of no evidence to support the proposition that professional hunters are inherently safer than amateurs. It is difficult to imagine either lining up a telescopic sight on a person and mistaking it for a deer, fox, cat, pig or goat. What they really mean is that professional hunters are few and far between and must be paid for by taxpayers. If feral animal control were to be left to professional hunters it would be ineffective because the government would not pay to have it done properly. The Greens could then argue that hunting was ineffective as a means of feral animal control.
Next, the risk of accidents. While this was raised by the Greens, some hunters as well as the National Party have made the same point. Clearly, the risk of an accident can never be zero. Not all hunters have perfect eyesight and chance sometimes does funny things.
What the hunters and Nationals are concerned about is that an accident in a state forest could rebound on all hunters, given the government’s propensity for knee-jerk reactions. According to the Game Council’s website there are less than 2,700 hunters licensed to hunt in state forests, yet more than 100,000 firearm owners in NSW rely on hunting as a reason for their licences. They argue that this risk is sufficient to justify keeping hunters and other users well apart.
Third, is the Game Council capable of achieving its purpose? It now has access to huge areas of state forests, creating an opportunity to wipe out large numbers of feral animals at minimal cost. That was certainly the intention of those who initiated it, former Premier Bob Carr and Environment Minister Pam Allan.
So why are less than 2700 hunters licensed to hunt in state forests? Is it simply a lack of marketing, as the Game Council claims, or are there more fundamental issues?
Some hunters certainly regard the licensing process as difficult. Hunting in state forests has long occurred on the quiet, so perhaps many are merely continuing to do it without bothering to study and sit for a licence. It is certainly a lot to ask of a group of people who are not known for their enthusiasm for rules.
Some also wonder whether the Game Council is more about enhancing deer hunting than feral animal control. Much of the Game Council’s legislation relates to deer, including making it illegal to hunt deer on private property without a game licence. Most hunters are more interested in killing a dozen feral pigs than a deer with impressive antlers, but will nonetheless knock one over if it comes their way. They find it odd that they need a licence to shoot the deer but not the pigs.
Finally, the lack of interest in licences means the Game Council is not paying its way. It has already been obliged to go to the government for extra funds. Unless a lot more licences are taken out very soon, something will have to change.
One option is to make a game licence a genuine reason for a firearms licence so that hunters no longer need to belong to an approved hunting club or obtain a letter from a property owner. This has long been Robert Brown’s preferred option, although he backed off when he ran into opposition from the SSAA. Many SSAA members would quit if they were able to keep their firearms licence just by taking out a game licence. Brown is expected to resurrect the idea after the NSW election.
Another option would be to simply require hunters to take out a game licence, in addition to their firearms licence, to go hunting. Some countries already have something similar. The problem is that it would involve yet more compulsion and enforcement. Hunters controlling feral animals might be prosecuted because they did not have a game licence. The Game Council’s game officers could become the most hated people in the state. The tentacles of the government draw ever tighter.
What are the alternatives? Well, one has to be cutting the Game Council’s expenses so that it is able to operate on the revenue it receives from licences. That would mean getting rid of the game managers, its biggest overhead. Would that matter? Do hunters really need to be policed like that?
Perhaps a better option would be to abolish the Game Council entirely and let NSW Forests regulate hunting in their forests, but with a statutory obligation to control feral animals. Using volunteer hunters is cheap, so they would have to be an option.
So the question is, is there a better way? Can hunters be used to control feral animals in state forests, and potentially national parks, without the cost, bureaucracy and coercion involved in the Game Council approach? Or is it the only option?
Media Release 1 December 2006
Summer 2006 * shooting season in NSW
The NSW Government’s announcement of a further 39 state forests in which hunting will be allowed further increases the risk of a tragic accident these coming school holidays, said NSW Greens Upper House MPs Ian Cohen and Lee Rhiannon.
“Parents should be extremely concerned for the safety of their children if they enter a State Forest that has been declared open for hunting,” Ms Rhiannon said.
“People in State Forests during summer holidays will have no way of knowing how many armed hunters are roaming through the bush. It is madness to allow hunters and the public into forests at the same time.
“Hunters are required to wear brightly-coloured clothing to stand out in the bush * perhaps holiday-makers should also take the same measures to avoid being hurt,” Ms Rhiannon said.
“There are now 181 NSW State Forests open to hunting, under the guise of feral animal control. The Greens support measures to control feral animals, but it should be in the hands of trained experts rather than amateurs,” said Mr Cohen.
“Supporters of hunting in State forests claim that hunters are competent and well intentioned, and possibly many of them are.
“It is not the competent ones that are the problem. It only takes a small rogue element to create an unacceptable level of risk for people and their pets as well as native animals.
“The Government would be better off investing in attracting and training professional feral animal controllers rather than risking people’s lives with this ill considered policy,” Mr Cohen said.
Further Information: Ian Cohen 0409 989 466 or Lee Rhiannon 0427 861 568 or 9230 3551
Advisor to Ian Cohen MLC,
Ph: 02 9230 3305
Mob: 0431 320 085
Macleay Argus – 1 December 2006
By Matthew Knott
BY this afternoon hunters may be shooting feral animals in the Maria River State Forest.
Today Forests NSW and Game Council NSW will announce the result of a proposal to allow ‘conservation hunting’ in the forest. If approved, as expected, the decision will be effective immediately.
Angry Kempsey and Kundabung residents believe their safety will be threatened and native animals endangered for no good reason.
“The interests of the licensed game hunters will be represented, but not that of the general public,” said Judith Purton, whose home adjoins the forest.
Last week Ms Purton started a petition to NSW Parliament, opposing shooting in the forest. Seventy people have signed it so far, and the Kundabung Horse Riders Association is also protesting the proposal.
Conservation hunting, already allowed in 142 State forests, involves licensed volunteer hunt-ers shooting pests such as foxes, goats, rabbits, and feral pigs and cats on public land.
Currently 30 percent of the feral pig population is being culled by hunters, and shooting accounts for 13 percent of the state’s fox-control actions.
Forests NSW estimates that feral animals cost the environment and agriculture $720 million a year.
Nicole Tremain, who is spokesperson for Game Council NSW, said: “The big aim is to harness the effort of responsible licensed hunters in the bid to control feral animals.”
Only holders of a Restricted NSW Game Hunting Licence will be allowed to shoot in the park, and they must apply beforehand for written permission. At any one time, there will be only one hunter per 500 hectares.
But Ms Purton said such measures will not protect horse and bike riders, joggers, bushwalkers and school groups who use the forest.
“We can’t share with them for fear we’ll be shot,” she said. “The only way to address the public safety issue properly is to have no shooting at all.”
She also ridiculed the Game Council’s $10-million public liability insurance policy.
“If somebody is killed by gunshots, will this policy resurrect them?” she asked.
There is also a danger native wildlife may be shot by mistake or die of myopia induced by panic after gun shots.
David Dall, Managing Director of Pestat Limit-ed, whose literature says it develops innovative pest animal control strategies, believes live traps and baiting, which are already used in Maria River State Forest, are more sustainable and effective than shooting in reducing feral animal numbers.
“Shooting is probably useful in terms of taking the peak off large numbers of ferals if there’s an outbreak situation,” he said.
But, in the 23 years she has lived next to the forest and been horse riding in it, Ms Purton has hardly seen a feral animal. She said conservation shooting would “just control the numbers in order that hunters can continue hunting them as game.”
This was rejected by the Game Council NSW’s Ms Tremain, who said hunters genuinely wanted to reduce feral populations.
“Hunters are not criminals … a lot of them are conservationists and they see at first hand the damage feral animals can do.”
The result of the proposal will be available from 2 pm today in the NSW Gazette at http://www.advertising.nswp.commerce.nsw.gov.au/Gazette/