After law change, conservationist fears a shot in the park
A sign in the Murramarang National Park, near Pebbly Beach. Photo: Graham Tidy
As thick and seemingly as sinister as pythons, this strangler fig's roots sprawl 50 metres across the forest floor in Murramarang National Park, in a silent, relentless fight for sunlight, water and nutrients. Like the great figs which squeeze out of host trees, an occasional monster eucalypt swells and rises even higher than spotted gum rivals in a quest for the best of everything on the eastern side of Durras Mountain.
The convener of Friends of Durras, John Perkins, will not give an inch to game hunters who want a foothold in national parks to shoot foxes, pigs and any other feral they can find.
He says the 12,000 hectares of national park on the south coast is an exciting place to visit for an estimated 100,000 people who annually camp out and go bushwalking.
John Perkins, a member of Friends of Durras and a NSW National Parks volunteer, sits on a Strangler Fig tree in the Murramarang National Park, near Pebbly Beach. Photo: Graham Tidy
In March, NSW will open some national parks to licensed shooters to cull wild dogs and cats, deer, goats and other pests.
The government says hunters will operate under strict conditions set by national parks and run by police and the NSW Game Council, similar to arrangements in Victoria and South Australia.
Licensed hunters already have access to state forests.
Murramarang is not on the interim list of national parks, but this gives no comfort to Mr Perkins, a national parks volunteer.
''Hunting is already occurring,'' he said. ''Shooters are hearing one message - hunting is allowed in all national parks. It is a lethal mix, and really sheer madness to even consider allowing it.
''We as conservationists say they have crossed the line.
''I have fired guns and have a healthy respect for how far bullets can travel over a hill.''
He said in the Cotter River catchment years ago, a trout fisherman was shot dead when a bullet from an illegal shooter travelled over a hill.
He rejects hunters' suggestions that bushwalkers wear blaze orange, as they did, to make sure they were seen in forests.
''I'm not sure many walkers think of a national park in the same way we think of a building site or a factory - a place where we need to be constantly on our toes because of the potentially dangerous activities of other workers,'' Mr Perkins said.
''Most of us go into the bush because we love the natural environment.''
He said bushwalkers loved the basic camping conditions at Depot Beach in the national park.
''You go there and the cabins are basic, there's lots of lawn. You see families and kids on scooters, it is safe and everything is on their doorstep - the beach, the forest.
''I'd just like people to come down here and enjoy themselves.''
He said visitors should not have to worry about shooters nearby, much less hear the sound of a high-powered rifle. They should feel safe.
Anchored in rich basalt soil and bathed in warm marine air, the forest supports numerous species including bangalow palms which soften the landscape in slivers of light.
''This one is the most southerly in its natural state,'' Mr Perkins says, pointing to one of the palms. ''They are usually found on the north coast.''
He said five glider species had turned the tree tops into a living museum. He takes visitors spotlighting to see the night creatures.
''From March, those of us who like to go for a bit of a wander in our national parks - whether this be a 10-day hike or a half-hour stroll - are going to have to be very careful that we're not inadvertently putting our bodies on the line.
''This is a stressful time for conservationists. We never anticipated a decision like this. [Premier Barry] O'Farrell had promised if elected he wouldn't allow shooting in national parks. As a parent I have schooled my children on what to do if they hear gunshots; it's of great concern.''
He said professional shooters employed by the national parks could address feral animal problems.
He had seen one in action shooting cunning ravens with great skill during the south coast shorebird recovery program.
He rejects suggestions shooters with proper accreditation operate under regulations equally onerous to shooters employed by the national parks employed.
''The Game Council represents amateurs. All they require is a gun licence to shoot in national parks. Most are not up to the standard of national park professional shooters.''
Professional trappers and baiting could tackle foxes, he said.
Mr Perkins said the Shooters and Fishers Party issued mixed messages on this form of control, and had forfeited its credibility when a member went to Zimbabwe to shoot an elephant.