Fears drunk hunters will roam parks

Unlicensed hunters who mix guns and alcohol will go to national parks to shoot illegally once the feral animal cull begins in March, a government report warns.

The same leaked report identifies as a ''major risk'' bushwalkers and rangers being killed or seriously injured when amateur hunters are allowed into the parks.

Just 14 per cent of NSW gun owners hold a restricted licence - known as an ''R-licence'' - allowing them to hunt feral animals on public land.

The risk assessment report, produced by the Office of Environment and Heritage, described this minority group as ''the responsible end of the hunting community''.

It said: ''Many are also highly competent marksmen who target shoot at ranges and refine their hunting capacity through the purchase of specialised equipment … and following a code of conduct which incorporates adherence to welfare standards, responsible firearms and environmental use.

''In contrast to them are a large group of unlicensed hunters, a significant proportion of who hunt illegally on public land. Many of these have far more limited education and training, their use of firearms is often associated with the use of alcohol and other socially irresponsible behaviour, and they frequently hunt at night to avoid detection.''

Of the four hunting-related deaths in NSW since 2000, none of the victims or people involved held an R-licence, according to a study commissioned by Game Council NSW.

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Game Council are working on an enforcement strategy to reduce illegal hunting in national parks but bushwalking and conservation advocates say the council is not equipped to manage this extra task and is actively pro-shooting rather than pro-conservation.

The Game Council employs just four full-time staff who already oversee shooting in 1.75 million hectares of state forests. With the addition of another 2 million hectares, that would give each council employee the equivalent of nearly 1 million hectares of land to oversee.

The campaign co-ordinator for the National Parks Association of NSW, Justin McKee, said the council, which costs NSW taxpayers $2.5 million a year to operate, was the wrong agency for regulating a scientific cull.

''The Game Council's objective is to shift public perception in favour of gun culture, not cutting the population of feral animals in NSW,'' he said.

''The system at present cannot be managed, the Office of Environment and Heritage has already had staff cuts, funding cuts, they're stretched to capacity even before hunters go into national parks.''

The NPA believes there will be a similar creep once the trial 79 national parks are opened for shooting as there was in state forests under Labor. Thirty-one forests were originally gazetted but within nine months hunters were allowed to access to 343.

A spokeswoman for the Primary Industries Minister, Katrina Hodgkinson, who is responsible for the Game Council, said she could not comment on whether the council would be given extra resources to deal with its growing task.

Last month the Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, told a parliamentary committee that not a single extra dollar or any new staff would be directed to the National Parks and Wildlife Service to monitor the shoot.

Labor has sought to capitalise on the unease about hunting in national parks, with a challenge to the Premier, Barry O'Farrell.

The Opposition Leader, John Robertson, said: ''If the Premier is so determined to enact this policy, he must give a commitment to resign if a single person is wounded or killed. Mr O'Farrell has defied a red-alert warning from his own department in proceeding with hunting in national parks.''

The story Fears drunk hunters will roam parks first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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