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Proposed hunting in WA’s forests

There is currently a review underway in the West Australian Parliament of the laws that prohibit hunting on public or Crown land in Western Australia.

The Board of the Bibbulmun Track Foundation believes it is something that our membership should be concerned about and to that end we have made a submission to the Upper House Review by the Public Administration Committee opposing any hunting on Crown land, particularly that surrounding the Bibbulmun Track.

So how did this come about? We are all in agreement about the impact of feral animals on the West Australian environment; there is, however, disagreement about how we go about dealing with it. The Hon. Rick Mazza MLC, from the Hunters and Fishers Party now has a seat in the Upper House of the West Australia Parliament and is using his position to push for a review of the laws prohibiting hunting on Crown Land.

Mr Mazza has made no secret of the fact that if elected he would be pursuing this issue; it was, in effect, a primary part of his platform. Mr Mazza has also stated in Parliament he does not intend for recreational hunting to be allowed in National Parks, but rather on other Crown Land such as State Forests. There has been much discussion in Parliament about what constitutes other Crown Land, especially around Conservation Reserves.

There has also been lots of discussion around the fact that other States, namely NSW, allow hunting in National Parks so why doesn’t WA? Well, the fact is that NSW does not allow it. There was a trial and some attempt to introduce it, but due to a heavy public backlash, real concerns about how the scheme would operate, and the costs involved the NSW State Government finally abandoned the plan – even to the extent of disbanding the body funded and proposed to administer it, the Game Council of NSW. There is currently a trial under way in 12 of NSW’s 75 National Parks, but it is administered and managed by the NSW Parks and Wildlife Services.

Our belief is that any hunting on Crown Land will be the thin edge of the wedge, and as the Bibbulmun Track traverses State Forest as well as National Parks, the proposal will also affect the Track.

The concerns of the Foundation revolve around several issues, the key one being the safety of the bushwalking public. We have a right to enjoy the use of public spaces without the threat of being shot or intimidated by people with guns.

All of us, at some time, have encountered people using the Track in a manner for which it was not intended, whether using bikes, trail bikes or even off-road 4-wheel drive vehicles. We have encountered vehicle-borne people camped at Bibbulmun Track shelters in flagrant contempt of the rules governing access to the shelters. Sometimes, albeit rarely, those people were armed, had powerful hunting dogs and hefty supplies of alcohol. Probably not a good time or place to advise them about the illegality of their actions! These hunters are aware their behaviour is illegal, so how then do we take comfort from the fact that the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (SSAA) informs us that they hope this part of the population will better manage their behaviour once hunting on public land becomes legal? I am sure that as a responsible organisation they are as concerned as the rest of us about this behaviour, but it still goes on.

Like any other sector of society, I am sure there are good and bad hunters and I understand that professional hunters are appalled by this element of their sport. I also understand that recreational, or amateur hunters, need more land to access so they can undertake their pursuit. But the fact is that we are talking about a sport in which an accident can have dire consequences for others. Getting shot is not like tripping over or twisting an ankle.

Apart from safety, the Board has a range of other concerns outlined in our submission around the areas of environment, trails tourism, the effectiveness of managed culls vs recreational hunting, and scientific evidence that shooters have introduced seed animals, mainly feral pigs, into the South West forests in the first place to facilitate their sport.

The Bibbulmun Track Foundation Board does not believe that recreational hunting is compatible with other forms of recreation, but if it were to be employed by government to reduce the feral animal population then it needs to be done as part of a managed detailed strategy, well-funded and resourced and directed by a government agency with specific outcomes.

For more insight into the pros and cons of recreational hunting, read this report by Dr Carol Booth, a policy officer with the Invasive Species Council of Australia: Is hunting conservation? A report into ‘Recreational hunting and its place within Australia’.

Mike Wood