Conservation update 

Gary Dunnett, Chief Executive Officer

The final months 2021 were anything but easy for parks and nature in NSW.  Far from a graceful glide into Christmas, NPA spent the summer busily contesting misplaced proposals to ‘develop’ parks and ill-considered changes to national park laws and policies. 

My introduction describes our spirited response to the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Bill (2021), introduced into the NSW Parliament by a departing Environment Minister.  Other highlights of NPA’s conservation activities over this period include:

Warragamba Dam and the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area

The Burragorang Valley and the various tributaries flowing into the valley have the highest status of any protected area in Australia:  gazetted as National Park, World Heritage listed, and National Heritage listed.  This area has thousands of Aboriginal sites and a landscape of immense cultural significance.  It holds extensive areas of Threatened Ecological Community and Threatened Species habitat, including a large proportion of the known breeding sites of our most endangered bird, the Regent Honeyeater.  It is a truly remarkable place that generations of conservationists have successfully demanded be given the highest possible level of legal protection. 

It is also a place the NSW Government intends to devastate by raising the Warragamba Dam wall and flooding over 6,000 ha of precious land. 

NPA joined the thousands of voices raised against this short-sighted proposal.  Our submission on the wholly inadequate Environmental Impact Statement is available (Here).  The integrity of the entire protected area network hangs in the balance – if Warragamba goes ahead, no national park, nature reserve or other precious place is safe. 

Marine Network Management Plan

The last decade has not treated the marine habitats and species of NSW waters kindly.  Sanctuary zones have been stripped away; two out of five marine bioregions are unprotected by any form of marine park; and most recently, a plan to shift the day to day management of the existing parks from a focus on conservation to management as a fisheries resource.  NPA partnered with the Australian Marine Conservation Society and Nature Conservation Council to produce an incisive review of the NSW Government’s exhibited Marine Park Network Management Plan here.  Although a the submission is detailed our core message was very simple: conserving marine habitats and species is just as important as their terrestrial equivalents, and the Government’s proposed framework to protect marine biodiversity is unfit for that purpose.  

Kosciuszko National Park

Kosciuszko National Park is a genuine national icon, a much loved and truly unique landscape. It is the source of our mightiest rivers and home to irreplaceable species.  It is a national park created to stop the damage inflicted on sensitive alpine ecosystems by mining, forestry, and unsustainable agriculture.  Just like the Blue Mountains, it is a landscape deserving of the most careful protection and management. 

Much of this alpine treasure has been rehabilitated and restored and has otherwise recovered in the nearly 80 years since the declaration of the original Kosciuszko State Park.  Yet as our understanding of the importance of the Australian Alps increased, so has the pressure on Kosciuszko increased from ill-conceived government legislation, policies and development proposals.  Kosciuszko is the largest national park in NSW, and without question it is facing the most threats on the most fronts. 

One of the ironies of this situation is that Kosciuszko has been well served by one of the better Plans of Management in NSW, one based on a thorough scientific review of values, condition and threats, and providing well considered strategies to protect the park.  It is telling that all of the current threats facing Kosciuszko have begun with legislation or amendments to overturn the protections in the 2006 Kosciuszko National Park Plan of Management

The first such ‘flipping’ of conservation objectives came in the form of the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Act, legislation that prioritised the ‘heritage’ values of feral horses above all other park values, including the threatened species and threatened ecological communities that were being decimated by the exploding horse populations.  NPA commends the outgoing NSW Environment Minister ,Matt Kean, for approving the feral horse management plan, a precondition for the resumption of population control, as one of his final acts in the portfolio.  The plan is less than perfect, but at least it allows the program of reducing horse populations to an environmentally sustainable level of commence. 

NPA has consistently opposed the Snowy 2 project on the basis that the claimed benefits are far outweighed by the massive environmental impacts on Kosciuszko National Park.  In 2021 the NPWS exhibited an amendment to the Plan of Management, overturning the long-standing prohibition on the construction of new overhead transmission lines through the park.  The reason for the amendment was to allow for the connection of the new Snowy 2 power station with the broader electricity grid.  NPA argued that the new connection should be constructed in accordance with the Plan of Management and international best practice, which means one of several vastly less damaging underground options.  The proponent, TransGrid, has effectively ignored NPA’s arguments and continues to seek approval for an overhead transmission line.  We continue to make our case for the lower impact underground option at all levels of government and have formally indicated intent to challenge any amendment to the Plan of Management in the courts. 

As though horses, Snowy 2 and transmission lines weren’t inflicting enough damage to Kosciuszko, another amendment to the Plan of Management was exhibited late in 2021. This amendment was seeking to scrap the current limitations of the amount of commercial accommodation in the national park.  Kosciuszko already has more hard roofed overnight accommodation that all other Australian national parks combined.  The proposed amendment would increase that total by another 4,000 beds.  The implications are massive, not just the construction of additional accommodation buildings, but also the larger carparks, sewerage treatment sites, waste collection and other municipal type services.  The rationale? – a projection that more people may wish to stay in the park in the 10 to 20 years before global warming reduces snow cover to the extent that demand falls away.  A shockingly cynical approach that NPA staunchly opposed in our submissions (Here) and will continue to contest through every available avenue. 

NSW National Parks Cycling framework

NPA members have been increasingly concerned about escalating impacts of habitat loss, soil erosion and damage to cultural sites during the illegal construction of mountain bike tracks.  Many instances of illegal track construction have been reported to NPWS, which rather than immediately closing and remediating the affected areas has responded that they first need to review their cycling policies.  To our relief those new policies were finally exhibited in late 2021.  To our great disappointment the exhibited Cycling Strategy, Policy and Implementation Guidelines were sorely lacking.  They barely acknowledge the extent of damage that has been, and continues to be, inflicted on parks and reserves.  They offer little confidence that closure and restoration will be resourced or prioritised.  Even worse, rather than highlight a commitment to active compliance programs to avoid further damage, the policy appears to offer tacit support to further illegal construction. 

Several branches and the Park Management Committee made submissions on the exhibited documents, which you can see at (Here).  This issue is far from resolved and requires continuing advocacy by NPA to ensure that conservation is restored as the foremost objective for our precious parks. 

Light to Light

The Light to Light project will see commercial operators granted exclusive access to several ‘glamping’ sites along the iconic coastal walk through (the park formerly known as) Ben Boyd National Park.  NPA opposed the intensification of visitor infrastructure at these campsites and the loss of access by existing park users.  NPA’s Far South Coast Branch is working hard to identify measures to reduce the environmental impact of the new works and to retain broad public access.  This proposal offers a disturbing glimpse into the way that basic park facilities can be secluded for the use of ‘high return’ customers at the expense of NSW taxpayers. 

New parks

There is no lack of temptation to retreat in the face of such apparent indifference, or even hostility towards what should be some of the most treasured and protected of community assets, our national parks and reserves.  There are reasons for hope, including the purchase and gazettal of a number of former agricultural properties in western NSW (Here).  Particularly pleasing is the Greens Bill seeking the implementation of NPA’s Great Koala National Park (Here).  There are rewards for good proposals, and hope continues!

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