Nature NSW Spring 2023

here are a couple of essential steps when seeking a change in conservation policy: the slow accumulation of pressure, then abrupt pivot in policy.  The momentum phase is all about making the case for change and building support.  Pivots happens when the government of the day finally concedes that a different approach is needed.  

It’s natural to expect that a new government would lead to rapid change.  The reality is inevitably slower, but we are now starting to see the first signs of change.   

Optimism about the Great Koala National Park sparked when the now Government endorsed NPA’s proposal.  The spark has been periodically fanned by assurances that it remains a priority, but also quenched by targeted logging by a NSW Forestry Corporation intent upon undermining the extent and condition of key koala habitats within the park boundary.  The immediate pivot we’ve demanded is a moratorium on logging while the boundaries are being finalised.  An eminently sensible step, yet in a perplexing move the Environment Minister has held firm in their stance that a moratorium is unnecessary. The daily toll of damage to koala habitat suggests otherwise! 

Another situation where NPA continues to build pressure for change is the overhead transmission lines through Kosciuszko National Park.  Putting the lines underground is international best practice whenever crossing areas of high environmental or community value, yet Transgrid and Snowy Hydro have persisted in their insistence on the cheaper overhead option.  To date the NSW Government has supported Snowy Hydro’s balance sheet over Kosciuszko National Park, a truly disgraceful situation.   

The previous NSW Government removed an outright prohibition on new overhead transmission lines in the Kosciuszko Plan of Management.  This breach of trust has forced NPA to launch legal proceedings to overturn the amendment.   Our objectives are to restore the prohibition on additional overhead transmission lines through Kosciuszko, and to ensure that no future Minister treats the Plan of Management process in such a cavalier fashion. 

At the time of this journal’s publication the case is still before the Land and Environment Court.   

The pivot in conservation policy is still ahead of us in relation to the Great Koala National Park and the Kosciuszko transmission lines, so the hard work of building campaign momentum continues.   

Thankfully other issues are showing more signs of change.  Perhaps the most remarkable is that most controversial and divisive of conservation issues, the management of feral horses in the Australian Alps.  The Kosciuszko Wild Horse Management Plan was approved late in the term of the last NSW Government.  It set a target to reduce the population of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park to no more than 3,000 by 2027.  Unfortunately, the plan contained the seeds of its own failure in the form of a ban on aerial culling, the only effective technique for removing feral species from the rugged mountain landscapes.  One step forward, one step back.   

The ban was an extension of more than twenty years hiatus in the aerial control of horses in NSW national parks.  It was imposed after an awful incident in Guy Fawkes National Park in which a horse survived for several days after being shot.  Despite a veterinarian expert concluding that that the cause was a freakish combination of ballistic factors, the wave of adverse media quickly led to a state-wide ban on aerial culling of feral horses.   

The decades since have consolidated the role of aerial culling as the most effective and humane method of controlling large vertebrate ferals in remote and rugged landscapes.  However rather than removing the ban on feral horses, the mythology around the Guy Fawkes incident was distorted to such an extent that ministers of the former Government routinely referred to it as involving 600 cruelly wounded horses. 

So how could this divisive issue pivot?  The answer is a public announcement by the NSW Environment Minister that she has concluded that the impact of feral horses on threatened alpine species and ecological communities cannot be reduced without access to more effective control techniques.  However the issue plays out over the coming months, the reality is that many years of conservation advocacy has been rewarded by a brave and principled pivot by the Environment Minister.  A welcome shift indeed.  

The Kosciuszko feral horses might be at the forefront of change, however they are far from the only issues on which a pivot is required.  NPA has been asking Government to review proposals for high impact commercial developments in Beowa, Dorrigo and Kosciuszko National Parks and Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area.  There are encouraging signs that our concerns are starting to be heard.   

The challenge ahead is clear, to keep building momentum towards a genuine pivot to a NSW that is much kinder to nature, national parks and other precious places. 

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