What do swift parrots, koalas and NPWS rangers have in common? They may all be extinct in NSW if the Baird government has anything to do with it.
Over the weekend a worrying piece of news was buried amongst the furore of two Grand Finals and a heatwave that sent millions to the beach: NSW environment agencies are to be hit with $20 million worth of cuts this year— on top of $60 million already slashed from environment since the change of government three years ago.
Yet just six months ago, in an election pitch, Mike Baird promised to ‘protect, enhance and expand our national park estate’ and to reduce entry prices. But by cutting budgets he has forced the NPWS to increase visitor and camping fees to cover core business costs.
Although we have seen some worthy additions to the national parks estate, it’s hard to equate savage budget cuts with enhanced protection.
This is seen most acutely in the erosion of ranger numbers across the state. Rangers are the highly skilled visible face of NSW’s national parks. Almost as iconic as the eucalypts and koalas they protect they, alongside field officers, do the heavy lifting in terms of on-ground works, campsite maintenance, weed control and visitor interaction.
Perhaps most crucially, given predictions of a strong El Niño and an early start to the fire season in Victoria, an erosion in ranger numbers compromises NPWS’s ability to fight fires and conduct hazard reduction burns.
The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) CEO Kevin Evans said “we know there are somewhere between 50 and 100 vacant ranger positions currently unfilled, and it’s unlikely that they will be”
“Millions of people use national parks over the summer period and rangers perform a crucial role in keeping them safe while protecting the natural values of parks from impacts of visitation”
“We’re looking at a potentially extreme fire season. To have unfilled ranger positions in such a situation risks unnecessary damage to life, property and the environment. Any savings to the budget from reducing ranger numbers will pale in comparison to the costs of a catastrophic fire”
“The government is said to be considering doing away with ranger positions completely. The NPA believes that to wipe out a position that is well respected by the community and who perform tough jobs well is incredibly short sighted and will diminish NSW’s status in environmental protection”
“We want a guarantee from [Environment Minister] Mark Speakman that the vacant positions will be filled, that Mike Baird’s promise of enhanced protection is realised and that rangers don’t go extinct in NSW like so many of our native animals have.”