The National Parks and Wildlife Service we want to have

Anne Dickson, 
President, National Parks Association of NSW

Whether we are cross country skiing through snow gums not far from the source of the Snowy and Murray rivers, sitting among the giant blue gums in the Grose Valley, or looking out across the rainforest listening the birds at Dorrigo, there is a group of people we should thank for managing and protecting these areas – the people who work for the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

After ten years of lobbying by NPA, the National Parks and Wildlife Service was established by the Liberal Askin government in 1967, with responsibility for the care, control and management of national parks.[1] At that time about 1% of NSW was protected within parks such as The Royal, Ku-ring-gai Chase, Bouddi, New England, Morton, Kosciuszko, Dorrigo, and Brisbane Waters.

The legislation founding NPWS directed the service to encourage and regulate appropriate use, understanding and enjoyment of national parks while preserving the parks in their natural condition, protecting natural features, conserving wildlife, preserving water catchments and protecting the parks from fire and erosion. Since this start, NPWS, with support from both Labour and Coalition governments, has grown the national parks estate to 9% of NSW, established ecological research capabilities, developed innovative firefighting and pest management strategies, and managed access to these precious areas by millions of people.

NPWS has also developed partnerships with Aboriginal people to protect cultural heritage and jointly manage significant parks. This joint management has helped bring deeper insight and feel for country. ‘We don’t own the land … the land owns us’. [2] These arrangements mean Aboriginal experience, insight and knowledge become part of park management.

We are very fortunate in NSW to have had capable people with passion and dedication for their job managing our national parks. Yet support for the NPWS is ebbing, making it increasingly difficult for the service to fulfil its purpose. Restructures, staff losses and budget cuts have left out parks vulnerable. Commercial and development interests are threatening biodiversity and landscapes. I find it incomprehensible that we now have legislation that prioritises an introduced species over our native plants and animals. In this edition of Nature NSW, Graeme Worboys highlights not only the damage being done to Kosciusko National Park by feral horses but also the undermining of the NPWS by the new wild horse heritage legislation. We are also seeing the stalling of the establishment plan for national parks as explored by Rob Dick in his article in this issue. The additions to the protected land areas we need for the future viability of our wildlife are just not happening.

Are all our conservation efforts getting us nowhere? Sixty years after NPA started advocating for well managed protected areas we need to redouble our efforts and perhaps find new ways to advocate for government support and respect for a professionally run national park system.

We want a national park service with effective expertise and authority in ecology, fire management, pest management and enforcement. We want a service with sufficient staff to manage the increasing number of people who are visiting our parks. We want a service that places the priority of our native plants and animals above introduced species and we want the implementation of a protected area plan that reflects the full range of environments of NSW – a protected area system that is truly comprehensive, adequate and representative.

We should be able to travel cross country over the snow in Kosciuszko knowing that when the snow melts it will reveal abundant vegetation and corroboree frogs, not barren horse-trampled ground and degraded water holes. We should be able to walk the cliffs and valleys of the Blue Mountains knowing it is a place respected for its exceptional biological and cultural significance with world heritage status, and not country condemned underwater by increasing the height of the Warragamba dam.  We should be able to sit in forests with healthy vegetation and the occasional bell miner chime in the background, not saddened by dieback amid a cacophony from a bell miner plague.

It’s time to turn back the tide of indifference and disrespect for country. It’s time to take pride in the plants, animals and landscapes that exist alongside us. It’s time for effective protection of nature. And as a first step, it’s time to restore the National Parks and Wildlife Service to being one of the world’s leaders in protected area management. The people and wildlife of NSW deserve nothing less.

[1] National Parks and Wildlife Act 1967

[2] Mutawintji Lands Plan of Management, 2015

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