State government's 18,000 hectares to NSW Parks Estate: drop in ocean says Labor, environment groups

An announcement on Monday to add 18,000 hectares of land to the NSW conservation network – including land in the Greater Blue Mountains –  has been attacked by the Labor party and environment groups as a “drop in the ocean”.

Gardens of Stone: Lithgow Tourism.

Gardens of Stone: Lithgow Tourism.

NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton announced the new national park additions would provide a “significant boost to the state’s biodiversity”, the extra land “boosting the size of the NSW Parks Estate to more than 7.1 million hectares – larger than the size of Tasmania”.

Under the additions to the state’s conservation network, the Greater Blue Mountains area’s Kanangra Boyd National Park gained an additional 232 hectares and the Gardens of Stone National Park gained 145 hectares.

​“The new national park additions, totalling 5,383 hectares, are a combination of strategic acquisitions and areas of state forest to be transferred to the national parks system,” Ms Upton said. 

She said a further 13,000 hectares of state forest would be transferred to the care of the National Parks and Wildlife Service – called flora reserves – which would “improve conservation while maintaining the community’s ability to access these areas for recreation …  [such as] camping, mountain biking and horseriding.” The additions would help protect threatened species such as the brush tailed rock wallaby, powerful owl, gang gang cockatoo and the spotted tailed quoll.

But the Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said 70 per cent of the new conservation lands remained “open for mining”.

“While new conservation measures are welcome, much of this land will still be vulnerable to exploitation by the mining industry,” Ms Smolski said.

“If the government is serious about protecting these areas it should include them in national parks, where mining is outlawed.”

And Alix Goodwin, chief executive of the NSW National Parks Association, also weighed into the issue saying the current government had “the worst record for creation of national parks in a generation”.

“Currently only nine per cent of the state is protected in reserves, well short of the nationally agreed target of 17 per cent by 2020. Today’s announcement represents an addition of less than one per cent to the protected area system in NSW.”

Ms Goodwin said if the “very low rate of reserve system additions set by this government continues it will take more than 200 years for NSW to reach the 17 per cent target”.

Opposition Environment Minister Penny Sharpe said National Parks funding was “bleeding” from the organisation and the announcement was a “token addition”.

“Under this government, any rare additions to the conservation network are welcome, but this truly represents a drop in the ocean compared with the crimes committed against the environment by this administration over the past seven years.”

She said the Berejiklian government had ripped up land clearing laws and cut $121 million out of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. NPWS staff had been reduced drastically, with 26 per cent of permanent rangers cut and 35 per cent of area managers gone since 2011.

Ms Sharpe also “corrected” the minister adding the NSW parks estate “reached a size larger than Tasmania eight years ago under the previous Labor government”.

The minister said that management of the new flora reserves and park additions will be transferred in stages, with the first transfers starting in July. Mining has to pass a “stringent environmental impact assessment” in the flora reserves.

Since March 2011, nine new national parks and reserves have been created and a total of 146,792 hectares of land has come under the control of the Office of Environment and Heritage, a spokesman for the minister said.

A total of 42,000 hectares of additional conservation land has been added this month across the state. Of this, 6,263 hectares will be gazetted as National Park or Nature Reserve, where mining will be banned, the spokesman said.