Monday 30 October 2017


National Parks are special places, vital for biodiversity protection.  They are also places where humans who appreciate nature can re-connect with a world that is in some ways simpler and certainly more natural than our everyday world.

The New England National Park has been my favourite for many years.

I first visited this national park nearly 40 years ago with my husband and two young children.  Since then I've been back many times with my kids, with friends and on several occasions with my grandchildren. 
A wonderful natural area, perched on the edge of the New England plateau, it overlooks the Bellinger Valley.  From the escarpment at Point Lookout you look east across ridge after ridge of densely vegetated land.  In the ravines and valleys, where the dense rainforests are, the vegetation is dark green.  Along the ridges, the domain of eucalypts and species that live in drier areas, the green is paler.

One of the views from the escarpment
Sometimes you look down onto cloud which fills the valleys and gives the impression of a white sea with islands of vegetation rising from it.

I've explored many walking tracks in this park – from those meandering through the tree ferns to steep trails descending through majestic, mossy Antarctic Beech, remnants of the ancient continent of Gondwanaland.
Some tracks follow swiftly flowing creeks plunging for a while over huge granite boulders.  Then these creeks seem to rest, turning into deep shadowed pools which look inviting but which are breath-catchingly cold even in mid-summer.

Highlights of many visits have been encounters with the Superb Lyrebird, an outstanding mimic and an extremely shy bird.  I remember one magical time many years ago when I saw a male lyrebird, tail unfurled and magnificent, practising what must have been his mating ritual.  He danced and carolled and mimicked while I watched entranced.

Male Lyrebird

Special places like the New England National Park and other national parks like Washpool, Gibraltar Range and Yuraygir are now under threat from the state government’s cost-cutting and restructure of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the body responsible for biodiversity protection and management of the national parks estate.

            - Leonie Blain

This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on October 30th, 2017.  

Tuesday 24 October 2017


The National Parks & Wildlife Service of NSW (NPWS) is in its fiftieth year.  To “celebrate” the occasion the NSW Government is in the process of re-structuring this important organisation which  is responsible for the management of the national parks estate and the protection of our state’s biodiversity.

Politicians and bureaucrats have claimed that the restructure will improve the management of the national parks estate. 

How can it when the service’s budget has been drastically cut?  How can it when fire-fighting resources and expertise are being depleted?  How can it when experienced and well-qualified officers are losing their jobs or being demoted to what are essentially clerical roles at much lower rates of pay?

And what will be the impact of these changes on the Clarence Valley which has an area of 2,262 sq km of the national parks estate in its area ?

Grafton has been an administrative centre for NPWS for many years.  That function will be transferred to Coffs Harbour along with some of the positions currently based in the town.  Figures on job losses in Grafton vary but it looks to be from seven to nine skilled positions.

One of the major issues relates to the loss of Pest Management Officers (PMOs) around the state.  In our region from around Taree to the Queensland border the staffing will be reduced from 3.2 equivalent full time positions to one.  And that position will be largely a desk job with a much-reduced salary.  This makes no sense at all given the problems in this large area with feral pests such as pigs, foxes and wild dogs as well as the plant pests.

The impacts here and  around the state for the proper management of the national parks estate (which includes Nature Reserves as well as National Parks) will be significant.  The effects on biodiversity protection will also be significant. And there will be associated impacts on national parks tourism which is important to many local economies including the Clarence economy.

Another major issue from a people perspective rather that an environment perspective is the appalling toll this drawn-out and unfair process is taking on the National Parks officers whose jobs will be lost or who will be demoted. It is very unlikely that the government or the bean-counters running their  cost-cutting venture have any concern about this.

It should be remembered that when the government’s budget was brought down in June there was much fanfare about the $4.5 million surplus and what a good job the government was doing in managing the NSW economy. Despite this record surplus, the government is slashing $121 million from the NPWS budget. 
Quite obviously the government is NOT doing a good job in either resourcing or managing the NSW national parks estate. 

What is very clear to many members of the community who are concerned about protection of the natural environment is that the current NSW government has no understanding about how crucial a healthy natural environment is to the well-being of both humans and other life forms.  The natural environment  (of which national parks are a very important part)  provides important services (such as clean air and clean water) on which we all rely. It is time that the Berejiklian Government and our local member, Chris Gulaptis, woke up to this and abandoned this re-structure.

            - Leonie Blain

This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on October 23rd , 2017.  

Tuesday 17 October 2017


The NSW Government is re-structuring the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).  This re-structure involves job losses, down-grading many officers to lower-paid  positions and changes to the regional structure of the organisation.  The Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition is concerned about the effects this will have on management of the National Parks estate in our area as well as in other parts of the state.  We are also concerned about the effects of this restructure  - yet another re-structure under this government - to those who work for NPWS.

The CVCC has written to our local state member, Chris Gulaptis MP, and to the NSW Minister for the Environment,  Gabrielle Upton MP, about our concerns.

Below is the body of our letter to the Minister for the Environment.

The Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition (CVCC) is very concerned about the NSW Government’s restructure of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).  On this matter our concerns relate to the State as a whole as well as to our local area. 

The CVCC notes that the restructure currently does not affect ranger positions but we understand that the restructure of that part of the Service will follow later in the year.   

The planned changes we currently know about are of major concern.

In relation to the Grafton area, the CVCC is appalled at the scale of the losses and the downgrading of the local office.  

·         We understand that at least 9 full-time jobs will be lost from the local office as well as the loss of 3 senior field officers and one senior field supervisor. 
      Local fire-fighting capacity will be severely affected.  Seven crew leaders (including two who are in their thirties and four who are competent divisional commanders) will be lost.
      The number of pest management officers in the region will be cut from 3.2 full-time equivalents to one.  That position will be paid less than the current incumbents and does not need a degree qualification. Bearing in mind that the North Coast is a biodiversity hotspot with a great diversity of weeds, this bureaucratic “rationalisation” simply does not make sense.

Changes in the local area will obviously have serious repercussions in relation to management of the National Parks estate in our region – a region which relies on these important natural areas to attract tourists as well as for all the benefits they provide to the local human population and local indigenous flora and fauna.   Obviously with similar downgrading and what is quite obviously mindless cost-cutting all over the state, the serious repercussions are going to be felt state-wide.

When the state budget was brought down some months ago, there was a great deal of fanfare about how good the state economy was and what a wonderful surplus the government was producing.  Yet here we have a policy of draconian slashing of an important environmental service – a service which aids in protecting the natural world as well as enhancing earnings in the tourist industry.

We are very alarmed, Minister, at your Government’s policies towards the natural environment and its management.  This latest of a series of changes follows on from the weakening of land-clearing and biodiversity laws which have drastically eroded protections for the natural world.  As a result there is an increasing conviction that your Government is not interested in environmental protection and is completely indifferent to the need to stem the tide of alarming biodiversity loss.

While our concerns in relation to the natural world and our local economy have been highlighted in this letter, we also have concerns about the effect of these far-reaching changes on the NPWS officers who are being “re-structured”.  There will be job losses as well as salary slashing and what are in effect demotions. 

It is indeed ironic that these appalling changes have been announced in the fiftieth year of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.  Is it some bean-counter’s sick idea of a joke?

The Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition urges you, as the Minister responsible for the NPWS (in its fiftieth year), to ensure that the Government abandons this restructure.  What the NPWS needs is proper resourcing – something it has not had for years - not this travesty of a restructure that seems designed to ensure that Service fails.

Saturday 14 October 2017


Deer are among the world’s most successful invasive species and can have substantial negative impacts on natural and agricultural ecosystems. They are considered one of Australia’s worst emerging pest animal problems. 

Six species have established wild populations in Australia: the fallow, chital, red, rusa, sambar and hog deer. Numbers of all six are increasing, with populations expanding into new areas.

Most wild deer are currently in south-east Australia, which is where accidental and deliberate releases have occurred in the past. A recent study based on bioclimatic analysis, however, has suggested that most of the species already present in Australia are well-suited to the tropical and subtropical climates of northern Australia. Thus, they could potentially occupy most of the continent, including parts of the arid interior.

In Australia, deer are classified differently, depending on which state they are found. In Queensland, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia they are classified as a pest species.

But the south-eastern states have not. NSW has listed the damage caused by deer as a key threatening process. Yet under current laws in this state, deer are also protected as a hunting resource. NSW is not alone. Tasmania lists them as partly protected wildlife, and in Victoria they are essentially treated as a protected game species for recreational hunters despite also being listed as a key threat under Victorian threatened species legislation. 

In March 2016, an independent review by the Natural Resources Commission recommended NSW make deer a pest species. Such a move was not supported by the NSW Government, who are obviously too worried about the political repercussions from denying deer hunters their sport. 

Making feral deer a pest species would give land managers and governments the power to tackle this growing environmental and agricultural threat head on, rather than being constrained by current laws that protect feral deer. We also need to prevent further deer farm escapes and the deliberate ‘seeding’ of new areas by hunters. 

Because, to address this pest we need concerted efforts to prevent new populations; to eradicate small, isolated populations; and to contain other wild populations.

            - Janet Cavanaugh

This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on September 4, 2017.