Environment

‘Critical habitats’: New minister targets NSW national park expansion

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Matt Kean, the new NSW Minister for Energy and Environment, has kicked off his role by inspecting the impact of feral horses on the Kosciuszko National Park and promising to expand the national park estate where possible.

His visit, though, coincided with the release of analysis by Rob Dick, who headed the state's national parkland acquisition program from 1996-2012. It showed the creation of new parks all but dried up during the past eight years of the Coalition government.

Matt Kean, NSW's new energy and environment minister (left), chose Kosciusko National Park as the first stop on his 'statewide listening tour'.

Matt Kean, NSW's new energy and environment minister (left), chose Kosciusko National Park as the first stop on his 'statewide listening tour'.Credit:Facebook

"National Parks are an important part of our great state, not just because they host millions of visitors every year, but also because they provide critical habitats for our native wildlife," Mr Kean told the Sun-Herald.

"Ill be looking for more opportunities to increase the national parks estate as Environment Minister because I want to hand the next generation a planet that is in a better state than the one we inherited.”

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First up is the creation of a new 3680-hectare national park and a koala wilderness area near Tugalong Station north-west of Bowral "as soon as possible", he said.

According to Mr Dick, the past two years of the Berejiklian government had seen just 4200 hectares added to the national park system. Over the past eight years of Coalition rule, the expansion averaged 9450 hectares a year.

By contrast, Liberal governments led by Robert Askin, Tom Lewis and Eric Willis increased the national parks estate at the rate of about 106,000 hectares a year in the 1960s and 1970s. Liberal premiers Nick Greiner and John Fahey eased the pace to 49,350 hectares a year during their rule.

Labor government acquisitions dwarfed those increases, with 1.856 million hectares added during the Wran-Unsworth years from 1976-88 and 3.06 million hectares during the 1995-2011 years spanned by premiers Bob Carr to Kristina Keneally.

“Former premier Kristina Keneally added more to the national parks system in an average week than Gladys Berejiklian added in her first two years," said Kate Smolski, chief executive of the NSW Nature Conservation Council.

Matt Kean, the newly appointed NSW Minister for Energy and Environment.

Matt Kean, the newly appointed NSW Minister for Energy and Environment.Credit:AAP

The state government said national park expansion rates had slowed in part because of the end of the Commonwealth National Reserve System funding. A focus on high-priority conservation areas, often to provide connectivity between parks, typically meant buying smaller but more costly blocks of land.

Mr Dick said the expansion of parks "had gone down and stayed down" under the current government, and funding for National Parks and Wildlife Service had been cut: "It's less able to even look after its own parks."

While coastal ecosystems were relatively well protected with about a fifth inside parks, western parts of the state had less than five per cent protected, he said. Weaker controls on land-clearing meant "a lot of biodiversity is going to go, for sRead More – Source