Access to National Parks restricted for wildlife volunteers

It’s hard to tell how well local wildlife are being tended to after the recent Dunns Road fire, with local wildlife carers saying they haven’t been allowed deep into burned territory within local state and national parks. 

The official response from the NSW Government is that “recovery efforts are being coordinated through licenced wildlife groups and veterinary professionals across NSW and funding has been targeted at supporting these groups.”

Senior Public Affairs Officer Mark Williams from the NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment said the State has been working with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, committing a total of $6.5 million to support wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, including $1 million in emergency funding.

WIRES volunteer Clarissa Hulks said she’s been desperate to get onto public lands and search for injured wildlife, but permission has been withheld.
“We have tried,” she said. “We have spoken to the parks people and no, we have not have any response from them.

“We would very much like access into the national park, but we have not been able to get that yet.”

Mrs Hulks said she is planning a “black walk” in the parks this Sunday with any volunteers she can recruit. They plan to walk through burned areas, looking for affected wildlife which need rescuing.

“It’s well and truly overdue,” she said. “It’s probably too late. We’re probably into secondary infections with anything that’s still up there, but we’ve got to do it.”

Mrs Hulks said the group will go “with or without permission” and each volunteer will have to adhere to a strict set of safety guidelines, with the understanding that they are entering at their own risk.

The State says they recognise that local people are concerned about wildlife and had “established wildlife coordinator positions to help with wildlife rescue, and $500,000 was made available for volunteers to cover the rescue and rehabilitation of native wildlife.” Official representatives have not yet been able to confirm the identity of the wildlife coordinator for the Dunns Road fire region.

Georgia Gowanloch is currently living on the south coast, but continues to work closely with the Adelong-based Saving Our Native Animals group. SONA has been operating in the SVC area for 11 years and Mrs Gowanloch said they have been able to access some burnt out areas.

“We are also filling food and water stations daily in several locations in SONA’s area,” she said.  “There are a number of injured and orphaned kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possum, birds, lizards and turtles that have come into care as a result of the recent catastrophic bushfires.”

Both groups are asking for additional volunteers to join their efforts, with Mrs Hulks’ black walk scheduled to leave the Batlow Hub on Sunday morning. SONA will be hosting a Basic Training and Rescue course on Sunday, March 22, in Tumbarumba, for anyone aged 18 or older and wanting to become a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
The State has praised local efforts in general.

“The response from the community seeking to help fire-affected wildlife has been tremendous and one of the great things to come out of the recent bushfire tragedy,” said Mr Williams.

“NPWS is working with wildlife groups to provide long term support into the future. We will closely monitor the recovery of our ecosystems and adapt our efforts as we learn more.”

Mr Williams also highlighted feeding/watering initiatives for Mountain Pygmy Possums, who live almost entirely within areas affected by fires. The State is also investing heavily in preventing feral pests and weeds from taking over public parks after the fires, with Mr Williams calling it “the largest ever pest and weed management program ever seen in NSW.”

For more information on joining the black walk, call Clarissa Hulks on 0421 342 399. To join SONA’s training course in March, contact Georgia Gowanloch on 0413 842 031.