McFarland suspended over illegal hunt claim

THE state government's plan to allow hunting in national parks is in turmoil after the acting head of the Game Council was stood down on suspicion of illegal hunting.

The council is the body that will issue shooting licences under the scheme.

Its acting chief executive, Greg McFarland was suspended on Tuesday night - along with a colleague - by the Primary Industries Minister, Katrina Hodgkinson, after Fairfax Media learnt of a police investigation into an incident near Mount Hope in central west NSW.

Rural crime investigators confirmed they are looking into claims of illegal hunting and trespass and the inhumane killing of a feral goat.

They plan to interview Mr McFarland and the Game Council's head of law enforcement, Andy Mallen, who was also suspended by the minister.

Mr Mallen, who is responsible for educational programs - including one on encouraging hunters to respect private property - insisted he was never there and is confident he will be exonerated after the investigation.

At the centre of the investigation is a Game Council vehicle that was seen being driven through a national park without permission before allegedly breaking a fence and entering the privately-owned Karwarn cattle station in pursuit of a male goat with ''trophy horns''.

According to photographs taken by the owner of the 25,000-acre property, Diane Noble, the goat was shot in the gut - an act that contravenes the council's own guidelines on humane, ''single shot'' kills. Hunters sometimes avoid shooting a goat in the head to ensure the skull and horns can be hung as a trophy.

The incident happened on December 28 at the Noble's Karwarn station, 110 kilometres south of Cobar.

According to Ms Noble, the pair were confronted by a group of hunters who had paid to shoot at Karwarn. They claim the men in the vehicle identified themselves as Mr McFarland and Mr Mallen.

To access Karwarn, the pair had to drive through the Yathong Nature Reserve, run by the

National Parks and Wildlife Service. A parks source confirmed they did not have appropriate permission to do so.

Mr McFarland released a statement before he was suspended saying the council would ''work with police on this allegation, if required".

The suspensions call into question the O'Farrell government's insistence that shooting will be safely and professionally run by the Game Council, which will issue licences and monitor compliance when shooting begins on March 1.

Critics said the government must now reconsider its deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to put the council in charge or abandon hunting in national parks altogether.

Steve Turner, the assistant general secretary of the Public Service Association, which represents park rangers, said: ''How can anyone have faith that hunting in national parks will be run safely? Imagine what's going to happen when the rogues get going.''

The scandal comes a month after a risk assessment written by Premier Barry O'Farrell's own department emerged, warning of a ''major risk'' that bushwalkers and parks staff will be killed or seriously injured.

Ms Noble said she did not want to prejudice the investigation but was angered by the apparent conduct. ''The Game Council is supposed to promote ethical hunting. They shot the goat through the guts and that's not ethical,'' she said. ''The animal should be shot once in the head or the heart and lungs for a quick kill.''

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