The Riverina is renowned for its wilderness wealth. Tourists come from far and wide to visit the natural wonders on offer.
But the bush might be in danger. It is a global problem that Australia and the Riverina are not immune from.
According to a Queensland University-led survey, a third of the world’s protected natural reserves have been severely impacted by human activities.
Though the exact threat level for the Riverina is not yet known, conservationist and wheat farmer Rodney Guest believes it is on par with national averages.
Mr Guest is the chair of the Lachlan Wildlife Action Group. He regularly conducts conservation surveys across the Riverina with the Murrumbidgee Field Naturalists.
“We’re going slowly backwards, losing our natural resources [and] habitats,” Mr Guest said.
“I’d say it’d be close to completely human-led, but there are other natural processes like fires and pests that just don’t help.
“But when you consider humans introduced pest species like pigs and goats that have gone feral and wrecked parts of the parks, then you’ve got to admit humans are the top predators here.”
The global report pointed to urban development as a major part of the stress on the environment. In the studies Mr Guest has conducted, he found this has been only one of the threats to the Riverina.
“You have whole suburbs coming in and wiping out the natural landscape, and we’re all contributing to it in some way or another,” Mr Guest said.
“It’s always been that way, I’d say, ever since colonised settlement in the Riverina. When cities expand, the bush suffers.”
The NSW Parks and Wildlife Service is responsible for 870 national parks that span seven million hectares of land.
In the Riverina, that includes heavy tourist areas like Woomargama, Cocoparra Livingstone and Kosciusko national parks.
Mr Guest said it was encouraging to see so much of the state protected by national park services, but the status can be deceptive.
“It’s all well and good to establish national parks but if there isn’t the manpower to care for them, it’s not going to be enough,” he said.
“There’s no point making them if you can’t look after them.”
Michelle Johnson from the Tumut and District Bushwalkers association agrees with that evaluation.
Over the past decade, she has been visiting bushlands around the Riverina, and said the situation has become progressively worse.
“The places we used to go are becoming inaccessible because of blackberry weeds and the areas with vehicle access are becoming more polluted,” Ms Johnson said.
“When we see the litter, we take it out or we call [park] services to clear it out but the weeds are really a big problem.”
Recently, Ms Johnson said, the worst of it has centred around creeklands near Yarrangobilly.
“It’s hard for the National Parks guys because they’ve got a lot of area to cover and not a lot of time to do it in,” she said.
Both Mr Guest and Ms Johnson agree, the first step to improving the parks is increasingly the funding.
“If the state government puts money behind infrastructure to keep the parks clear of weeds, and commits to keeping the overgrowth down, the parks would be better for everyone,” Mr Guest said.