Eagle deaths shock

GIPPSLAND farmers have backed calls for calm in the wake of the shock discovery of at least 136 wedge-tailed eagle carcasses on a property in east Gippsland.

On Wednesday, Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke “absolutely condemned” the deaths, but said Gippsland farmers should “not be persecuted” because of the alleged behaviour of one or two.

In the wake of the community outcry over the eagle deaths, Mr Jochinke said greater recognition was needed of the conservation and animal welfare efforts of farmers.

“I’ve spoken to quite a few farmers about this, and everyone is horrified that someone allegedly has taken matters into their own hands,” he said.

“The sting in the tail is that farmers have felt persecuted, while all the good work they do is being ignored.

“They need to be acknowledged for the stewardship that’s being done in terms of animal welfare and stock protection.”

Mr Jochinke said the majority of farmers lived in harmony with birds of prey, and many “were proud” to see eagle pairs nesting on their properties and enjoying the protected habitat they had provided.

“The big issue is not eagles, it’s the wild dogs and foxes, and other introduced pests, and farmers need community and government support to manage those pests,” he said.

“The government should have the gumption to back agriculture and support programs like baiting and trapping of wild dogs and foxes.”

A  Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning spokesman said farmers were able to apply for permits to control wildlife, however, he was unable to confirm whether the farmer investigated over the eagle deaths had acquired a permit.

DELWP does not issue authorisations to poison wildlife.

Since the news broke last week, hundreds of people have used social media sites to lash out at the farming community.

But a local wildlife expert with experience in wedge-tailed eagles echoed Mr Jochinke’s concerns there was a “misconception” that farmers hated wildlife.

“I know many farmers who live with the eagles around here quite happily, and not all farmers will take matters into their own hands,” he said.

Woodside biodynamic farmer and Landcare member, Steve Ronaldson, has farmed sheep for more than 30 years and, like many on the land, lives in harmony with the wild birds.

“We have wedge-tailed eagles and sea eagles around here, and while I think they could probably take a sick one, I’ve never seen one take a live lamb,” he said.

“We also have chooks, and the problem there is the crows and foxes, not the eagles.”

Another sheep farmer in the Wellington Shire who did not want to be identified for fear of persecution, said he “had no doubt” that an eagle could take a lamb in certain circumstances, but that he had “never seen it happen” in his 50-year farming career.

An investigation is underway into the confirmed poisoning, and wildlife officers suspect more dead animals may still be found in East Gippsland.

Wedge-tailed eagles are protected under the Wildlife Act 1975 and deliberately hunting or killing the birds carries a penalty of about $8000, or up to six months’ imprisonment.

Farmers and conservationists have long been at odds over how to deal with eagles, which have been as much a symbol of power and freedom in the Australian landscape, as a symbol of danger to livestock farmers since European settlement.

Australia’s largest birds of prey have in the past been targeted by some farmers because of the perceived threat they pose to newborn lambs, and up until the 1970s, had a bounty on their heads in some states.

Conservationists and scientists believe eagles rarely take healthy animals, and survive mainly on carrion such as road kill, but outcry over eagle deaths has done little to stop the suspected shooting, poisoning or trapping of the birds by a minority.

Last July, at least five sea eagles were poisoned in Bairnsdale.

Several people were spoken to and one person interviewed, but it is believed no charges were laid.

Also last year the carcasses of four eagles that had been shot were discovered in the Black Range State Forest, near Yea, by Forest Fire Management Victoria crews.

The year before that DELWP discovered eight eagles that had been poisoned within a 25-metre radius, also near the Yea area.

In Tasmania the wedge-tailed eagle is considered to be endangered, with the birds’ high death rate largely due to unlawful culling.