Deer cull ‘a waste of money’

Liz Bell

THE Gippsland Wild Dog Advisory Group has labelled a plan to pay professional shooters to cull deer in national parks from helicopters as “a waste of taxpayers’ money” that will exacerbate the wild dog problem.

Parks Victoria has confirmed that professional shooters will spend up to four days between October 8 and 26, shooting deer from helicopters in a deer cull trial.

Affected national parks around Mt Pinnibar and Mt Feathertop in the Alpine National Park, and Mt Buffalo, will be closed to the public during the shooting.

The exact dates of the shoot will be determined by weather conditions.

But Newry farmer and Gippsland Wild Dog Advisory group founder Barry Tayler said the plan was extravagant, and should be called off until after the state election.

He said available figures showed that using recreational shooters would be more cost efficient, and more effective in keeping deer numbers down.

“This seems to be a blatant waste of taxpayer money when recreational hunters would be happy to provide a better outcome at no cost to the government,” he said.

Mr Tayler questioned Parks Victoria’s claims that 400 deer had been killed by controlled methods during a three year period.

“When we attended the Parliamentary Hearing into Invasive Animals on Crown Land, figures were presented much better than the Vic Parks (sic) claim,” he said.

Figures from a 2016 report by Victoria’s Game Management Authority and the Arthur Rylah Institute back Mr Tayler’s claims, and show that almost 100,000 deer, including 80,875 Sambar and 15,059 Fallow were hunted and harvested in 2016.

Based on a survey of 1600 licensed hunters, the report found the 2016 total harvest was almost twice the average since 2009 (55,681) and 30 per cent more than the 2015 harvest of 71,142 deer.

Mr Tayler believes the number would be even higher, with more animals killed by farmers and other hunters.

He said “200,000 deer killed by non-professional hunters” would be closer to the mark.

He is also concerned that an aerial shoot would bring in wild dogs to feast on the carcasses.

“Recreational hunters take away most of what they kill,” he said.

“Helicopter shooting, by it’s very nature, means that carcasses are left behind, adding to an already out of control wild dog problem.

“No consideration is given either, to the number of deer which would be wounded, rather than killed outright, to die a slow and painful death if they are not attacked whilst alive by the wild dogs.

“This trial should be postponed until after the state election and further investigations should be made into it, before giving it the green light.”

But the Victorian National Parks Association has accused the recreational hunting lobby of “hijacking” the government’s controlled deer management strategy.

A July issues paper prepared by the Victorian National parks Association that likened deer to the “new cane toad”, claimed the government was being pressured to protect a ‘quality hunting experience’.

“The Victorian government is currently developing a deer management strategy for the state, but so far it appears to have been hijacked by the deer hunting lobby,” the report states.

“They claim they can control deer, but though they already have access to millions of hectares of public land, including large areas in national parks, deer numbers are growing well beyond control.

“If we don’t take radical action, deer have the potential to occupy most of the nation.”

The report states that while estimates vary, there could be one million deer in the state — possibly increasing at the rate of 200,000 to 300,000 a year.

Mr Tayler formed the Gippsland Wild Dog Advisory Group of about 25 farmers in 2016 after becoming “fed up” with wild dog attacks on livestock.

Parks Victoria responded to the group’s claims with a statement that its “dedicated conservation programs” were designed to protect wildlife and restore habitats.

These programs include activities such as monitoring grazer and plant populations, revegetation, weed spraying, controlled burning, and animal control programs.

“As part of this overall approach, Parks Victoria is currently undertaking a three-year program to trial different deer control techniques in the Alpine National Park,” a spokesperson said.

“The program will investigate the most efficient, cost-effective and humane methods of managing deer impacts on the alpine landscape.”

The program will target Sambar, Red and Fallow deer, with Parks Victoria claiming that helicopters allow shooters to cover areas not accessible on foot. Parks Victoria will use skilled professional shooters to undertake these operations, which, it says, are thoroughly planned and carried out under strict conditions, including adhering to the Firearms Act. Additionally, the operation will ensure safe, effective and humane practices by obeying the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Parks Victoria Chief Conservation Scientist, Dr Mark Norman, said Parks Victoria had an obligation to protect and conserve the delicate environment of the alpine regions, which he said were “as unique as the Great Barrier Reef and the Amazon Rainforest”.

“This aerial deer shooting operation will provide us with critical information on control methods, as well as greater intelligence in tracking deer populations in remote areas of the park,” he added.

In the lead up to the Victorian shooting program, Parks Victoria has been working with the aerial feral animal control teams in New South Wales, where deer, pigs and goats cause significant problems.

In June this year, figures were released showing that more than 4600 feral animals had been shot in an aerial cull program in the Upper Hunter in less than a month.

In a three-week program the tally was 2285 pigs, 2297 deer, 38 goats, 20 foxes and seven wild dogs.