‘Buffet’ for feral dogs

A HIGH Country deer culling trial is providing an “all you can eat buffet” for feral dogs, according to the Nationals.

Parks Victoria this week announced it had “successfully completed” stage two of the deer aerial shooting trial in the Alpine National Park, around Mt Bogong and the Bogong High Plains.

But Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull said the current practice of leaving carcasses on the ground would cause even greater problems than the deer do.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio has stated that while feral dogs visit deer carcasses during the recreational hunting season, “the primary mode of decomposition for the carcasses was through invertebrates, as opposed to consumption by wild dogs”.

Mr Bull disagreed, saying feral dogs were doing more than “visiting” carcasses.

“When this response [from the minister] was received, the person who raised [the issue] quickly got the proof of what we already know – the dogs are feeding on the carcasses,” he said.

“Landholders in the area face an ongoing battle against the predations of wild dogs on their livestock and are aghast the deer cull was providing an easy meal for the dogs.

“They realise a reliable food source assists with breeding numbers, and they are also aware it is beneficial to feral pigs and foxes as well,” Mr Bull said.

“In addition to that, I am also told they are being left adjacent to waterways and am advised that at least 300 to 400 deer have been culled under this program, possibly more.

“Feral deer are a serious problem, but without carcass disposal it is reducing the numbers of one invasive species to the benefit of others that are far more damaging.”

Shadow Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the state government’s “mismanagement” of problem deer was quite literally feeding wild dogs and fox populations.

“We all know the devastation wild dogs in particular cause to native fauna and farm animals, as well as the angst they create for farmers, so this ‘visiting carcasses’ response is just an absolute, out of touch insult,” he said.

“The minister has basically set up an all-you-can-eat buffet for these horrific predators.”

Parks Victoria said during the May operation, more than 130 deer were shot by the professional aerial marksman in just over 18 hours of aerial shooting time.

This was in addition to the 119 deer which were shot in the first stage of the trial in October, equating to a deer about every eight minutes during the course of the trial.

The aerial trial forms part of a deer control trial Parks Victoria began in 2015, which has also involved on-ground operations utilising the expertise of contractors and volunteer shooters from the Australian Deer Association and the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia.

Parks Victoria says the deer aerial shooting trial will help to determine the most efficient, cost effective and humane methods of managing deer to protect sensitive alpine habitats.

It says the operation was conducted using high standards of safety and was carried out humanely, and targeted high elevation isolated parts of the park which contain sensitive alpine vegetation communities with high conservation value.

These areas are difficult to access on foot.

During both operations the air crew noted significant track networks and large wallows that had been formed by deer.

Based on preliminary findings, deer control will continue to be delivered in the park where required.

Chief conservation scientist Dr Mark Norman said large numbers of deer were causing significant damage to vulnerable alpine wetlands, waterways, rare plant communities in the Alpine National Park and numerous native habitats in Victoria.

“It will take a wide range of tools and continued investment to solve this large-scale issue, tools including professional and volunteer ground shooters and aerial shooting,” he said.

“A helicopter can access remote and steep terrain that is difficult to access by foot, enabling us to target deer in these areas of the landscape.”

During 2019-20, Parks Victoria will collate and evaluate all the data from both aerial operations, as well as the results of the on-ground deer operations, and use this to help inform what combination of deer control tools are needed to protect these environmentally sensitive areas in the Alpine National Park in the long term.

Based on the results of the deer control trials, an ongoing, sustainable, landscape-scale deer control action plan will be prepared in line with the Greater Alpine National Parks Management Plan.