FOBIF has made a submission to the state government’s Draft Deer Management Strategy [see last week’s post]. Deer have not made a major impact in our region yet, but sightings are becoming more frequent, with recent reports from the Fryers Forest, Spring Gully, Muckleford and Chewton. Given the serious damage being done to the environment elsewhere, we have reason for concern. Feral deer pose an increasing threat to agriculture, the environment and traffic safety; the population is exploding, and that is a problem which needs to be confronted now.
We gave the draft a very low assessment, concluding that it was more concerned to gratify the hunting lobby than to respond to an increasingly evident environmental mess. It is puzzling and depressing that the state government should be concerned to pander to this lobby, whose allies are actively campaigning against it in the state election.
The essentials of our submission are set out below. The headings are the ones provided in the online survey form:
- General comment: This is not a deer management strategy: it is a hunting strategy, clearly devised to expand the amount of public land available to recreational hunters. This is plain from the first, when we read that the strategy is a key action of the Sustainable Hunting Action Plan. This latter Plan is entirely devoted to expanding hunting, and the word ‘sustainable’ in its title has no reference to natural values whatever. It is clear from this document, and other material easily available on the subject, that recreational hunting is completely ineffective as a form of control of deer populations: expanding it, therefore, is not a response to the increasingly dire effects of an exploding deer population. It is simply a sop to the hunting lobby. It is significant that the draft gives an impressive figure valuing deer hunting on page 10, but does not match it with a figure indicating the many costs to agriculture, the environment and public safety on pages 10 and 11. Such a figure, we believe, would far outweigh the supposed value to rural communities.
- Deer management zones: It is good the strategy aims at eliminating the deer populations from certain places, like Wilson’s Promontory. The notion of a ‘resource management’ zone for most of eastern Victoria, however, is a joke. Would the government apply that phrase to the rabbit plague, for example? Or to foxes, or cane toads? The phrase, like the word ‘sustainable’, is a cover for the feebleness of the draft’s approach to controlling the deer population.
- Goal 1: Enhance deer management through partnerships and community collaboration: Of course, community engagement is a good thing. This objective is disastrously flawed, however, given that there is no specific strategy to ‘engage’ rogue hunters. The Invasive Species Council calculated in 2008 that 58% of deer herds in 2000 were the result of illegal translocations, probably by deer hunters. These latter have, of course, a vested interest in having something to hunt. Engaging with them in the way suggested in the strategy seems, at best, naïve.
- Goal 2: Reduce the impact of deer on key environmental, agricultural, cultural and social assets Given the disastrous damage currently being inflicted on Victoria’s environment by deer, this is a praiseworthy aim…except that it shies away from the one most effective way of achieving it: that is, via a full on attack on deer populations by professional hunters.
- Goal 3: Increase awareness, understanding and capacity to manage deer: The most depressing part of this section is 3.3.1: ‘develop and implement a monitoring… framework’ etc. We know from bitter experience that this will not be done, and that no action will result. The promise of monitoring and consequent action is a ritual one governments give to put off action on the basis of the solid information we have now. Of course, we support more research, education and monitoring. However, we believe that the research embodied in the Invasive Species Council’s 2008 report [not to mention the references given on page 26] provides a solid basis for action now.
- Goal 4: Reduce illegal hunting: Notable for its absence in this section is: ‘improved capacity of rangers to supervise areas known to be used by rogue hunters.’ The strategy relies entirely on community self regulation. This is fine, up to a point: but without proper management resources, there is no way that illegal hunting will be effectively reduced. And given our experience with rogue prospectors in Central Victoria, we have no confidence that any serious resources will be given to controlling rogue hunters. The only way that this goal can be achieved is from a clear commitment in the strategy that rogue hunters will be caught and prosecuted. Without proper management resources, there is no way that illegal hunting will be effectively reduced.