Call for an effective deer strategy

It’s becoming increasingly obvious even to those not interested in conservation that deer are now a serious problem in large areas of Victoria. Reports of serious damage to wineries, and safety concerns over illegal shooting and potential road accidents appear to have increase political pressure for control that the trashing of our bushland hasn’t been able to do.

FOBIF has joined its name to an open letter calling for a strong and effective feral deer management strategy for Victoria. The letter was coordinated by the Victorian National Parks Association, and has been signed by over 90 Landcare organisations, leading ecologists, agricultural groups and a range of other affected organisations and groups from across the state. The substance of the letter is as follows:

We are concerned that Victoria’s Draft Deer Management Strategy (2018) fell far short of addressing the considerable problems feral deer bring to peri-urban and regional communities, and to wetlands, catchments and the natural environment. We offer here some recommendations for the final strategy; it is a critical opportunity to control deer populations and to reverse the increasing impacts they are having.We agree with the rough estimate for the state’s deer population, as documented in the draft strategy, at ‘between several hundred thousand up to one million or more’. The population is growing rapidly at an exponential rate, and far exceeds the capacity for control by recreational hunters. Research into the native habitats of the four main species of deer in Victoria indicates that they can continue to extend their range, potentially occupying almost every habitat in the nation. Victoria’s biodiversity is at risk. Deer are seriously impacting Victoria’s finest natural areas, from the coast to the Grampians, from rainforest gullies to the high country. Almost every type of native plant is browsed by Sambar Deer, and trampling, breaking and ringbarking plants by antler rubbing all add to those impacts. Decades of volunteer and government-funded revegetation programs across Victoria have already been damaged or are now threatened by deer. The two largest species of deer, Sambar and Red, are both adapted to wet climates and make extensive use of bogs and wetlands where their wallowing, trampling and browsing has a major impact on water quality and quantity in our catchments.The livelihoods of farmers, especially in orchards, vineyards and market gardens, are being threatened; even backyards and gardens are invaded. The growth of illegal hunting due to the easy availability of deer has become a safety concern in many rural and semi-rural areas. Deer are an increasing hazard on our roads.

Effective, safe and humane deer control is possible, but it will require an integrated, large-scale, adequately-resourced program. We believe a workable final strategy would greatly benefit from:Making appropriate legislative and regulatory changes

• Amend both the Wildlife Act (1975) and the Catchment and Land Protection Act (1994) to recognise all deer as pest species. This would align these Acts with Victoria’s National Parks Act (1975) and Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1998), the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999), and Victoria’s biodiversity strategy: Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037.

• Remove regulatory barriers affecting the capacity of public land managers to control deer.

• Increase penalties for illegal hunting, and for the translocation of live deer.

• Establish a state government Professional and Volunteer Firearms Competency Accreditation, and a Peri-urban Firearms Protocol or Code of Practice, to improve public safety and encourage humane control.

• Farmed deer must be tagged, and fences maintained to standards in accord with the Australian Deer Industry Manual no.2.Planning for success

• Establish a state-wide zoning system for deer control that prioritises management for, at least, national parks and other protected areas, and threatened species and communities currently identified in legislation. Remove the draft’s ‘resource zone’, as harmful invasive species should not be protected as a resource.

• Set evidence-based targets for effective control of deer.Building capacity and partnerships

• Allocate adequate, recurrent funding to public land managers for pest control operations.

• Build capacity in the professional pest control sector, including for remote area management and aerial shooting.

• Expand the engagement of professional and accredited recreational shooters in targeted programs managed by Parks Victoria.

• Resource a deer-specific targeted baiting strategy for the state.

• Work collaboratively with other states and territories, and with the federal government.Building effectiveness through knowledge

• Support research into additional control methods, including the development of genetic and/or biological controls, baiting options, trapping and other remote area control possibilities.

• Investigate control measures that have been effective in other jurisdictions or overseas, and implement them where they may be effective in Victoria.

• Resource an ongoing program to monitor:‚deer populations and distribution‚the effectiveness of control measures‚the costs and impacts of deer populations on the environment, agriculture, the economy and the Victorian community. While complete eradication is scarcely feasible, we believe serious application of the range of strategies above is essential to reverse deer impacts to waterways, wetlands and rural communities, and to recover the integrity of Victoria’s natural heritage.

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