This chapter details the tools and methods available to control and contain feral deer, pigs and goats, including an overview of available methods for each species, the effectiveness of these measures, and issues relating to animal welfare considerations. The role of commercial harvesting and recreational hunting in the context of feral population management is also discussed, as well as the potential for new and emerging containment and control measures.
Noting the distribution of feral species outlined in Chapter 1, the committee heard that there is a need to control the areas where a feral population is expanding, and to contain the populations which are smaller or more isolated so they don't expand further. Achieving these objectives will include a range of available tools and methods.
Overview of available control methods
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) listed methods currently used for eradicating, preventing the spread and minimising the impact of pest animals:
Killing or removal (baiting, shooting, trapping or mustering)
exclusion (fencing or netting)
biological or fertility control
habitat manipulation (removal of surface refuges)
changes in land use, including agricultural practices (timing of lambing or planting different crops).
DAWR noted that effective management should 'integrate several of these methods and generally requires sustained coordination between many landholders and other stakeholders'. DAWR emphasised that:
Methods used to control pest animals must be effective against species that adapt well to changing conditions, have good dispersal abilities and can quickly populate. Increasingly there is an expectation that these control methods should be sustainable; pose negligible risks to people, non-target animals or other assets; cause minimal contamination of soil, crops and waterways; and uphold animal welfare considerations.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) noted that for the control of deer, pigs and goats, there is a heavy reliance on the lethal methods of shooting and baiting.
Control methods for deer
The Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS) advised that at present, 'feral deer can only be managed through aerial and ground shooting, trapping, and using exclusion fencing'.
The RSPCA stated that unlike other vertebrate pest species where different methods are available to control populations, 'only one method (shooting) is used for feral deer'. It submitted that 'ground shooting by professional, trained and competent shooters is considered to be the most effective and humane technique currently available for reducing wild deer populations'.
The South Australian South East Natural Resources Management Board reported that it has found aerial culling with the use of helicopter platforms to be the most efficient form of deer control to cover large areas. It reported on an aerial cull over 12 days in 2017 which resulted in 1,794 deer removed. Funding was supported by the Australian Government as part of the National Landcare Partnerships program. It compared this with a ground based night shooting operation over a 10 day period in 2016 which removed only three deer and was therefore considered as being of limited value as a means of control.
The South Australian South East Natural Resources Management Board added that the use of deer proof fencing 'is gaining favour amongst landowners…and is proving to be somewhat successful in protecting valuable perennial based pastures from the pressure of grazing deer'.
CISS summarised that given the continued spread of feral deer and their impact, 'the available control methods for feral deer are insufficient to limit the expansion of range or to decrease the impact of deer at the levels at which they are currently implemented'. CISS argued that the situation is unlikely to change 'unless innovative new techniques and tools are developed in conjunction with a national landscape scale nil-tenure approach to deer management'.
Issues with current deer control measures
Research has found that '[t]here has been little evaluation of the efficacy of deer management techniques in Australia, and our understanding of deer ecology (required to guide deer management) is limited'.
The committee heard that current methods are not resulting in a reduction in the numbers of deer. CISS noted that the methods currently available to control feral deer 'generally sit at the lower end of the range of effective techniques used in the management of invasive species'.
The committee heard from landowners who reported that their efforts were having little impact on the numbers of deer. Mr Ted Rowley and Ms Jo Roberts, on a cattle property in the south east region of NSW, detailed their efforts to reduce the number of deer on their and neighbouring properties. Despite culling, 'we still have plague numbers of deer'. They added:
The deer are getting smarter and more difficult to cull by ground shooting in all forms. They are very adaptable and ground shooting is now an ineffective control method.
Consistent with our neighbours, our experience is that ground shooting utilising occasional professional and commercial shooters and recreational hunters, together with our own very intensive shooting efforts, is failing to control feral deer populations to a level where impacts are acceptable to our business and environmental sustainability.
Other graziers in the south east region of NSW also reported that fallow deer are 'now in plague proportions':
On our properties alone [we] have culled well over 900 deer this calendar year. The previous year over 500 and before that 300. A deer contractor has taken out 2000 deer in the last 6 months in the general locality. Unfortunately we are not witnessing a decrease in numbers. In fact it is evidence from our observations numbers continue to increase.
Issues with aerial shooting were reported. In addition to the significant cost of helicopter shooting and cases of cost inefficiency, the Invasive Species Council (ISC) cautioned that aerial shooting of deer is effective only in open areas whereas ground shooting is generally ineffective except over small areas.
Deer proof fencing requires a number of considerations. The committee heard that deer proof fencing is expensive and requires regular maintenance to address incursions by wombats. Additionally, the placement needs to consider the movement of non-pest animals through the landscape.
Controlling deer in urban and peri-urban areas
The increasing number of deer in urban and peri-urban areas and the difficulty of deer control in that environment were raised with the committee. Wollongong City Council reported that the 'impacts of deer are more pronounced in the Wollongong area due to the high numbers of deer in the urban environment, causing conflict with the local community including traffic hazards and property destruction'.
Nillumbik Shire Council in Victoria spoke about the challenges of deer control in this environment:
Peri-urban development creates a housing density that makes it difficult to safely implement some control measures (e.g. shooting and poisoning) yet development is still sparse enough to provide ample harbour and resources for breeding and spread of many invasive animal species.
Manningham City Council noted that 'Victorian local governments lack deer management expertise, particularly with safe use of firearms in peri-urban areas'. Ms Samantha Bradley, Senior Environmental Planner at Manningham Council, detailed a range of issues regarding establishing effective control measures using firearms in peri-urban areas and stressed the need for guidance in this environment:
The only effective control method we have is using high-calibre firearms in a peri-urban area. We need assistance and guidance. We have been asking the state government for some kind of accreditation and competency testing for anyone using firearms in a peri-urban area. They have said that they will come up with a peri-urban firearms protocol for peri-urban areas, but that doesn't include a competency for the use of firearms.
Ms Claire Dunn, Environment and Regulatory Services Manager, Municipal Association of Victoria, also advocated for 'national best-practice management guidelines for the control of feral deer, particularly in urban and peri-urban areas'.
Manningham Council emphasised that 'State and Federal Government leadership and significant resourcing is urgently required to ensure a safe, best practice, large scale, long term, strategically coordinated, interagency management approach across land tenure, including for Melbourne's peri‑urban areas'.
As noted in Chapter 3, the Victorian Government announced $1 million in funding in October 2020 to develop a Peri-urban Melbourne Deer Control Plan.
What difference does the legislative status of deer make to control efforts?
As outlined in Chapter 3, the status of deer is inconsistent across state and territory legislation, with it being designated as a game animal in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. The evidence received below in relation to NSW was received well before the change announced on 23 August 2019.
The ISC reported that the special status accorded to deer in the three states 'means that authorisation is required to control deer (with various exceptions)'. Shoalhaven Landcare Association indicated that, as a result of the classification of deer as game, restrictions are applied to the hunting of deer and concluded that the 'system is not effective':
They can only be hunted during the day, lures cannot be used, each deer must be tagged…hunting seasons apply and landowners are required to pay volunteers who hunt on their land.
Graziers in the south east region of NSW pointed to the Game and Feral Animal Control Act 2002 which provides protection and adds a layer of complexity and places restriction on control methods.
The RSPCA advised that the status of deer in some jurisdictions as a game species 'actively restricts effective and humane management'. Mr Andrew Cox, Chief Executive Officer of the ISC, explained how having deer classified as a pest would assist with controlling numbers:
In New South Wales, for example, recreational hunters can shoot pigs, rabbits, goats, foxes, cats and deer. Those species, except for deer, are not designated as game species…because of this game status for deer, there are extra rules imposed on who can control deer and how they control them… For deer…you can't hunt at night and you can't use a spotlight, whereas for those other pest animals you can. If you remove the status of game for deer in New South Wales, hunters could still shoot deer but they might shoot more deer.
[Removing the status of game for deer] would mean other landowners wouldn't have to abide by game rules. They'd be allowed to shoot the deer in the same way they can shoot foxes and pigs. At the moment in New South Wales, if a farmer wants to bring a contractor, a friend or even a neighbour in, those people who shoot deer need a game licence. If they are going to shoot a pig, they don't need a game licence. So it's extra red tape for them. If a neighbour wants to let deer increase on their property, there is nothing unlawful about that. But if they want to let the pig numbers grow on that property, because it is a pest they'll need to act to mitigate that biosecurity risk… Certainly the two can co-exist – hunting and a pest status.
Dr Jody Gunn, Executive Manager, Bush Heritage Australia, stated that 'landholders…[are] really struggling to implement effective control on their land because of the conflicting status of these species':
If an animal is partially protected, a landholder's ability to effectively manage those animals on their land, even though they may have a legal obligation through a pastoral lease or through a covenant, is hamstrung. We've got clearly competing regulatory frameworks overlapping each other, and it makes it extremely challenging to have a position and an impact on population numbers not only at a property scale but also at a landscape scale.
Some shooting associations argued that the status of deer makes little difference to management efforts. The role of recreational hunters is discussed further below. Mr Philip Ingamells, Park Protection Officer, Victorian National Parks Association, responded to these arguments, stating that changing the status of deer in legislation from game to pest:
…makes it very clear that action has to be taken. I will put it another way: you don't any longer have to have the discussion we're having now. It just clarifies everything.
Mr Michael Stead, President of the Nature Conservation Society of South Australia, contrasted the situation in South Australia, where deer is declared as a pest, with states where deer are considered a game species, and stated:
[H]aving them declared pest status in South Australia makes justification for control easier, particularly with private landholders… If they were potentially listed as a game species in South Australia, undertaking compliance control actions would be more fraught and more difficult.
Mr Cox from ISC spoke to the political aspects of maintaining deer as a game animal in some states:
Governments have been very nervous about advancing policies that may be seen to be impacting on hunters; but I would argue that addressing a problem like feral deer would actually be in the hunters' interest, because there is plenty of deer for hunters for decades to come. The thinking is largely that hunters have had a monopoly on controlling the deer and want to maintain that, even though it is overwhelming the hunters'…and they're not slowing the expansion down. It is like a handbrake being applied to all of the efforts. Even until recently—say, four or five years ago—there was a de facto ban on research on feral deer in New South Wales.
The ISC emphasised that 'the protection of deer for hunters in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania has meant the abrogation of deer policy to hunting interests and the squandering of opportunities to prevent deer increase'. The ISC expressed the view that '[a]lthough the governments protecting deer are finally acknowledging the damage they cause and relaxing some of the restrictions on deer control, they are still failing to fully prioritise the public interest over the private interests of deer hunters'.
Mr Cox reported that 'Queensland has deer and pigs designated as pests and there is still hunting going on through a regulated process'.
Animal welfare implications for feral deer status
The RSPCA expressed concern about listing feral deer as a pest species 'as this would effectively remove any protection under animal welfare legislation'. It stated that an alternative would be where state legislation allows, 'to list deer as unprotected wildlife as this would remove restrictions on the control of deer without removing protections against the use of inhumane methods'.
In response to a written question on notice, the RSPCA further explained its position:
While we acknowledge that listing feral deer as a pest species provides a mechanism for more effective management of the adverse impacts of deer, it also means that their level of protection under animal welfare legislation is effectively reduced. For example, under the WA Animal Welfare Act 2002, Part 3 Division 3 S24, it is a defence against a charge of cruelty if the person can prove that the alleged offence was committed whilst attempting to kill pests, that the method used was usual and reasonable and that reasonable steps were taken to ensure animals other than pests would not be harmed.
The Department of Agriculture responded that '[t]he listing of invasive species, including feral deer, does not override any animal welfare legislation' but pointed out that this is the responsibility of state and territory governments.
Control methods for feral pigs
There are more control options available for the management of feral pigs than for deer. The current control options for pigs are 'primarily aerial and ground shooting, baiting and trapping'.
The Australasian Wildlife Management Society indicated that 'poison baiting and aerial shooting are often the most cost effective way to control feral pig populations because these methods can remove many animals from a large area over a short time'.
CISS noted that commercial harvesting of feral pigs is also used as a management tool in parts of NSW and Southern QLD. 'Judas pigs' are also used, whereby radio-collared pigs are used to locate groups of feral pigs difficult to find by other methods.
CISS advised that in addition to methods such as shooting, feral pigs can be managed using toxins such as 1080 (sodium fluroacetate), warfarin, CSSP (yellow phosphorus) and, in the near future, sodium nitrate.
Collaborative research projects through the CISS predecessor, the Invasive Animals CRC, resulted in the development of commercially available pig bait (PigOut), a 1080-based bait.
An additional sodium nitrate based bait product (Hoggone), and bait delivery system (HogHopper) has recently been developed in another CISS collaboration. An application for registration was submitted to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) on 4 August 2017. In December 2019, CISS provided an update on Hoggone:
The APVMA gazetted Hoggone on 24 September 2019 as an unrestricted S6 chemical with mandatory use of a hopper for deployment. This was accompanied by a 28 day public consultation phase… Additionally, some States require the product to be listed through a Pesticide Control Order (PCO) or equivalent under respective pesticide legislation before it can be made commercially available in those jurisdictions. The new product will be manufactured by Animal Control Technologies Australia (ACTA), and is expected to be available through them from 2020.
In July 2020, the National Feral Pig Coordinator provided a further update on Hoggone, noting that it was registered nationally by the APVMA on 11 December 2019. It is a regulatory requirement that it must be placed in custom designed bait boxes, or Hog Hoppers, to limit access by non-target animals. Warning signs must also be placed at the entry point to the baited properties. Standard Operating Procedures are under development by the NSW Department of Primary Industries and will be made available by the PestSmart website. It was also noted that:
In addition to the multinational testing program for the HOGGONE® product, early commercial adoption has commenced to pilot stage. Small projects with landholder groups in New South Wales (Armidale area) and Queensland (Moonie, Southern Gulf) have been completed recently to understand how HOGGONE® can be included as another tool to use as part of their integrated feral pig management programs. Preliminary field use feedback has indicated very high levels of success and no non-target impact to date. Educating land managers on how to use HOGGONE® to control pig populations is now underway by ACTA to support its uptake.
CSIRO added that, as a sodium nitrate based feral pig bait, Hoggone 'kills pigs in less than 2 hours which is much shorter that the next most effective toxin 1080…which takes 6-8 hours'.
The National Feral Pig Coordinator expressed the view that while Hoggone technology 'offers advantages over existing pig control by shooting, trapping or baiting using 1080, these techniques must remain available for the overall integrated programs of feral pig management and disease response'.
Effectiveness of poison baiting for feral pig control
CSIRO submitted that systematic intensive poison baiting can be effective if conducted for specific reasons. It described working with a regional land management organisation and Aboriginal rangers on Cape York Peninsula to look at the effectiveness of feral pig baiting to address the impact of feral pigs on marine turtle nesting. It indicated that associated aerial control in previous years had had no observable impact. Following systematic baiting over two years feral pig predation decreased by > 90 per cent on the managed beach. CSIRO concluded that this approach:
…suggests that targeted local action was far more effective at achieving the management goal than broad scale population control conducted at regional scales in this situation.
Use of 1080-based baits
The Kangaroo Island Natural Resources Management Board reported that in 2010 the Board conducted a trial of Pigout 1080 pig baits through collaboration with the former Invasive Animals CRC. It found:
This work indicated that uptake by non-target species, particularly brush‑tailed possums, would need to be addressed before any broad-scale 1080 baiting was carried out.
The lack of an antidote for 1080 poisoning would also be an issue where farm or hunting dogs might gain access to the baits.
The RSPCA argued that the use of 1080 baiting should be avoided given that a more humane poison, sodium nitrate, is available.
The Local Government Association of Queensland, however, indicated that the use of 1080 baits '[is] a viable option for some landholders'. However it acknowledged that this method is decreasing in use due to the high doses required to kill feral pigs and the risks for non-target species.
As noted above, the National Feral Pig Coordinator stressed the need for land managers to have a range of humane control techniques available to them to be applied across many different habitats, environments and geographical areas. In relation to 1080, it noted:
…it is important that this is used and applied by land managers in the most humane and effective way and according to Standard Operating Procedures…to minimise suffering of pigs. Model codes of practice for the humane control of feral pigs are available via the PestSmart website…and the humaneness of control methods, including 1080 and HOGGONE®, were assessed by an independent expert panel.
Use of yellow phosphorous and warfarin
The Australian Veterinary Association noted that:
…while the baiting of feral pigs with yellow phosphorous is not acceptable under current best practice guidelines…some states, notably Queensland, have not banned this practice. Carbon disulphide and yellow phosphorous cause slow and painful death over hours to days and this is unacceptable for feral pig control.
The RSPCA also expressed the view that the use of yellow phosphorus and warfarin should be banned as these methods are regarded as inhumane.
Issues with other pig control methods
CSIRO advised that 'recreational hunting of pigs using rifles is generally not effective in achieving population reductions over large scales unless the habitat is very open and without refuges'.
The Local Government Association of Queensland reported that trapping feral pigs is a 'resource intensive and time-consuming process and often only results in the capture of small numbers. Ground and aerial shooting continue to be used as successful control methodologies but the costs associated with aerial shooting can be restrictive'.
Control methods for feral goats
The South Australian South Eastern Natural Resources Management Board indicated that aerial culling of goats is the most efficient control method but other options include trapping, mustering and ground shooting. Judas goats are also used.
Animal welfare considerations
The RSPCA pointed out that '[t]here is increasing community concern and expectations regarding the treatment of vertebrate pest animals'. Several issues were raised with the committee in relation to animal welfare considerations for feral species management.
The Department of the Environment and Energy noted that the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, jointly developed by Commonwealth, state and territory governments, industry and community groups, 'provides a national framework to identify priorities, coordinate stakeholder action and improve consistency across all animal use sectors'. The strategy applies to native, introduced and feral animals.
Model Codes of Practice and Standard Operating Procedures
The Department of the Environment and Energy advised that, consistent with the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, model Codes of Practice (COPs) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been developed for a range of pest animal species as guidance for managing the animal welfare aspects of pest animal control.
The COPs encompass all aspects of controlling a pest animal species. There are model COPs for feral pigs and goats.
SOPs provide a uniform approach to the management of pest animals. There are SOPs:
Pigs (trapping, aerial shooting, ground shooting, poisoning with 1080, use of Judas pigs)
Goats (trapping, aerial shooting, ground shooting, mustering, use of Judas goats).
The Australian Pest Animal Strategy 2017-27 notes that COPs and SOPs are an important development which should be 'continuously improved as new information becomes available, to ensure that the most effective, safe and humane control practices available are being delivered by landholders'.
The RSPCA stated that 'although animal welfare Codes of Practice and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) exist for many declared pest species, compliance with these is not mandatory in most circumstances'. It noted that for deer there is only one SOP for ground shooting and there is no overarching model welfare code of practice for feral deer.
The RSPCA argued that 'mandatory compliance with recognised COPs and SOPs would help ensure improved welfare outcomes for feral deer' and that this could be achieved by proclaiming these standards under welfare legislation in a similar way that livestock COPs are enacted. It stated further that an 'effective monitoring regime with appropriate penalties would also be required to help ensure compliance'.
The Australian Veterinary Association similarly noted that there is no national code of practice for the humane management of deer and there is only one deer SOP for ground shooting available on the PestSmart website. It submitted:
NSW is currently preparing documents for the management of deer within its jurisdiction, however a nationally applicable code that outlines best practice and humane management along with associated SOPs for specific management methods is required.
In December 2019, the Department of the Environment and Energy provided further information to the committee on the model COPs and SOPs. It noted that these were developed by the New South Wales Government with input from other governments. Further:
The Codes of Practice have been endorsed by the inter-governmental National Biosecurity Committee and are guiding documents. The Standard Operating Procedures are guiding documents only and can be modified by jurisdictions to suit their particular needs and legislation.
The department also advised that the New South Wales Government is 'updating Model Codes of Practice and Standard Operating Procedures for many species and has agreed to bring these to the National Biosecurity Committee for consideration. This will include a Model Code of Practice for deer'.
In August 2020 the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment indicated that NSW has advised that the COPs and SOPs for managing deer are expected to be published in early to mid-2021.
Model for assessing relative humaneness of control methods
The department noted that A model for assessing the relative humaneness of pest animal control methods was developed under the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy. The RSPCA described this model as 'an essential tool for pest animal management, as it helps decision makers to choose the most humane methods available'. It noted that there is an 'ongoing need to use the model to assess and review as many control methods for different species as possible'.
The RSPCA recommended that all control methods be assessed for humaneness pointing out that as 'no assessment of the relative humaneness of different methods for deer control has yet been published…[this] makes it difficult for decision makers to easily identify the most humane method available'.
The RSPCA also supported the eight principles developed from the A National Approach to Humane Vertebrate Pest Control workshop held in 2003 as providing a 'robust framework in terms of meeting animal welfare requirements'.
Issues raised in relation to animal welfare considerations
The RSPCA raised a number of animal welfare issues relating to control techniques for feral deer, pigs and goats, and relevant COPs and SOPs.
The RSPCA recommended that the SOP regarding on the ground shooting of deer be reviewed to prohibit bow hunting and the use of dogs. The RSPCA reported that the Model Code of Practice for the Humane Control of Feral Pigs, and associated SOPs, were last reviewed in 2012 and should be updated as soon as possible. Similarly, the RSPCA noted that the Model Code of Practice for the Humane Control of Feral Goats and most associated SOPs were last reviewed in 2012 and should be updated.
The RSPCA, after outlining the standard operating procedures followed by professional shooters to ensure the most humane methods are used, noted that 'there is no requirement for recreational hunters to comply with any standard operating procedure'. It added that 'recreational hunting of deer is regulated by state agencies responsible for hunting and requirements can run counter to best animal welfare practice'.
The RSPCA raised the use of warfarin and yellow phosphorus (CSSP) for pig control, which state governments agreed to phase out in 2007. It reported that voluntary phase outs have occurred in some jurisdictions such as NSW but the status in other states/territories is unclear.
The RSPCA reported on the use of dogs stating that 'there is sometimes confusion around the difference between 'hunting with hounds' and 'hunting with dogs'. The RSPCA advised that in some states it is still legal to 'use dogs to locate, point to, or flush out deer when hunting' and in Victoria 'to use scent‑trailing hounds to chase deer'. In NSW 'a dog may only be used for locating, point, or flushing deer but hunting with scent-trailing hounds is not permitted'.
The regulations concerning hunting pigs with dogs vary between states and territories. The RSPCA advised that 'although pig hunters vehemently defend their sport and would like the public to believe that their dogs do not maul or attack pigs and their dogs do not get injured…there is plenty of video, photographic and direct evidence that reveals the true nature of pig hunting'.
Animal Liberation described graphic details regarding the use of dogs in hunting feral pigs.
CSIRO indicated that hunting using dogs can be highly effective in certain situations but acknowledged that many would consider it not to be humane.
Role of commercial harvesting operations
The role of commercial harvesting operations of feral species was discussed in evidence to the committee. Some stakeholders pointed to the ability of commercial harvesting operations to assist in reducing feral populations, while others were sceptical of its value as a management tool.
ISC's Mr Cox discussed bounties and commercial harvesting as a management tool for feral species:
Bounties are ineffective solutions and that's been shown over time throughout the world. Commercial harvesting may seem to be, on the surface, a simple solution, but on the whole it works against your objectives and actually facilitates the spread and entrenchment of the problem we have.
Research has shown that 'commercialisation carries the risk of greater de facto protection of harvested species, leading to higher average densities'.
Commercial harvesting of deer
Commercial deer harvesting operations are allowed in several states in Australia.
One such operator, Wild Game Resources Australia (WGR), told the committee that it saw an opportunity for the commercial industry to play a part in population control of feral species. WGR noted that, in March 2018, the Victorian Government passed legislation enabling wild venison to be harvested for human consumption and pet food by approved field harvesters.
WGR told the committee in November 2018 that it had approximately 74 chiller box sites across NSW and 'is setting up a network in Victoria'. It also has extensive international markets with a high volume of future contracts. WGR highlighted that there are now opportunities for landholders in Victoria to control deer numbers and make an income. WGR stated that the response from landholders has been very positive and they are currently processing enquiries from Victorian landholders.
Mr Brett Conibear, Business Development Manager, WGR, told the committee that with their pool of professional shooters they can also offer a culling service. Mr Edward Staughton, Managing Director of Staughton Group and Managing Director of WGR, added that there is capacity to dispose of carcasses through their rendering facility.
WGR pointed out that, when operating for sale, they work in the fringe country where carcasses are easy to retrieve and get to a chiller box quickly, not deep in the bush. WGR representatives therefore saw no conflict between their operations and recreational hunters. They also advised that they can operate in peri-urban areas. However, Mr Conibear reported that any change to the classification of deer that permitted poisoning would jeopardise the guarantees they provide in terms of the food safety of their product.
Mr Philip Ingamells of the Victorian National Parks Association suggested that, if an effective bait for deer were developed, it might be possible to set up bait stations in remote areas which would not affect the commercial use.
Commercial hunting of deer was supported by the Tallangatta Valley Landcare Group for the pet food and, 'as deemed acceptable, human consumption food chains'.
Feral goat harvesting
Several submitters commented on how commercial harvesting of feral goats can affect management outcomes. The RSPCA noted that 'feral goats have commercial value which may provide an incentive for landholders to remove animals but not eradicate them or control them to meet impact reduction goals'. CSIRO submitted:
Effectively managing goats to mitigate environmental impacts is complicated by competing interests. There is a strong overseas market for feral goat meat. However, harvesting of goats via mustering and/or shooting for the purposes of generating a commercial return typically does not locally eradicate goats, and may not even reduce density appreciably over large areas, as only high density goat populations are economic to muster, after which the populations are typically left to recover. Furthermore, nannies and kids are often released, as part of a sustainable harvest.
The ISC advised that this expanding industry 'creates a perverse incentive for keeping goats in the landscape (particularly when sale prices are not high or goats are underweight), and feral goat numbers have risen as the rate of harvesting has increased'. ISC supported the position of the Australian Wildlife Management Society that:
Where landholders consider feral goats to be a resource, they should be managed as livestock and 'landholders must take responsibility for their management and its consequences'. Maximum stocking rates should apply, and 'adverse effects on neighbours [and the natural environment] should be eliminated'.
Role of recreational hunting
A significant number of submitters and witnesses commented on the role of recreational hunting in the context of managing deer, pig and goat populations.
Not an effective control measure
The RSPCA advised that '[t]o date, feral deer management has not been conducted in a strategic and coordinated way but has relied on recreational hunting to remove deer'. The overwhelming evidence to the committee was that recreational hunting is not an effective control measure as the numbers removed are too low to have an effect.
The National Parks Association of the ACT highlighted that 'one of the impediments to abating the threats of the three species has been a major reliance on recreational hunting as a control method, particularly for deer'. However, it advised that:
Recreational shooting is generally ineffective for controlling feral animals except over a small area, as too few are killed to overcome the capacity of their populations to quickly rebound.
The Vertebrate Pest Managers Association of Australia was also of the view that '[p]urely relying on volunteer hunting alone has proven to be unsuccessful in its attempts to battle, manage and sustain the growing populations and their disbursement'.
The RSPCA emphasised that it:
…does not consider recreational hunting to be a justified, effective, sustainable or humane approach to managing deer and it is concerned that this approach continues to be taken by several state governments including Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales.
The South East Natural Resources Management Board advised that:
Ground shooting by hunting groups and affected landowners has a limited impact on deer populations and is further complicated by the impact of illegal poachers who focus on trophy specimens or the taking of venison for private consumption and has little impact on reduction in deer numbers.
Animal Liberation submitted that governments facilitate recreational hunting and justify the activities by:
…claiming that each non-native animal killed assists in reducing the impact of that species on the environment, other animals and agricultural productivity. However, unless hunters kill more animals than can be replaced each year, they do not reduce the population size and therefore do not reduce the impacts of those species.
The CSIRO advised that recreational hunting of pigs is generally not effective in achieving population reductions over large scales unless the habitat is very open. However:
…regular hunting of an area can act as an effective deterrent to stop pigs using an area. Pigs are of reasonably high intelligence and learn to avoid locations that are made dangerous… Hence there is a potential role for hunting in protecting localised high value environmental assets. This, however, requires hunters to continue to hunt in areas where the return (in terms of pigs encountered) is very low, which to many is an unattractive proposition. For this form of control to be effective, there needs to be commitment (in a form of stewardship) on the part of the hunters involved.
Mr Darren Marshall, General Manager, Southern Queensland Landscapes, spoke about the role of hunting:
So one of the biggest problems we face is landholders that say: 'It's okay. We don't need to bait,' or 'We don't need to do an aerial shoot. We've got a hunter.' Whenever we do monitoring programs, we know the properties that just have the hunter is where all the pigs are, because hunting cannot take out enough of the population. It's a really topical conversation as to whether or not hunting has a role. We have to accept that hunting is there and it is a fantastic recreational sport, but we have to acknowledge that that's all it is and it does not reduce the number of feral pigs or the impacts that they have.
Mr Bart Dryden, Operations Manager, Terrain NRM, spoke about 'uncoordinated hunting' having the potential to disrupt other control methods, for example, 'some of the impacts of uncoordinated hunting is that people disrupt trap sites or baiting sites or they're on properties when there is aerial shooting programs in place'.
Ms Patricia Jeffers, who is trialling tracking and trapping methods for feral pig control on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland, spoke about how this affects her operations:
[Hunting is] a hobby up here, even amongst the farmers themselves. Two of our direct neighbours are actually hunting with dogs. They only go after the boars; they let the sows and piglets go, because that's their future sport. They've scared the pigs away from our bait site, and it takes up to three weeks before those pigs are comfortable enough to come back to that bait site. So we're now waiting for pigs to come back so we can test our BoarBuster [trap]. We had a nice little family all lined up, and then someone came through the other night with three dogs and a seven-year-old boy and chased them all away. They don't like dogs, so they won't come back until the smell has faded. It doesn't matter how much we talk to them and explain to them what we're trying to do; we can't seem to get them to stay away. We do see a role for the dog hunters in mopping up the last of the pigs that won't come to bait sites, but we want them to come in after we've taken out the majority, because they capture maybe one pig every six months, and we might be catching 13 a month. It's very inefficient.
In addition to the lack of effectiveness, the competing interests of farmers and hunters were pointed out. Mr Gerald Leach, Chair, Land Management Committee, Victorian Farmers Federation, highlighted the difference in objectives between recreational hunters and commercial farmers, particularly in relation to deer:
The farmer wants to eradicate, if possible, that species from their property. In general, the sporting shooters' attitude towards deer is that it provides a game for them—hence the word 'game'. No, the word 'game' goes back a long way! They see it as a contest, albeit a bit one-sided, between an individual animal and themselves. That's my understanding from having spoken to them quite some time ago now in terms of how they operate.
Differences between recreational hunters and professional shooters
Evidence also drew out the differences between recreational and professional shooters when it comes to population control. The RSPCA stated that '[r]ecreational hunting on its own is not an effective form of pest management', reporting that 'professional marksmen have been shown to be more effective than recreational hunters' and noting that professional marksmen are also proficient at shooting animals humanely.
Mr Cox also outlined the reasons for using professional shooters to reduce deer populations:
Unless you're removing at least half the population each year, you won't stabilise the population. It's very hard to remove a feral animal at very low densities. Deer are highly cryptic. As soon as you start using ground shooting, they become very wary. The first night, you might see them at 100 metres, but you shoot and they learn what the person driving the car with the gun looks like. The next night, they're 200 metres away, and the next night they're 300 metres away. They often don't cluster like goats do. They're a very difficult thing. That's why you need to call on the full tools. I should remind the senators about this game management thinking for deer hunting in those three states. You can't shoot at night and you can't use the spotlight, which is the most effective time to shoot, and they sometimes have closed seasons. That's exactly how you want to maintain a population and help it expand rather than to reduce it. Again, that's why professional shooters are going to be a better solution than recreational hunters.
In discussing the successful goat eradication programs on Kangaroo Island, Mr Richard Trethewey, Presiding Member of the Kangaroo Island Natural Resources Management Board, spoke about the differences between recreational and professional shooters, stating that professional shooters take out a whole group of feral animals so there are none left to make others wary; in contrast, recreational shooters take only a few animals which can work against eradication programs.
Ms Amanda Smith from Yarra Ranges Council spoke about safety concerns relating to recreational hunters, when contrasted with professional shooters:
[Businesses] are only investing in professional contractors because there is that sentiment amongst a lot of the community of concern around the safety and the way that recreational hunters might behave. Again, it's probably a small proportion of hunters who do the wrong thing but, within the wider community, that can create a sentiment of concern and unease about allowing people to access people's own private land to undertake control. That's infinitely more expensive, obviously, than for people to use professional contractors. And there are not enough of them. We need more of them working in that space.
Poor behaviour of recreational hunters
While a few submissions focused on the economic benefits of recreational hunting, the committee also received evidence detailing the negative actions of some recreational hunters.
A landowner in rural Victoria, who did not wish to be named, outlined a number of serious issues they and others have had to deal with as a result of the poor behaviour of some hunters, including:
indiscriminate shooting of native wildlife;
fires and rubbish left behind;
abandoned carcasses and entrails providing food for wild dogs;
hunting dogs and bullets which do not recognise boundaries; and
police unable to adequately monitor, control or check hunter's authenticity and respond to incidents.
Evidence also pointed out the misnomer of the economic benefits of hunting for local regional economies, as hunters often bring in their own supplies when traveling to hunt.
Mr Neil Hordern, Manager, Connected Communities, Nillumbik Shire Council, mentioned stock being shot and also reported 'people living on farms who sleep with their lights on because they're scared of having the house shot at night'. Mr Cox also spoke about hunters illegally trespassing on private land which is particularly an issue in Victoria.
A set of graziers in the south east region of NSW submitted that '[d]eer are classified as game for recreational hunters' benefit and enjoyment. Agriculture, the environment and community are footing the bill so recreational hunters can pursue the occasional weekend sport'. These graziers emphasised that over the past 10 years they had tried to engage with recreational hunters but have found that hunters 'only ever shoot one or two stags over a two day stint', and very rarely shoot females or other feral animals as they don't want to scare the stag trophy they seek. The submission noted that hunters have also blatantly disobeyed rules set down for them to follow on the graziers' property.
Translocation of feral animals
The National Parks Association of the ACT also pointed out that the illegal translocation of feral animals for hunting has undermined control and containment efforts. Australian Pork Limited (APL) reported that it has 'ongoing concerns with the practices of opportunistic hunters who have been known to translocate, breed and trade feral pigs to provide predictable targets for hunting, including closer to their home'. It added:
These practices are illegal and concerning as they may further spread populations of feral pigs making them even more difficult to control. APL has engaged with sporting and recreational shooters to discuss these matters and biosecurity related issues in an attempt to stamp out these practices. Whilst APL understands most sporting shooters do the right thing, there is a cohort who are prepared to undertake illegal activities to pursue their hobby.
Mr Marshall from Southern Queensland Landscapes spoke about the translocation of feral pigs:
I have a slide from Tennessee that I wish I could show you. There were two populations of feral pigs, and for 50 years there was no hunting in the State of Tennessee. There were no tags issued for feral pigs, and the two populations grew over 50 years by a small amount. Then they brought in a bounty and, the second they brought in the bounty, about three-quarters of the state was actually covered with feral pigs, because people would trap them, transport them and release them closer to home so that they could hunt them. I know for a fact that happens here in Australia. It probably doesn't have to happen up around Cairns, because there are enough feral pigs, but down south it's a real reason feral pigs have spread.
Mr Cox also spoke about the practice of relocating animals for hunting and stated 'I think for deer and pigs it is a serious problem and a major contributor to the problem'. Ms Bradley from Manningham City Council, agreed and told the committee that:
Once you move deer into a new area, it actually increases their fertility rate. So it creates a local population explosion until they've basically eaten out the local ecosystem and that can no longer sustain that high level. Then the population will drop down to a more sustainable level. But, when that happens, you've got to think about what happens to the native fauna and the other competing wildlife and, of course, the vegetation losses.
In a response to a written question on notice, the ISC provided an analysis of whether translocation/relocation is prohibited in each state/territory. This analysis broadly indicated that these activities are prohibited in Queensland, NSW, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, with Tasmania and Victoria potentially allowing these activities under some circumstances.
Enforcement relating to illegal hunting activities
Regarding enforcement of illegal activities listed above, Mr Cox indicated that in the Gippsland area 'there has been growing interest by law enforcement. So I think they are starting to take it seriously'. But he highlighted that many farmers 'don't want to talk about the problem publicly for fear they could be intimidated and subjected to payback'.
Mr Stead from the Nature Conservation Society of South Australia stressed the importance of enforcement:
The legislative and policy mechanisms for effective pest animal control exist in most jurisdictions of Australia but, by and large, they are not being implemented effectively. This is due to several reasons, including lack of resources and appetite for compliance, lack of funding to implement coordinated control programs, a need for educational awareness among the general public about the impact of pest species and the limited requirements for monitoring.
The Tallangatta Valley Landcare Group reported that policing is 'woefully inadequate and needs much greater resources allocated to combat illegal hunting and illegal hunting practices'.
Mr Tom Crook, Programs Manager and Facilitator, East Gippsland Rainforest Conservation Management Network, expressed the view that a significant increase in the regulatory function performed by police is needed. However, he emphasised that 'by the time the reports have come in, the illegal hunters are long gone'.
Mr Stead suggested that a review needs to be undertaken of the barriers to effective legislative and policy enforcement in each jurisdiction.
Contribution of recreational hunting to control programs
The Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (SSAA) argued that there are hunters who take an animal occasionally to fill their freezer, and there are hunters with a pest management focus. The committee heard anecdotal evidence of arrangements for sporting shooters to come onto properties several times a year to cull deer:
There are examples where groups of shooters have got together and gone onto a property to do a major cull. But, again, it tends to be spasmodic, and the problem is that, if you're going to do it that way, there are certain legal issues. But, yes, there have been some cases where that has worked.
Mr Tom Crook, Programs Manager and Facilitator, East Gippsland Rainforest Conservation Management Network, spoke about projects, funded by the state government, which work with recreational hunters to coordinate them to 'bring about a reduction in the relative abundance of deer and also work on vegetation condition over time'.
The SSAA reported that its national and state branches have been involved in many pest management projects, for example, Operation Bounceback in South Australia (discussed in the next chapter), and are happy to work with stakeholders to contribute to pest management programs.
Mr Dryden representing NZ NRM Alliance spoke about a strong culture of feral pig hunting in Far North Queensland, pointing out some organised groups such as Conservation and Wildlife Management (CWM), a subgroup of the SSAA, which are involved in coordinated feral pig, deer and goat hunting. While acknowledging that groups such as CWM can work well, Mr John Gavin, Chief Executive Officer, Cape York Natural Resources Management, added that with the numbers of feral pigs, 'the amount taken out by recreational hunting groups, even in a coordinated way, has limited broadscale impact'.
The ISC acknowledged that recreational shooters 'can and do contribute to [effective] programs but most recreational hunting in Australia is ad hoc and does not comply with code of practice requirements. Recreational hunting rules also often ban the use of more effective ground-shooting techniques such as spotlight hunting at night, and do not require hunters to demonstrate a minimum level of shooting competence'.
Noting that effective and humane pest control requires a high level of skills, the ISC stressed that governments 'should primarily use professional pest controllers, with amateur shooters who demonstrate high proficiency deployed under supervision where they can supplement other forms of control'. The ISC cited examples of programs that had been effective incorporating recreational hunters: Bounceback in South Australia; National parks and reserves in NSW; Warby Range in Victoria for feral goat eradication; and nature refuges in QLD.
The East Gippsland Rainforest Conservation Management Network stated that 'in terms of population control, hunters' achievements are entirely confined to short term and localised outcomes', and argued that such programs 'should only ever represent one element of a much broader control program on many feral and 'feral game' animals'.
Witnesses saw a role for recreational hunters as part of a strategic and coordinated approach to the management of these species. Mr Rowley and Ms Roberts emphasised that '[t]he Victorian experience also shows that recreational hunting has not stopped feral deer increasingly in distribution and density'. However, they recognised that, as part of a targeted integrated approach to maintain feral deer at low populations, it may contribute.
Mr Stead also supported enhancing sporting shooter involvement, saying he sees a role for recreational hunting as part of coordinated pest control, programs and described how this works in South Australia.
The National Parks Association of the ACT noted that the Victorian Government recently concluded 'opportunistic ground shooting alone is generally an ineffective means of invasive animal management'. The National Parks Association of the ACT stated the evidence shows that skilled hunters can contribute to effective feral animal control:
when they participate in professional control programs, supplementing other methods of control such as aerial shooting or baiting; and
when they exert sustained pressure over small accessible areas, such as may occur on farms.
Potential for new control and containment methods
It is important to have a range of control methods and tools available to suit species and environments. The committee took evidence on some new control and containment methods currently under development.
The committee heard about work underway in relation to new control methods for deer.
The ISC reported that 'there are no deer baits approved for use in Australia'. The view of the ISC is that, in relation to feral deer, identifying a 'humane bait with a species-specific delivery method' should be a research priority. The RSPCA reported that 'research has been undertaken to assess the potential use of cyanide, which is considered to be a relatively humane toxin' but an appropriate target-specific delivery system has not yet been developed. It concluded by stating that 'there is an urgent need for further research into more humane control methods for deer'.
Mr Philip Ingamells of the Victorian National Parks Association agreed on the need to develop a bait for deer and for longer term work on biological control:
We definitely need to increase work on a bait. Basically what a bait does is give you a level of control. When you have something that is out of control, it is actually good to have something that you can kind of control. Control is what we have to do these days with ecosystems. They used to do fine without us but, unfortunately, it does not the case anymore. So I think a deliverable bait is one of those things. I think we do need to do research—it will be long-term research—into biological control. These days, you can artificially create a biological control. And we need a remedy so that, if somebody is farming deer or something like that, they can inoculate their stock and that is not an issue. So it gives you that sort of control. They would be the things that I would suggest.
Bush Heritage Australia suggested that 'new technologies provide opportunities for researching innovative population control and containment methods, such as fertility control, species specific baiting and lures, and auditory and olfactory signals that broadcast predator sounds or scents'.
As an example, Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater reported that:
The professional shooter I have worked with experiments and has success with luring deer through the use of pheromones he collects from shot animal scent glands. He has also had success with deterring deer with 'Fox lights' and leaving cloth bearing human scent. This is just one example of how people who are very experienced with the animal can contribute to the development of new tools and methods.
CISS noted the lack of toxins or biological control measures for deer in Australia and advised that it is seeking approval from APVMA 'of an immunocontraceptive to manage small deer populations in areas where shooting, trapping and exclusion fencing are not appropriate, such as in some peri urban areas'. CISS added that the immunocontraceptive, Gonacon, 'was developed and registered in the US as a fertility control agent for deer'. CISS advised that an APVMA application for GonaCon has yet to be lodged, pending clarification of several matters with the APMVA. CISS also stressed that, as this product needs to be administered by injection, 'fertility control is an expensive option compared to shooting and other conventional controls, and is not suitable for landscape scale application'.
Bush Heritage Australia also suggested there is 'an opportunity to explore the effectiveness of targeting control measures to pre-population boom times, usually after rainfall events or when there is increased fodder such as following a fire, to limit the population before it reaches unmanageable levels. New monitoring methods, such as motion cameras and sound recorders could be used to provide early warnings of an increasing population and thus prevent a population boom'.
Mr Kieran Tapsell, a resident of Stanwell Park, NSW, detailed his extensive efforts to protect the Banksia Bush Care site from deer. He noted his observation that, while cages protect trees, they do not work for understorey and grasses. He suggested finding native species that deer will not eat such as Banksia ericafolla or Melaleuca Nodosa and advocated for research to identify others.
The Local Government Association of Queensland noted the potential use of 'hoghoppers' as a tool to directly distribute bait and minimise the risks of 1080 baiting, but stated that further trials are needed.
CSIRO advised that 'large scale trapping and exclusion using strategically placed pig exclusion fencing could be a very effective long term control method for feral pigs'. Feral pig breeding success is determined by resource availability and by preventing access to the resource the population of feral pigs is reduced.
CISS also advised that that Invasive Animals CRC had funded a range of projects 'examining the population genetics of feral pigs, and the effectiveness of management techniques in wet tropics, RAMSAR wetlands, and coastal lowlands forests'.
Looking at incorporating innovative ideas to deal with feral animals, Mr Gus Corlett from Skies Eye Drone Services advised the committee that drone technology could be used and recognised as an additional animal control tool. Along with feral animal contractors and landholders, he has been involved in the development of a Drone Assisted Ground Shooting system which is currently being used in locations in QLD and NSW.
CSIRO has developed 'innovative autonomous technology for detecting and tracking feral animals in remote Northern Australian landscapes'. New control approaches include oral contraceptives and approaches using gene-driven technologies may have potential in the future.
Mr Stephen Andrew, owner operator of CQ Feral and Environmental Feral Pest Management in Mackay, advocated for dedicated feral contract controllers and highlighted a new design of trap for deer, pigs and goats.
GPS Trapping is using the research from GPS tracking collars on pigs to assist landholders to unite and coordinate their control efforts. Mr Marshall from Southern Queensland Landscapes explained to the committee how he motivates landholders to work together:
I use GPS tracking collars to dispel myths, to show landholders where pigs do and don't move and to show them where those pigs are most vulnerable in the landscape. I can then work with them to have the biggest impact on that feral pig population, whether it be through baiting, trapping or aerial shooting.
Given that feral pigs breed second to rabbits, and it has been proven over and over that we need to take out 70 per cent of the population in any short-term period to actually reduce the number, it's sometimes quite demotivating for landholders to attempt to do the control because they don't see the results that they need to see. I think my role, our role, is to motivate and unite people to work together, and that's what my GPS tracking collars are attempting to do.
Mr Graham Schoorl, from near Cairns in Queensland, appearing in a private capacity, told the committee about modifying techniques to suit the environment. He spoke about investigating trapping systems for pigs and finding the US Boar Busters traps and traveling to the US to discuss the environment in Australia and how they wanted to use the traps. After purchasing two traps they have been set up with cameras that can be activated. Along with Mr Marshall who has six traps in South-East Queensland they are conducting a trial to show the results to landholders. He explained:
I control the trap and I can see the live feed on a video screen on my mobile phone when I logon anywhere in Australia or anywhere in the world. I can actually trap pigs wherever I am anywhere in the world, providing everything is safe.