Victoria’s Wildlife Act – it’s time for some changes

Victoria has set up an independent review of the Act with opportunities for public submissions due by 30th June. BEAM is developing a submission and we encourage you to make a submission or let us know your thoughts for our submission.


Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash



MAKE A SUBMISSION TO THE WILDLIFE ACT REVIEW


The Victorian National Parks Association says that “in reality, the Wildlife Act of 1975 largely exists to protect exotic game animals (like deer) and regulate the destruction of native wildlife. It provides no direct protection for wildlife habitat, and the regulations give exemptions to the logging industry.” (from VNPA ).


The big issues with the Act relate to the “destruction” of animals. While we don’t like the thought of killing animals, we recognise that it may be necessary in some situations provided that it is done humanely, such as shooting that kills animals instantly with no sense of fear or pain. But which animals, and why do we kill them? This is where the paradoxes come in.


Hunting

Deer are protected and only licensed hunters can take them in limited numbers. Yet under the protection of the Wildlife Act over many decades, they have increased to become a major threat to the environment and people.

On the other hand, we still have a duck hunting season for the enjoyment of hunters. Ducks do no harm to the environment and may even be a valuable source of food for a range of raptors and other native predators. Shooting is controlled but it is relatively easy to get a permit. Ducks are killed with shot pellets but many are just injured. Also, identification of permitted species and rare species (such as Freckled Duck) is difficult especially at poor light. I guess that explains the numbers of threatened Freckled Ducks, Black Swan “ducks”, Cormorant “ducks” and other species that are shot every season. It is time to end duck hunting (see more here).


Authority to control wildlife

The Act also has a provision for the destruction of native wildlife through a very murky “Authority to Control Wildlife” permit system. According to the VNPA, permits have been issued for close to 100 different animals – including Wombats, Emus, Australian Fur Seals, Satin Bowerbirds and Black Swans, Brolga, Grey-headed Flying Fox, Hardhead, Magpie Goose, Broad-shelled Turtle and the Murray River Turtle”. In some of these cases. “control” may not mean “destruction” but some other form of control that may or may not be in the best interests of the animals


Good wildlife management should address the issues caused by wildlife with killing as a well-considered last option.

Many native species have benefitted from our changes of the environment. For example:

· Brush-tailed Possums are a nuisance to many people when they come into the roof space of houses. Control of possum damage in houses doesn’t require killing. Translocation into the ranges of other possums may be a death sentence. But there are alternatives such as blocking access where you don’t want possums plus providing alternative outside accommodation such as nest boxes or protecting trees with hollows. Possums can be a nuisance in other ways as well, but again there are other alternatives – finding ways to live with our very interesting and special wildlife.

· Pied Currawongs are now present in the lowlands throughout the year thanks to all the food we inadvertently (and deliberately) provide, but unfortunately young nestlings are also in their diet. But, as with many wildlife issues, there are alternatives to “destruction”. For Currawongs, we can reduce their food supplies and grow denser understorey habitat for the nests of small birds.


So it would be good to know why permits were given to control (and possibly kill) the nearly 100 different species. What harm are they doing that requires such drastic action? The answer may lie on outmoded attitudes to farming and land management.


But, before declaring a moratorium on culling/killing to control the impacts of wildlife, there are some grey areas that require more difficult decisions.

Two examples:

· Kangaroos are one of the native species that have flourished following the changes to their environment over the past 200 years. We have removed one top predator (dingos) and restricted the other top predator (people). We have created the wonderful mix of abundant grasslands, permanent water supplies and patches of shelter. The result is that kangaroo populations have built up. We now have a large mobs of kangaroos moving through the countryside and they are having an impact on valuable bushlands and on farm production (creating a lot of anger), and they are a serious risk on our roads. In this case, the issue is the growing population of a species that roams widely across farmlands and bushlands.

Fencing them out (or in) is expensive at the scale required and does not resolve the issue, and it may lead to starvation. Droughts can kill kangaroos, particularly if they are in large numbers – the -equivalent of overstocked sheep or cattle. And feeding them in times of drought just exacerbates the issue. We are aware of the problems and doing nothing as a deliberate choice is not a humane option and does not address the issue.

Landholders can obtain limited permits to cull but this can result in some big animal welfare issues by amateur shooters with inappropriate weapons. It is also ineffective with kangaroos moving freely across the landscape. Trials have used approved and monitored professional shooters providing meat for pet food (but suitable for human consumption).

“Eating kangaroo makes more environmental sense than the farming of sheep and cattle, as I see it. If you eat meat, then make it the native meat of kangaroo. But kangaroo available in Victorian shops is not from Victoria, by law. At the same time, shooting to control kangaroo numbers, then leaving the carcass where it falls, or for pet food, makes little sense.” Peter Lockyer, BEAM president and a personal view.


· Another issue is Noisy Miners and Bell Miners. They are native birds but they are very aggressive in attacking and chasing other birds from their territories. This is adding to the threats caused by our fragmentation of the habitat of many threatened species and communities. For example, they chase threatened Helmeted Honeyeaters out of their last remaining patches of habitat in the Yarra Valley. This aggressive behaviour also affects the vegetation by chasing out the insect eaters and indirectly causing die back in forests (Bell Miners) and woodland remnants (Noisy Miners). As they are free-ranging and use the same habitat as other species, removal seems to be the only way to reduce their impacts. Translocation has not been successful, so culling (killing) has been trialed to reduce the impact of these species. Not an easy decision.


So the challenge is to create laws that can address these issues in ways that are the least harmful and most humane to the animals, are effective in managing the issues, and are transparent to a concerned community. The laws might reflect the macro-environment challenges, but it is a vexed issue. We would welcome your thoughts.

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