Following on from the slap in the face to Victoria’s licensed duck hunters, with the announcement of a paltry bag limit of two birds per day and a 20-day season, it is now the turn of licensed deer hunters to be on the receiving end of reductions in hunting opportunities through government decision making.
In another slight to Victoria’s licensed game hunters, PV has announced large areas of public land in Victoria are going to be closed to hunting (and other activities) while aerial search and destroy missions are run to kill as many deer as possible. Some pest species will also be targeted, but deer are the clear focus.
It is one thing to conduct aerial culling operations over areas that are not open to recreational hunting and where deer population densities are unsustainable and causing real damage. It is justifiable to conduct targeted operations to protect high-value ecological assets, such as Alpine Peatlands. It is another thing entirely, and completely inappropriate, to shut huge areas of prime deer hunting country at the start of sambar hunting season and lay waste to a valued recreational resource.
Iconic deer hunting areas, such as the Dargo High Plains, the Carey River and Avon Wilderness area are all being targeted. A complete list of the areas closed and the dates are available here: Deer and feral animal control in response to bushfire (parks.vic.gov.au)
Recreational hunters pay for the privilege to hunt deer and took around 180,000 of them in 2019. Hunters are the single most significant tool in managing deer populations, yet hunters have effectively been ignored in the Victorian Government’s Deer Control Strategy. The original Draft Deer Management Strategy recognised recreational use and looked to incorporate recreational hunting into an overall management strategy for the benefit of all stakeholders and the environment. Unfortunately, the control strategy that was delivered acknowledges none of the positives of deer in the Victorian environment and offers virtually nothing for licensed hunters.
Concerted efforts have been made in recent years by various non-government groups and elements within some government departments to denigrate and demonise deer. They have been successful in influencing decision making to get to the point we are at, gaining support and funding for a pointless attempt to eradicate deer. What we have also seen is a devaluing of hunters, hunting in general and a magnificent game animal.
There is no doubt that deer can and do cause damage in some situations. Deer populations do need to be managed and significant negative impacts mitigated. Hunting organisations recognise that fact and have built up good working relationships with some government departments over many years. Volunteer hunters have been involved in successful control activities to protect valuable assets and mitigate negative impacts where they do occur. The current actions are jeopardising those relationships and the good will that exists between hunters and government departments.
The Association recognises that control activities still need to be done in some circumstances and does not shy away from that. It is prepared to be a constructive part of the solution when there are problems. However, widespread, indiscriminate slaughter is not an acceptable way to manage Victoria’s deer populations, especially when hunters paying for a licence are being denied opportunities as a result.
At the moment there is plenty of money being thrown at expensive, though what are ultimately likely to be ineffective actions. When that money is gone the deer will still be here and government will be looking for hunters to become a bigger part of the management effort. Will anyone want to be involved?
It is the Association’s view that recreational hunting should be the first step in deer management. If impacts are not being mitigated by that, then volunteer programs using accredited hunters should be instigated. Again, if impacts are not being mitigated, they can be followed by contract solutions, whether ground based or aerial.
PV’s catch all motherhood statements about “protecting biodiversity” to justify the wholesale slaughter of deer just don’t wash when compared to the impacts of true pest species. The recently released Report of the inquiry into the problem of feral and domestic cats in Australia- Tackling the feral cat pandemic: a plan to save Australian wildlife from the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia clearly shows where the investment of tens of millions of dollars allocated to aerial deer control operations would be better spent.
On average a single feral cat in the bush kills about 370 invertebrates, 44 frogs, 225 reptiles, 130 birds and 390 mammals per year; and the collective toll of Australian animals killed per year by all feral cats (including unowned stray cats, but excluding pet cats) in Australia is ca. 1.1 billion invertebrates, 90 million frogs, 600 million reptiles, 320 million birds and 960 million mammals …
Deer are certainly not causing those types of horrific impacts on native wildlife.
SSAA Victoria works with government departments to encourage ethical and responsible hunting through the Respect – Hunt Responsibly program and other initiatives. In recent years legislation was even amended to mandate that hunters recover a minimum of the breast meat from ducks, though ethical hunters have always utilised as much meat as possible from any harvested animals. Helicopter shooting recovers and utilises nothing, completely wasting a resource and devaluing the deer. This in turn leads to a loss of respect for deer across the entire community. How does government see these actions reconciling with its stated objectives of respect for the animal and the hunt?
Additionally, the aerial shooting of deer is creating an enormous food source available to wild dogs. While there is still some conjecture about how much impact this has, it is clear that wild dogs do utilise carcasses. The more food, especially easy food, the more successful breeding will be and the more dogs will be in the environment. Where will those dogs go? How will biodiversity be protected if there is an influx of apex predators into the Victorian environment? How will farmers fare on land adjoining public land where culling is carried out?
The Association calls on government to rethink its control strategy, encourage and utilise Victoria’s licensed deer hunters and desist from closing huge areas of iconic deer hunting country so that helicopters can carry out search and destroy missions, unobserved and unaccountable. More areas should be opened to licensed deer hunters – not closed!
 National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub, Submission 72, p. 19.