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Wetland closures for 2024

Wetland closures for 2024

Today, the Victorian Government gazetted wetland closures ahead of the 2024 Victorian duck season, which will commence on Wednesday.

Hunters can stay informed about wetland closures via the Game Management Authority website and read more information in the Government Media Release.

The reality is that most of the ‘bandwidth’ of hunting interests over the past twelve months has been used fighting the existential threat to the continuation of duck and quail hunting. Until a level of certainty about our future was given just ten weeks ago, it would not have been possible to have conversations with the Government about improving these processes. 2024 is a ‘transition’ year for duck hunting, with the promise that, from 2025, season conditions will be science-based. Hunting interests will work proactively with the Government and other stakeholders to drive a better process for 2025 and beyond.

The closures announced today are:

Wetland name Nearby town Threatened species present / reason for closure Regulation / Restriction
Andersons Inlet Inverloch Orange-bellied Parrot Full closure
Big Reedy Lagoon State Game Reserve Yarrawonga Great Egret Full closure
Bullrush Swamp Hamilton Brolga Full closure
Clydebank Morass State Game Reserve and adjoining public land Clydebank Blue-winged Shoveler Full closure
Cundare Pool Cressy Brolga Full closure
Dowd Morass State Game Reserve Sale Breeding waterbirds Partial closure

(see gazette)

Koorangie State Game Reserve, including the Marshes, Lake Bael Bael and Little Lake Bael Bael Kerang Freckled Duck, Breeding waterbirds Full closure
Kow Swamp Gunbower Wildlife sanctuary Full closure
Greens Lake Corop Brolga Full closure
Hird Swamp State Game Reserve Macorna North Australasian Bittern Full closure
Lake Bolac Lake Bolac Musk Duck Full closure
Lake Boort Boort Grey-headed Flying-fox Full closure
Lake Buloke (which includes Little Lake Buloke) Donald Blue-Winged Shoveler Full closure
Lake Buninjon State Game Reserve Willaura Blue-winged Shoveler Blue-billed Duck Full closure
Lake Colongulac Camperdown Blue-Winged Shoveler Full closure
Lake Connewarre (except Reedy Lakes and Hospital Swamps) Barwon Heads Orange-bellied Parrot Full closure

(Reedy Lakes and Hospital Swamps are open to hunting)

Lake Cullen State Game Reserve Kerang Blue-Winged Shoveler Full closure
Lake Goldsmith State Game Reserve Beaufort Blue-winged Shoveler, Freckled Duck Full closure
Lake Linlithgow Hamilton Blue-billed Duck Full closure
Lake Martin Cressy Curlew Sandpiper Full closure
Lake Muirhead State Game Reserve Willaura Brolga Full closure
Lake Murdeduke State Game Reserve Winchelsea Blue-billed Duck Full closure
Lake Natimuk Natimuk and Horsham Blue-winged Shoveler Full closure
Lake Stewart (private land) Corop Brolga Full closure
Lake Tutchewop Mystic Park Blue-billed Duck Full closure
Lake Wat Wat Orbost Blue-winged Shoveler Full closure
Lake Wongan State Game Reserve Streatham Blue-winged Shoveler Full closure
Pine Lake Horsham Blue-winged Shoveler, Blue-Billed Duck Full closure
Reedy Lakes (Reedy, Middle and Third Lake) Kerang Wildlife sanctuary Full closure
Richardson River Donald and Lake Buloke Wildlife sanctuary Full closure – from Lake Buloke up to and including the Sunraysia Highway Bridge
The Green Swamp State Game Reserve Glenthompson Brolga Full closure
Tower Hill State Game Reserve Warrnambool Blue-winged Shoveler Full closure

SSAA Victoria provides this table for information only – for up to date information hunters should refer to the GMA website and local signage. 

Wetland closure process

Under what has been termed the “Wetland Closure Process”, the government can use administrative instruments to close or further regulate access to hunting areas before or during the duck season. The process involves some objective elements, such as trigger points for species based on criteria that consider their conservation status and behaviour. Given the high preponderance of waterbirds present in Victoria in 2024, it has long been anticipated that this process would result in significant closures this year.

Further regulation or closure can occur for several reasons, including to protect rare and threatened species or to avoid disturbance to colonially breeding waterbirds.

Further regulation can involve additional restrictions on hunting times, equipment, and methods. If a closure is required, then this can involve either a partial closure or a full closure of a hunting area.

Further regulated or closed wetlands are monitored throughout the duck season. If the reason for further regulation or closure no longer exists, the legal notice can be revoked.

SSAA Victoria, FGA, Birdlife Australia (a conservation-cum-anti-hunting group), and government agencies participate in discussions and considerations of closures before duck season.

In recent years, the incidence of closures based on subjective and opaque considerations has increased. This undermines public confidence in the process.

In a written submission to last year’s Select Committee Inquiry into Victoria’s Recreational Native Bird Hunting Arrangements, SSAA Victoria asked the committee to make the following recommendation:

The Select Committee should recommend that the GMA develop a transparent and objective procedure for managing the potential impacts of game duck hunting. Game hunting stakeholders, such as hunting organisations and Birdlife Australia, should be involved in that process, and the closure of public wetlands should be a last resort.

That request was ignored.

SSAA Victoria and other hunting interests will continue to advocate for a process that;

  • Focuses on management and mitigation rather than on closures.
    • The fact that the government refers to the current process as the “Wetland Closure Process” is telling. Where disturbance has been established as a legitimate concern, a plethora of management actions can (or could) be taken to mitigate that concern. Closures of wetlands should be the exception, not the rule.
  • Is transparent.
    • The present situation is that some considerations are put before advocates such as SSAA Victoria and FGA (and, on the other ‘side’, Birdlife), and they can be assessed and debated on their merits. Some considerations form the basis of advice to the relevant Minister from other areas of the public service that are not transparent or subjected to such scrutiny.
  • Is objective.
    • Whilst an appropriate balance needs to be struck between a process involving environmental variables being prescriptive and being adaptive. A new management and mitigation process needs clear, documented rules and trigger points that can form the basis for considerations and needs to be a ‘living document’ that develops with learning over time. The current “Closure Process” is based on a technical document that sets trigger points for 146 species broadly defined as “waterbirds”. In recent years, the government has also implemented closures to manage a perceived risk of disturbance to non-waterbird species, notably the Orange-Bellied Parrot and the Grey-Headed Flying Fox. If disturbance from hunting is to be regularly assessed as a threat to these (and any other) species, those considerations must be evidence-based and become a part of the transparent, published process.
  • Is regularly reviewed.
    • The current process evolved narrowly and largely organically. It should be subject to a review from independent experts, and any process that evolves should be similarly reviewed at reasonably regular intervals (e.g. every five years or so).

The closure process spreading its wings.

Most of society expects its Government to take a precautionary approach when there are environmental threats from an activity; however, for Government intervention to be credible, those threats need to be real, and the approach to mitigating them needs to be clear and consistent.

Grey-Headed Flying Fox

The population of Grey Headed Flying Foxes has increased significantly over recent decades. Around twenty years ago, a concerted effort was made to force a colony of Flying Foxes out of Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens to Yarra Bend, which is adjacent to the busy Eastern Freeway. The government assessed ten criteria when choosing Yarra Bend as the colony’s home, and disturbance was not one of them. More recently, the Yarra Bend flying fox colony has been observed in the immediate proximity of the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Melbourne’s Flagstaff Gardens without apparent concern or comment from the regulators. Hunters are justified in being concerned about the dichotomy here.

No literature that SSAA Victoria has found suggests that disturbance from recreational hunting poses an actual threat to Grey Headed Flying Fox populations. Last year, following the first wetland closure on the rationale of avoiding disturbance to a Grey Headed Flying Fox population, the bureaucrat primarily responsible for the closure gave evidence to the Select Committee Inquiry into Native Bird Hunting in Victoria. The discussion of the rationale was illuminating:

MP: “Can you explain to me how the process was used to close Reedy Lake near Nagambie for flying foxes”

Bureaucrat: “The process has focused on birds until now, but when we heard that there was a colony of grey-headed flying foxes, a threatened mammal, that had formed at Reedy Lake – that was brought up…I argued that flying foxes are susceptible to disturbance and that maybe we should think about whether hunting was appropriate around the flying fox colony”.

If the process is to be credible, it needs to be better than that.

Orange-bellied parrots

Last year, we saw, for the first time, closures at Connewarre State Game Reserve and Andersons Inlet to manage a perceived threat of disturbance to the critically endangered Orange-bellied parrots. The Andersons Inlet closure was based on a reported sighting of a bird some months earlier, and the Connewarre closure was based on the experimental release of captive-bred birds in the area. This practice had occurred alongside recreational hunting for five years previously without incident.

These areas have been closed again; however, this year, pleasingly, Hospital Swamp and Reedy Lake have been spared from the Connewarre closure.

The areas affected by the closures host many other dynamic activities, including motor boating, kite surfing, aviation, wind farms and heavy industrial operations.