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What is the Waterfowl Conservation Harvest Model

What is the Waterfowl Conservation Harvest Model

… and what does it mean for hunters?

The Sustainable Hunting Action Plan, released late last year, outlines the government’s vision and plan for hunting in Victoria through to 2020. Objective four of the plan is Ensuring Sustainable Hunting. There are several actions listed under this section of the plan, though the relevant one for this discussion is implementing the Waterfowl Conservation Harvest Model (WCHM) to ensure the sustainable management of game ducks.

The WCHM was first announced in 2010 and came about after an expert panel investigated the best method of ensuring the long-term sustainability of harvesting waterfowl in Victoria. It found that an adaptive management approach was the best option. Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) has been used in the USA over many years and has proven very successful there. For those wanting more information on AHM, have a look at the Flyways website1. It provides a very good explanation of the principles behind adaptive harvest management.

The panel then concluded that the WCHM was the best framework to achieve the goals that had been set in the Victorian context. The aim of the WCHM is to maximise the waterfowl take for hunters over the long-term, while ensuring the sustainability of duck populations. For various reasons the WCHM was not introduced in 2010 and has remained in limbo until now.

Hunting organisations have long been calling for a science-based approach to managing wildlife populations and setting season lengths and bag limits. As hunters, we know that recreational hunting does not negatively impact on game bird populations.

But we want the emotion taken out of the debate and let the facts to speak for themselves. We are confident that good science will back our position – that hunting is a sustainable activity and will not adversely affect game bird populations or put species at risk. The fact that duck hunting has occurred since long before white settlement, shows that a controlled take of animals is not detrimental to the sustainability of the species as a whole.

On Thursday, March 30, 2017 SSAA Victoria Chief Executive Officer Jack Wegman and Hunting Development Manager David Laird attended an Adaptive Harvest Management Workshop, hosted by the Game Management Authority (GMA). Also in attendance were representatives from Field and Game Australia (FGA), the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) and Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI). A representative of BirdLife Australia was invited but did not attend the workshop.

Dr David Ramsey, from ARI, gave a presentation on the WCHM and the review he is currently undertaking. He explained the historical context of the WCHM and also explained why a review is necessary. Modelling technology has advanced significantly since 2010 and the review will ensure the modelling to be used in the WCHM is current and relevant in 2017.

The science and maths behind the model is rather complicated, to say the least. For those who have a technical interest, all details can be found in the ARI Technical Report Series No. 195.2 For the rest of us, basically speaking, data is fed into the model or models which then predicts possible outcomes. These predicted outcomes can then be compared to actual outcomes and those results are then fed back in. Over time, the model is refined and becomes more accurate in the predictions it makes.

Accurate predictions reduce uncertainty for authorities, who can then be more confident with their decision-making. Traditionally, decision-making relating to setting bag limits and duck season lengths has been conservative. Authorities do not want to risk the sustainability of the resource so, naturally, err on the side of caution. While understandable, this approach may well be unnecessary and restrictive seasons and bag limits may make no difference to duck populations. Over time, the WCHM should give a greater understanding of whether seasons and bag limits do or do not need to be shortened or cancelled.

SSAA Victoria is certainly supportive in principal of the WCHM and a science-based approach to game management. Like most things, however, the devil is in the detail. The workshop gave SSAA Victoria the opportunity to ask questions and raise any concerns we might have with the model and the implementation framework.

We took the opportunity to put our concerns in writing, as well as raising them in discussions at the workshop. To have confidence in the model and to support it, SSAA Victoria would need to be satisfied that:

  1. Funding is adequate and guaranteed for as long as necessary to ensure the model is operating properly, without adversely affecting funding for GMA’s other activities;
  2. Personnel with the expertise to run the program can be retained and that a succession plan be put in place to ensure personnel with adequate skills and knowledge are available to cover key staff turnover;
  3. Data going into the model is accurate and adequate, so the results coming out are valid;
  4. The program is transparent and subject to external scientific peer review; and
  5. The approach taken in setting seasons and bag limits, especially in initial years or where data is doubtful, will be negotiated with hunting organisations in advance.

There is little doubt that a science-based approach to wildlife management has enormous potential to ensure sustainable populations and benefit hunters at the same time. The very positive and successful example of adaptive harvest management in the USA shows that it can work extremely well. Let’s hope we can achieve the same outcomes here. We look forward to seeing Dr Ramsey’s report at the conclusion of his review into the WCHM. Hopefully our concerns will be addressed and we can then offer our full support to the project. An update will be provided when we receive further information.

  1. Flyways website
  2. Developing a sustainable harvest model for Victorian waterfowl. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research. Technical Report Series No. 195 2010