The Alternatives to 1080 Program has now ceased and, without a decision by the Australian and State governments to provide additional funding, the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment (DPIPWE) will only be able to maintain a low-level program. Landowners are reporting high losses from browsing animals but the State and Australian governments have basically left them to deal with this issue alone. DPIPWE will be able to provide advice via the telephone and distribute copies of documents produced by the Alternatives to 1080 Program, but expect the calls for easier access to 1080 poison to become louder, particularly from the farming community.
The TCT has been working hard over the last 12 months to get the support of all three major political parties for a ban on 1080 and all other poisons, and to continue to fund the Alternatives to 1080 Program.
During the state election the Tasmanian Greens supported banning 1080 but did not respond to our call for them to support a ban on all poisoning of native species. However, since the election, the Tasmanian Greens Spokesperson for Primary Industries, Kim Booth, has committed his party to such a ban.
Liberal and Labor party policies supported the continued use of 1080 poison and did not rule out introducing other poisons. All three parties failed to commit to continuing the funding for the Alternatives to 1080 Program for ongoing implementation and development of alternative control measures for browsing animals. As we expected after the lack of support during the election, the State Budget did not provide funding for the Program.
We have also been lobbying the Australian Government, whose response gives some hope it will continue to work with the State Government to ensure the results of the Alternatives to 1080 Program are implemented, as is required under the Tasmanian Supplementary Regional Forestry Agreement. What we really want is for the Australian Government to continue to provide funding and this is now more probable, given that major reform of the forestry industry is likely.
The decision by Gunns to immediately end use of 1080 in its forestry operations is a very welcome development and gives us even more reason, added to Forestry Tasmania’s commitment in 2005, to believe that all forestry companies can manage without it. Gunns has commenced the process of obtaining Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification and it seems likely that it believed that the FSC would not support the use of 1080. Gunns has also made a commitment to ban the use of the poison Feratox in its Tasmanian forestry operations as advised in its Mammal Browsing Control Policy issued on 28 June 2010.
We will make it a priority to ensure that banning the poisoning of native wildlife and funding for alternatives are included in any deal for the reform of the forestry industry.
After Gunns’ decision, the Minister for Primary Industries and Water, Byran Green, responded with predictable lack of vision or leadership. He welcomed the decision but said there was no need to ban 1080. He said there had been a 94% reduction in the amount of 1080 poison used in the state since 1999–2000 and this was ‘sufficient progress’. He also said that, ‘We need to ensure primary producers have flexibility in managing their operations, which are extremely important part of the economy’ (Sunday Tasmanian, 20 June 2010).
With Tasmania’s largest forestry company, Gunns, the largest forest manager, Forestry Tasmania, and one other forestry company (which does not wish to promote the fact) committed to stopping the use of 1080, and other smaller forestry interests likely to follow in order to obtain Forest Stewardship Council Certification, this will leave only a handful of farmers getting permits each year: five in 2008–2009 and six so far in the 2009–2010 financial years.
So we must continue to put pressure on farming interests to end all poisoning of native animals and we need our members help to get the message out that people do not want to buy products from farms that poison native wildlife. Just as public pressure has led to moves for forestry companies to clean up their production methods, we must also put market pressure on farmers.
While the State Government proclaims the need for primary producers to have flexibility it does little to actually help the vast majority of farmers who (do not use 1080) to find alternative means of controlling browsing animals. They are being left primarily to rely on shooting, which is still lethal and is proven to be very inefficient.
In the absence of easier access to 1080 and with the end of the Alternatives to 1080 Program, the TFGA and many individual farmers have resorted to supporting the introduction of the new cyanide-based poison Feratox. It kills more quickly than 1080 and they hope this one advantage will win over the public and government. Once a new poison has government approval and is used by farmers, then forestry companies, including Gunns and Forestry Tasmania, will likely seek its use. Neither has ever ruled out using other poisons.
This is very depressing. The Alternatives to 1080 Program made significant progress in developing more effective and humane control methods. Without government support and active promotion, these solutions will not be made available to landowners and promising research will not be taken to the next step.
During 19–21 April this year, the TCT had the opportunity to attend the final formal ‘Alternatives to 1080 Program’ workshop and field days in northern Tasmania. The workshop attempted to summarise the findings and outcomes of the program over the past four years. Some of these were truly inspirational and many primary producers expressed support for non-lethal controls. There were, of course, some research areas that failed and some elements of the farming and forestry industries who want 1080 and are actively advocating Feratox.
Fencing plus shooting
A lot of research has focused on refining wire design and installation methods to maximise effectiveness of fences, including electricfication and installing ‘wombat gates’ to allow wombats to pass through the fences without damaging them. There has been widespread interest in the Alternatives Program publication Wallaby Proof Fencing: a planning guide for primary producers (available from www.dpipwe.tas.gov.au), and a second and revised edition was produced toward the end of the program, incorporating the results of fencing trials.
Although considered a non-lethal management tool, the program discovered that farmers seldom found fencing to be successful as a single defence. In areas with high browsing pressure, reduction of the numbers of browsing animals through shooting is generally required, prior to and directly after installing fencing, to exclude them from paddocks or crops and reduce pressure on the new fence. The program found that many landowners had given up on fencing because wallabies, in particular, forced their way back through fences. However, good fence design plus reducing animal numbers can prevent this and can deliver long-term benefits.
Failure to reduce the number of animals can cause welfare problems as the local wallaby population is forced into a smaller area with less food. While non-lethal controls are preferred, at least the shooting-plus-fencing method has the advantage that a large cull is virtually a once-off action. A very low level of shooting will be needed after fencing which reduces the time input from landowners.
The April field day started on a property near Scottsdale where the farmer promoted the benefits of wallaby fencing, translating this to a measurable increase in farm production. In his case, fencing plus shooting had such significant benefits that the fence could be paid off in a few years.
Field days such as this, where farmers teach other farmers, are the most effective means of getting pick-up of new control methods. However, the State Government has virtually no resources to continue such education programs.
Although a common control method, shooting has been closely scrutinised under the Alternatives Program. Generally, shooting programs by landowners or non-commercial shooters have little lasting benefit for protection of pasture or plantations. However, effectiveness can be greatly increased by use of improved shooting techniques, new technologies such as night-vision scopes and use of professional shooters. This research has resulted in the production of a shooters’ guide, but we wonder who is going to ensure this information gets used.
Decision support tool
Professor Tony Norton of the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research has been leading a long-term project to develop a computer-based decision-support system for predicting pasture-loss impacts from browsing animals and provide land managers with a tool for determining the best location for a fence and its cost-effectiveness. Understandably, many landowners have balked at investing in expensive fencing because they had not accurately measured the loss due to native animals. We understand that the State Government is seeking funding to ensure this vital tool is refined and made available for land managers. Failure to do so will mean years of expensive research will have been for nothing.
Deterrents and stockings
The forestry sector may well benefit from the continuing development of tree-seedling stockings coupled with deterrent application. Some of the Alternative Program trials found significant reductions in browsing damage and losses when plantation seedlings were fitted with protective netting stockings; however, they are expensive, adding around $160 per hectare to plantation establishment. Textured sand-based deterrents are also being researched further, along with a deer repellent, developed in New Zealand, which has proven to be very effective against Tasmanian browsing animals.
Fencing has a very limited role in helping forestry companies to protect tree seedlings and currently they are relying heavily on shooting, which is unpopular and very expensive. The great hope is that seedling varieties can be developed which are sufficiently resistant or unpalatable to wallabies and possums and, when added to deterrents and stockings, will reduce seedling loss to commercially acceptable levels. We understand that the first large commercial-scale trial will be undertaken by Forestry Tasmania later this year; the results of this will be greatly anticipated.
Feratox is an encapsulated form of cyanide, developed to target brushtail possums in New Zealand, being examined as one of the possible alternatives to 1080 in Tasmania to control brush-tailed possum and wallabies. Although cyanide kills more quickly than 1080, many of the problems remain – it is still a lethal poison, there is still suffering before death and there are still issues with killing non-target species (Tasmanian Feratox trials caused the death of a bettong). Pouch young will not be killed by Feratox and will be left to starve or freeze.
Feratox is currently not registered in Australia; however the manufacturers are moving to have it registered here by 2012. This poison has had four field trials in Tasmania to date (with more planned for winter 2010) as part of the required research for Australian registration. This alarmingly effective poison is likely to be widely used in Tasmania if it is successful in its registration with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) and is allowed into our state. The release of Feratox in Tasmania may well see a return to broadscale wildlife poisoning campaigns.
A host of other control options were explored, with little success, including fertility controls and a range of repellents and deterrents. Some of these less effective or less researched control options continue to be researched by private forestry operators and may still prove to be effective in specific applications.