A number of people have asked recently whether the TCT supports the shooting of ‘problem’ native browsing animals (primarily brushtail possum, Bennett’s wallaby and rufus wallaby (or the Tasmanian pademelon) as a replacement for poisoning with 1080.
The TCT attempts to promote all its policies through the media, but 10-second sound bites on radio or television and poorly edited quotes in newspapers are a very bad way to communicate often complex policy positions. These enquiries have prompted us to clarify our policies on a number of contentious issues related to wildlife. This article specifically addresses the TCT’s position on shooting native animals, or more specifically shooting as a means of culling problem native browsing animals. In the next edition we will explain why the TCT opposes all recreational hunting of native animals i.e. native ducks, quail, shearwater and wallabies.
The TCT’s wildlife policy positions were spelt out clearly in the document ‘Summary of the Tasmanian Conservation Trust’s Policy Suggestions for the 2010 State Election and Beyond’ which was given to the three main political parties prior to the 2010 State Election. The ‘Wildlife’ section is reproduced below.
The short answer is that the TCT does not support the control of browsing native animals through shooting, poisoning or any other lethal means. We advocate the use of the most humane non-lethal methods, accepting that even fencing has some animal welfare concerns and must be improved. The TCT believes that all landowners must accept some level of impact from browsing animals as a normal part of running a farming, grazing or forestry operation in Tasmania. We also accept that in relatively rare situations (perhaps only a few percent of the area of productive land) there is such a high impact from browsing animals and a low probability of effective control that it is fundamentally unsustainable to carry out commercial operations in these areas if it is in competition with native browsing animals.
We believe that all poisoning of browsing native animals with 1080 must stop immediately and that this would not cause a significant financial hardship for farmers, graziers and forestry companies, given the availability of other control methods. We also oppose 1080 being replaced by any other poison.
The TCT has been and continues to be a strong advocate of the use of 1080 poison for the control of European red foxes in Tasmania. Baiting with 1080 is probably the most effective technique currently available. The Tasmanian Government’s Fox Eradication Program has effective strategies in place to ensure 1080 poison targets foxes and to reduce the likelihood of non-target species being affected. As long as the program continues to implement such strategies we will endorse the use of 1080 poison for the control of foxes.
The problems with shooting are that: i) shooting is a lethal control; ii) it causes significant animal suffering; iii) it cannot be justified because it does not serve a basic human need and iv) other non-lethal alternatives exist where browsing animals cause significant commercial impact.
Even if every shooter shot animals perfectly accurately and no animal suffered pain during death (which clearly is not and can never be the case) the killing of on average one million wallabies and possums per year is wrong. It is wrong to kill animals when it could be avoided.
We acknowledge that considerable ongoing research will need to continue before the alternatives are considered effective and cost-efficient by farming and forestry industries in all situations, but we are confident this is possible. In fact, clinging on to 1080 poison and an over-reliance on shooting is preventing sufficient investment in and commitment to making non-lethal methods more effective.
Animals have a right to exist irrespective of our use of them and native animals have a right to live their natural lives in the wild. Killing of native animals can only be justified if our lives are threatened or if there is no other food source. Clearly wallabies and possums living on farms or in forests are not a threat to us but on the road we need to put our lives before theirs. In the 19th century, and perhaps up until World War II in some parts of the state, many poorer Tasmanians probably could justify killing native animals for food but this is not the case any more. The reason that the vast majority of wallabies and possums are killed each year in Tasmania is because of the impacts on pasture, crops and plantations and not for food i.e. they are killed under culling permits.
We acknowledge that shooting techniques and technology can be improved and shooters’ behaviour changed to improve the percentage of animals that is killed instantaneously, but shooting will inevitably cause some level of injury and suffering. Even with the best of intentions, mistakes will happen and we believe this is unacceptable.
The TCT wants a total ban on shooting and other lethal forms of killing of wildlife but the $64,000 question is ‘how do we convince the state government that the farming, grazing and forestry industries can survive without shooting browsing animals?’
The state government could implement a totally non-lethal browsing animal policy: it would need to be implemented in steps, but should start with a clear commitment to the principle of ending lethal control. The TCT’s message to the state government is that it must:
- end all forms of poisoning of native browsing animals immediately
- fund programs to assist rural industries to implement non-lethal controls (we have advocated subsidised fencing schemes for many years)
- fund ongoing research programs to improve the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of existing non-lethal control methods and develop new ones
- until non-lethal programs are proven to be effective and efficient for all industries and all circumstances, regulate culling by shooting more strictly to ensure it is used only where landowners:
o demonstrate they have a real and significant problem (similar protocols exist for access to 1080)
o demonstrate that existing non-lethal options have not worked or will not work
o monitor to determine if shooting is having the desired effect in protecting plantations seedlings, pasture or crops.
The state government must also provide technical assistance to ensure the maximum benefit, in terms of reduced impact on crops, pasture and plantations, is gained by the least amount of shooting, both in terms of numbers of animals and cost of shooting. It currently provides only a low level of support in this regard.
Such an approach cannot work unless the state government clearly promotes shooting as only a temporary solution to browsing animal problems, and an unfortunate and regrettable fact of life until it can be replaced.
It should be working with landowners to reduce reliance on shooting, setting targets for reduction each year until levels reach zero over a reasonable timeframe. Of course this will require the state government to maintain an adequate level of funding for programs to develop and deliver non-lethal alternatives.
The state government must also encourage an acceptance of a level of loss to browsing animals as a normal part of running a farming, grazing or forestry operation in Tasmania.
In this way it should be possible to gradually reduce the number of native animals that are shot. An end to shooting will take many years but with the right level of commitment and funding from the state government it is possible.
Numbers of wallabies shot per year in Tasmania
A total of 1,007,985 wallabies were shot under crop protection permits in 2008–09. This is only 8.6% higher than the average number of 928,226 wallabies shot each year under crop protection permits over an 11–year period (1996–97 to 2006–07) as reported in the Tasmanian State of the Environment Report released last year (http://soer.justice.tas.gov.au/2009/indicator/111/index.php).
A comparison with the most recent years reported in the SOE report show a significant decrease in numbers of wallabies being shot: down from 1,364,970 in 2006–07 and 1,074,904 in 2005–06.
While these are extraordinary numbers, it is interesting to note that there has NOT been a significant increase in shooting during a period when there has been an undeniable and dramatic decrease in the amount of 1080 being used.
This may be due to farmers and forestry companies replacing 1080 with non-lethal control methods rather than increasing the numbers they shoot. We know that some farmers are having success with fencing and this would decrease the amount of shooting they do. Gunns Ltd, who recently ceased the use of 1080, has been decreasing its usage of the poison over many years and reverting to alternatives such as seedling protectors, hardier seedling varieties and different planting times.
TCT Wildlife Policies
Ending recreational hunting open seasons
The TCT recommends an end to recreational hunting open seasons for the following native species:
- wild duck (black duck, grey teal, chestnut teal, mountain duck, wood duck)
- short-tailed shearwater
- Bennett’s and rufus wallabies
- brown quail
Banning poisoning of native animals
The TCT wants an immediate end to the use of 1080 poison to control native species in Tasmania and to ensure that it is not replaced by any other poison.
Control of browsing animals
The TCT wants provision of funding to continue the Alternatives to 1080 Program for ongoing development and application of non-lethal options to control browsing animals, including the roll-out of a fencing assistance program for farmers.
Reducing persecution of protected wildlife
The TCT supports an increase in funding for the Wildlife Management Branch of DPIPWE to enable a satisfactory level of monitoring, education and enforcement to reduce the incidence of persecution of protected wildlife.
The TCT recommends development of effective strategies to reduce roadkill at hot spots, including reduced speed limits and a general improvement in driver behaviour that leads to reduced roadkill.