The Final Alternatives to 1080 Report was released in April of this year. The report provides a summary of research, extensions and demonstration activities funded and undertaken under the alternatives to 1080 program.
Established in 2005 as part of the Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement (TCFA), the Alternatives to 1080 program was aimed at researching and implementing alternative strategies for controlling browsing damage caused by wildlife on private forests and agricultural land. Four million dollars was allocated to the TCFA by the Australian Government and the program was managed by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment (DPIPWE).
The program invested $2.4 million in 19 external research projects. Four separate rounds of competitive grants were offered and recipients received between $27,000 and $400,000 for each project.
Project officers working within DPIPWE were granted a total of $0.8m to fund research and demonstration work. The DPIPWE work focused primarily on shooting and trapping as alternatives to 1080 use.
The Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research (TIAR) was given $0.4m, which was used to research fencing, browsing behaviour, repellents, seedling stockings and Feratox as alternatives to 1080 poison.
An additional $0.4m was invested in program management. The program had a limited time frame of four years, which placed immense constraints on the program.
The work of the Alternatives to 1080 Program has been totally dismissed by some farmers and farming organisations. Some commented that the final report didn’t reveal anything farmers didn’t already know. The TCT believes that the program has achieved some good results which, if implemented, could greatly improve the management of browsing wildlife and end the use of 1080 poison.
Perceptions of wildlife impacts
At a field day in 2008, one of the local farmers present was queried about the effectiveness of his shooting strategy. After a few moments consideration he replied that he didn’t know exactly how effective it was, but at least it made him feel better doing something about the problem.
Another landholder contacted the Wildlife Management Branch seeking help with managing his pasture loss to the wildlife on his farm. A professional game controller visited the site and ended up offering to shoot on the property for free, with the only condition being that the landholder’s families and friends, who also shot on the property, ceased their shooting activities for a few months whilst he got the problem under control. The landholder declined the offer, as he didn’t want to upset his current shooters despite the fact they obviously weren’t providing the wildlife damage control needed.
The two quotes above from the Alternatives to 1080 report, highlight the need for understanding what motivates landholders to make decisions about how they managed pasture and crop loss.
The Rural Development Service (RDS) was provided funding in 2007 to investigate landholder perceptions of browsing animals in the agricultural sector in Tasmania, and particularly the use of 1080 poison. The report ‘Understanding landholder decision making for the use and/or non use of 1080’ provides some very significant insights into landholders’ attitudes to managing browsing wildlife.
Alternative control options
The program investigated alternative control options to the use of 1080 poison, such as wallaby fencing, seedling stockings, deterrents and repellents, shooting, trapping, Feratox and fertility control.
Wallaby-proof fencing was identified by landholders as being the most effective control option, alongside improved shooting. Wallaby-proof fencing is also the option most strongly advocated by the TCT.
Unfortunately, fencing is not always a suitable option, especially for farms that have a mixture of pasture and crops, bushland, forest and other native ecosystems. In these cases, fencing can be impractical or may result in a concentration of damage by wildlife in unfenced native vegetation or pasture.
Fencing was found to work most effectively for higher value irrigation crops or beef and dairy farms where there was a clear delineation between farmland and bushland and where gullies, rocky soil, wombats, public roads and creeks were not an issue.
A number of trials were conducted into the effectiveness of seedling stockings. They are constructed of flexible netting (similar to nets used for packaging oranges) and used in conjunction with a repellent. A final trial found that, after 12 months, using stockings longer than 60cm resulted in seedlings being significantly taller than those planted without stockings. Issues such as the stockings being closed at the top, or stockings being too long so that they ‘flopped over’, did not significantly impact on the height of seedlings after 12 months.
Further research needs to be done in developing stockings that are taller, easier to apply and allow the seedling to grow above browsing height, while still being inexpensive.
In addition, continued research needs to be conducted into developing stockings that have repellents integrated into their mesh and identification of biodegradable stockings. Ways of making the stockings less attractive to deer, through choice of colour or repellent impregnation, also need to be investigated.
For well over a century, non-lethal deterrents and repellents have been used to manage browsing animals. As part of the Alternatives to 1080 Program, several repellent trials were conducted.
The first trial involved using dingo urine. Pademelons and possums did have an aversion to it, but only for a short time and it varied between individual animals. Over a two-night trial it was found that the effectiveness of the repellent weakened over time, despite being replenished daily.
The research suggested that, overall, wallabies and pademelons were cautious feeders and were more easily deterred by repellents than brushtail possums. It was identified that any further research could focus on single-species repellents combined with other controls for non-target species.
Shooting was found to be by far the most common method used to manage browsing damage. The report claimed that shooting has increased significantly as 1080 usage has dropped. The program directed much of its effort into evaluating the effectiveness of shooting and ways of improving it.
Trials were conducted into the use of specialised equipment such as firearm sound suppressors (silencers), infra-red scopes and thermal imaging. It was found that each of these tools could improve the effectiveness of shooting in the right circumstances, but that each had its limitations.
Research into shooting, including commercial harvesting, indicated that a good deal of shooting efforts for crop protection was not successful. Trials conducted on King Island revealed that intensive shooting was only effective if sustained ongoing shooting efforts were carried out, to maintain low population levels after the initial control knockdown.
DPIPWE also evaluated the phenomenon of ‘gun shyness’ of animals. The trials revealed that there was learned avoidance behaviour by animals to stimuli such as vehicle noise, gunshots and spotlights.
Further research involving the direct monitoring of wallabies wearing GPS collars before and after shooting events showed that the remaining wallabies spent more time on pasture areas after the shooting event than before. This indicates that any benefits in removing wallabies could be offset by the remaining population.
When phasing out 1080 poison use in 2005, Forestry Tasmania used the Mersey box trap. Significant trials evaluated the use of trapping combined with humane destruction by shooting.
The program focused on the development of traps for Bennett’s wallabies and a number of different designs were trialled. It was found that the Bennett’s were much more cautious about entering traps or enclosed areas than pademelons. Because of the sizes, the cost of developing a Bennett’s wallaby trap and also its usability, to date no trap has been developed that would meet animal welfare requirements.
Overall it was found that trapping is unlikely to become a widespread alternative to 1080 as it is limited to smaller browsing wildlife, pademelons and possums. It may, however, become important to landholders who are tired of shooting at night orhave small properties, neighbour issues or difficult areas to shoot, and so on.
An alternative poison to 1080 was also examined. Feratox is an encapsulated cyanide-based poison used in New Zealand for the control of possums. It was recognised that an initial step in the process was to evaluate the likely social, regulatory and animal-welfare hurdles in the adoption of Feratox. The TCT strongly opposes Feratox .
No direct research was conducted into fertility control. The general view was that, even if animals were sterile, they would still continue to cause the same level of crop damage.
As part of the Tasmanian and Australian Governments’ project on the Alternatives to 1080 Program, a Toolkit has been released to assist landowners in managing the impacts of browsing animals. The Toolkit comprises three booklets: a Planning Guide, Wildlife Management Strategy Workbook and Information booklet. The Managing Browsing Toolkit is available from the DPIPWE website.
A more in-depth summary, along with the TCT’s responses, will be available on our website in the near future.