Finally some good news on invasive species

On 17 May 2012 the state budget was delivered by the Premier and Treasurer, Lara Giddings, and there was a small but important surprise for those of us who had been waiting nearly three years for the Cat Management Act to be enacted (it was passed by the state parliament in November 2009 but has not yet commenced). In March this year, the Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage, Brian Wightman, had finally confirmed that the act would commence on 1 July 2012 so some budget allocation was expected.

The minister announced that, as a part of the budget for 2012–13, that $255,000 was to be allocated for the implementation of the Act. This is not a new allocation but will be reallocated from DPIPWE’s existing budget for the newly created Invasive Species Branch.

The most exciting part of this budget allocation is the minister’s promise that some of the $255,000 will assist the cat centres and RSPCA – the people who actually manage cats. Although we do not know how much this will be and how much will be kept by DPIPWE, the government decision reflects the very important principle that funding should be directed to those who can best perform a service or function.

After the commencement of the Cat Management Act on 1 July 2012 there will be an increased burden on organisations that manage cats – including an influx of more stray and abandoned cats for them to house, de-sex, adopt or euthanase – and this promise of financial assistance will, we can be sure, be very welcome.

In March 2012, the TCT reluctantly welcomed the announcement of an Invasive Species Branch within the DPIPWE, which at least was a recognition of the importance of invasive animals and plants as a threat to the Tasmanian environment. However, the new branch will not receive increased funding but rather will have to deal with a reduction of $255,000 (probably reallocated from the Fox Eradication Program) to the roll-out of the Cat Management Act.

The new Invasive Species Branch has the potential, in the long term, to eradicate or control many other important feral animals that are not currently seen as priorities, such as Indian mynas, rainbow lorikeets, long-necked turtles, ferrets, goats, and pigs on Flinders Island.

Although at the time of the announcement there was a lot of talk about the new branch achieving efficiencies by bringing together all the invasive species responsibilities of the department in one branch, this will not come naturally and will require a lot more work by DPIPWE managers than just organising who reports to whom.

In the 2012–13 funding year it is highly unlikely that the new branch can take on any extra feral animal projects without external funding. But it should review the priorities for invasive species management and ensure that current resources are allocated to the most important work.

The TCT has recently taken several opportunities to recommend directly to the new branch and higher-level managers with DPIPWE that this new new branch kick off with a through, largely independent review of priority invasive species. Until proven otherwise, the eradication of foxes from Tasmania must remain the branch’s number one feral animal priority.

It is pleasing that the minister'’ media announcement acknowledged the importance of cooperative partnerships with local government, NRM groups, community organisations, farmers and so on, in implementing invasive species management, and the TCT looks forward to working with the new branch.

The commencement of the Cat Management Act will benefit the TCT and Kingborough Council’s Kingborough Cat Management Project. From 1 July 2012 the newly enacted law will support community cat management programs. See the article on page X, introducing the new Kingborough Cat Project Officer, Meg Lorang.

It may frustrate those cat-control zealots out there that compulsory de-sexing and microchipping for all pet cats will be phased in over four years following the Act’s commencement. But if we make good use of these four years to persuade cat owners to accept de-sexing and microchipping, then the reward will come when the new rules are introduced without any protest or anger.

Peter McGlone
TCT Director