1080 under the new state government

The state government announced, on 9 May 2014, that use of 1080 poison for control of native browsing animals would not be banned, as had been mooted by the previous Labor–Green government. Primary Industries and Water Minister Jeremy Rockliff told the ABC that ‘the government will not phase out 1080 without a suitable alternative’. He accepted that fencing and shooting worked for most farmers but that 1080 would not be banned while there are any farmers who, regardless of their circumstances, cannot operate without 1080.

If this decision is not to lead to a increase in the amount of 1080 poison used, we will need to ensure that funding is maintained for the state government’s Browsing Animal Management Program (BAMP), to provide advice and assistance to farmers to implement alternatives and to ensure that controls on access to 1080 poison remain strict.

Minister Rockliff initially made no comment about whether the government would relax the very strict processes farmers currently go through to get approval to use 1080 poison but the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association’s (TFGA) Jan Davis was quick to point out that this should be the next step (Mercury,10 May 2014). When interviewed by the Guardian newspaper, the minister was less than unambigious when he said that the process for obtaining 1080 poison would stay ‘essentially... the same as it is now’.

We will take this issue up with the minister and seek a commitment to retaining the existing protocols that apply to 1080 and funding for the BAMP. It is also important to remind the minister and farmers of the effectiveness of alternatives, which satisfy landowners in all but the most extreme circumstances, and that a ban on 1080 makes good economic sense as its continued use by a small minority has the potential to hurt all farmers by turning customers off Tasmanian products; it is cruel to the target animals (wallabies and brush-tailed possums), the joeys in their mothers’ pouches and non-target animals.

Figures from the Department of Primary Industries show that, in the financial year 2011–12, use of 1080 for controlling native animals hit an all-time low in Tasmania with only 14 farmers and no forestry companies receiving permits to use it. Figures provided to the ABC by Minister Rockliff show that the number of permits issued was between 20 and 40 for each of the two full years since.

If so few farmers ‘need’ 1080,  it seems that there must be something wrong with how those people farm and it is time to admit that their farming practices are unacceptable. When 99% of farmers and 100% of forestry companies can cope without 1080, it is time to ban it and for the remaining 1% to be given government assistance to find better ways to farm.

Sadly, the TCT has already had to respond to many inaccurate claims about browsing damage and the effectiveness or humaneness of alternatives to 1080.

In an opinion piece in Tasmanian Country (23 May 2014) Jan Davis claims that fencing is cruel to wallabies and possums by constricting more animals into a smaller area with less food. The ‘Final Report – April 2011 Alternatives to 1080 Program’ recommended that, in most situations, fencing needed to be coupled with shooting to be effective and that these methods in combination provided the best outcome for farmers. Shooting reduced the number of animals to the carrying capacity of the surrounding area and also reduced damage to fences, particularly by wallabies, and the probability of them breaking back into pastures.

Most farmers have resident populations of these animals and therefore must share some of the responsibility for managing them. Where they do enter private land from reserves or state forest, the responsibility is still shared as farmers are providing an enticement to the native animals in the form of attractive food.

Ms Davis claimed that ‘Tasmanian farms suffer an overall 22% productivity loss … because of browsing animals’, but this misrepresents the Alternatives to 1080 Final Report, which concludes that the program could not come up with an accurate measure of the amount of pasture loss statewide due to native browsing animals. But, based on modelling and localised field studies, the program found that ‘landholder estimates of 22% of productivity losses do not seem unreasonable, and if anything, these studies suggest that landholders are underestimating their losses to wildlife browsing’. However, this research only looked at pasture loss and not other forms of agricultural production – so it is incorrect to use this figure in relation to all Tasmanian farms. The report also concludes that most pasture losses occur within 100m of bush and that ‘well-erected and maintained fencing is likely to be far more effective in protecting this bush edge area and thus increasing overall productivity’.

In a letter to Tasmanian Country on 23 May 2014, well-know forester Arthur Lyons supported Feratox as a more humane poison; but, while it kills target animals more quickly than 1080, it has enormous risks which arguably make it worse. This cyanide-based poison kills target animals in around 20 minutes (brush-tailed possum: 3.5 minutes to unconsciousness and 18 minutes to death; Bennett’s wallaby: 12.8 minutes to unconsciousness and 21.5 minutes to death) compared with the hours it takes for 1080 to kill, but it is far from instantaneous or humane and animals still suffer a prolonged and painful death. Also, Feratox, like 1080, fails to kill the joeys, leaving them to die slowly from starvation, dehydration or cold.

The active toxin in Feratox is cyanide, which will kill virtually any animal that ingests it. While the New Zealanders have been able to reduce non-target death from Feratox by encasing it in a hard non-toxic coating and dispensing it from bait stations, there remains a big problem of spillage of bait, i.e. fragments of baits left behind after target animals have bitten into them.

Unlike New Zealand, Tasmania has numerous native mammals and other vertebrates who are able to break open the hardened baits or will ingest the remains of those thatother animals have broken.

Peter McGlone