Our CWM program a 30-year success story

Our CWM program a 30-year success story, writes Rachael Oxborrow

Thirty years ago a small group of South Australian hunters were called upon to help tackle a feral goat population which was decimating native vegetation and threatening wildlife in the Ikara-Flinders Ranges region and the resulting partnership between members of the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia (SSAA) SA, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and a number of other stakeholders has grown to become an unheralded success which has since been mirrored across the state and the rest of the country.

Over the course of the past three decades SSAA SA’s Conservation & Wildlife Management (CWM) program, formerly SSAA Hunting & Conservation, has helped return the Ikara-Flinders Ranges to their former glory with tens of thousands of feral goats having been removed from the national park. Vegetation and water sources have regenerated and countless native animals have repopulated the region while the reduced impact of goats and other pest species has allowed the rare and threatened yellow-footed rock wallaby population to increase from around 500 to several thousand.

Further ongoing work to control fox and feral cat numbers complemented by aerial culls of pest animals, 1080 baiting, trapping and monitoring has since allowed the Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered Species (FAME) to reintroduce western quolls and brush-tailed possums to the park.

SSAA SA CWM president Chris Carroll said that initial group of volunteers had no way of knowing how much of an impact their efforts would make to the South Australian landscape over time. “Our members forged a path that built relationships with government departments, wildlife groups and the indigenous community,” he said. “This has led to an acceptance and understanding of the role hunting can play in land management to be fast-tracked and allow highly-trained SSAA members to make a difference in landscapes across Australia.”

Long-time member Gil Hartwig detailed that first trip to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges in the April 1992 edition of Australian Shooters’ Journal when he noted it was a real milestone moment for hunters who were entering public land for the first time. Hunting activities were being deployed to reduce the impact of goat populations which were not only a problem inside the national park boundaries but for the owners of neighbouring properties too.

That original group of 78 hunters entered the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges 650km north of Adelaide and were met by a barren wasteland with goats ambling around in search of food and seemingly oblivious to their visitors. The first year of activities culled more than 3500 goats and paved the way for the Operation Bounceback program to form and expand to include the Gawler and Olary ranges. This program has been run in partnership with landholders, SA Arid Lands, Northern and Yorke natural resources management boards, volunteers and several wildlife conservation groups.

“As one of the contributing groups helping protect and restore these landscapes to their natural glory, we feel a great deal of pride to see native animals being reintroduced to their habitat and thriving there,” Mr Carroll said. “Our members have dedicated years of their lives to the cause and continue to go out and volunteer their time to make a difference in their home state. Many of those original members are still making valuable contributions to the program as well as other CWM activities around South Australia.”

Two SSAA SA CWM members have been honoured with Order of Australia Medal recognition for their services and key roles in Operation Bounceback as well as their SSAA efforts in general. Founding member Gil Hartwig was recognised in 2007 when he was keen to acknowledge his fellow members for their support and contribution because “every activity is a team effort”. In 2018 Kaz Herbst was also honoured but claimed his contribution “wasn’t much of a sacrifice as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it all”.

South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service executive director Mike Williams said the Department for Environment and Water and the National Parks and Wildlife Service acknowledge and thank the Sporting Shooters, Conservation and Wildlife Management branch for their enduring commitment to the Bounceback Program. “Their work to control feral goats and other pest species in a number of our parks has seen a spectacular recovery of the yellow-footed rock wallaby population which was almost wiped out in the early 1990s by foxes and the grazing pressure exerted by goats,” he said.

“A number of those members who started this work in the 1990s are still involved today and it has undoubtedly been one of our great partnerships and success stories of the past three decades. Recovery of the landscape continues and the reduced threat posed by feral pests has recently paved the way for the reintroduction of a number of locally extinct species including the western quoll.”

Today there are more than 1000 CWM members nationally who are dedicated to the preservation of native animal species. They use their shooting skills to assist in conservation activities through feral animal management campaigns, perform advisory roles in conservation projects, assist with surveys, counts and help maintain assets. These members go through a stringent training process to perform these roles and provide vital services to private landholders, commercial entities and government departments.

Organised culls on feral cats, donkeys, foxes, goats, rabbits and pigs have taken place in the Simpson Desert, the Flinders and Gammon Ranges in South Australia; Gregory National Park in the Northern Territory; Pilliga, Wagga Wagga, Hillston and Ivanhoe in New South Wales; the Murray Sunset region of Victoria and various locations around Queensland.

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