Senate blinkered to hunting as pest management tool

Rachael Oxborrow


Recreational hunting has been dismissed as an ineffective pest animal management tool in a Senate committee review into the impact of feral deer, pigs and goats in Australia. The review, which began in 2018, was led by Greens Senator and long-time anti-firearm ownership and hunting opponent Sarah Hanson-Young.

SSAA National’s submission to the inquiry highlights the success of our volunteer-run Conservation and Wildlife Management (CWM) Program as being a key player in pest management nationwide for the past 20 years. This includes CWM’s ongoing work in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges which has assisted to effectively control feral goat populations and support reintroduction of several native animal species. It also details the SSAA Farmer Assist program which links landholders to accredited volunteers.

While the committee acknowledged the successes of animal management programs such as SSAA’s CWM in the final report, it was clear the use of recreational hunting was not going to be accepted as part of a comprehensive strategy to control overabundant pest animals, particularly when the animal population control methods sections of the report repeatedly quotes the RSPCA, an organisation staunchly opposed to hunting.

In an attempt to downplay the use of recreational hunting as a pest control tool, statements are made that hunting is ineffective at reducing pest populations on a broad-scale level. The problem with this statement is that most hunting occurs at the local scale (being the property) and is focused on impact mitigation of the particular pest animal. For example, hunters target foxes through spotlighting activities during lambing season to improve lambing rates or target grazing pests at particular times to reduce crop damage.

The final report makes 17 recommendations, mostly centred on classifying deer as environmental pests as opposed to game. This classification, which is decided on a state-by-state basis, should allow control measures at a landholder level as well as in national parks. However, the time and energy wasted on debating this classification for many years has distracted authorities from appropriately managing Australia’s deer population, even if that’s via appropriate bag limits, seasons or pest animal labels.

Whether or not wild deer are treated as game or a ‘resource’ should not have a significant impact on the ability to control overabundant populations. Regulatory conditions surrounding take/harvest can be manipulated to achieve desired outcomes such as a greater take to reduce abundance. With proper consultation, acknowledgement and access to more land, the hunting community can mobilise to do their bit in limiting the spread and managing the impacts of all three species of interest to this inquiry.

Other key recommendations of the inquiry include:

  • All jurisdictions to remove impediments to feral deer control on private and public lands.
  • Elimination of feral deer from all World Heritage Areas and other areas of environmental significance.
  • Implementation, supported by long-term funding, of a national pig and deer action plan.
  • Feral deer and pig coordinators to report yearly to national, state and territory parliaments.
  • Listing of feral deer as a key threatening process under federal environmental law.
  • Provision of funding beyond 2022 for research body Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.
  • Commonwealth to hold a Productivity Commission inquiry into invasive species management.
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