PARTNERING WITH GOVERNMENT AGENCIES IN DEER MANAGEMENT

By Steve Garlick, Victorian Deer Management Committee

Since early May 2014, Australian Deer Association members have been working with Parks Victoria to mitigate deer impacts in the Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve (NCR) near Melbourne via a Deer Management Program that has seen a reduction in the number of sambar and fallow deer impacting this small reserve.

Yellingbo is one of three areas in the Dandenong Ranges included in a wider program to mitigate deer impacts in this peri-urban environment – the other two areas being the Dandenong Ranges National Park and Warramate Hills Conservation Reserve. Due to the nature of these reserves, their high public use and their proximity to housing and other public infrastructure they are not open for regular game hunting and the only way the deer could be managed is via a dedicated structured deer management program using either paid contractors or volunteers.

Yellingbo NCR protects a diverse array of flora and fauna including around 285 native flora species and 230 native vertebrate species. The reserve also protects areas of sedge-rich Eucalyptus camphora Swamp community which is considered to be of national significance and is listed under both the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act and the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act.

In 2014, a significant revegetation project coordinated by Greening Australia and Parks Victoria commenced to improve the condition of this vegetation type. The planned revegetation is part of a Victorian Government initiative which aimed to plant two million trees across Victoria from 2012 to 2014. Revegetation at Yellingbo has been directed at priority Leadbeater’s possum sites to increase habitat complexity for this species and for helmeted honeyeaters and thus improve the condition of the E. camphora swamp community.

Parks Victoria approached ADA in September 2013 to establish a deer management program to support the government’s tree planting initiative by removing approximately 220 deer across the three reserves.

So far ADA volunteers have been able to remove 13 sambar and 45 fallow deer from the Yellingbo Reserve and surrounding private land. It is not expected that we will get every deer in the reserve but we have made a good dent in the population in a relatively short period of time.

The program only started after sorting out permits and paperwork with 24 ADA volunteers selected to undertake the shooting from a pool of over 50 that were invited to participate. To be invited to participate in the program members had to meet the following criteria; completion of ADA Victoria’s Deer Management Program Accreditation Course; be able to participate mid-week; and return paperwork by the required deadlines. From the 50 invites sent out the first 24 accredited members to get their paperwork back were selected to participate – there was no ‘jobs for the boys’ approach when it came to selecting the participants.

Participants in the program are required to share duties including: manning of entry closures (gates), meat and offal recovery, spotlighting and hunting/shooting. A roster was drawn up so that members got an opportunity for at least two hunts/shoots and two meat recovery/gate manning sessions over the roster period – usually a ten week period. Some members participated in more than two hunts/shoots, meat recovery or gate manning sessions per roster period depending on their availability with the participation kept at a reasonable and balanced level depending on the volunteer’s personal commitments.

In the early days (May, June and July), spotlight shooting from a vehicle was mostly used due to the lack of daylight hours available. However as daylight hours increased stalking, sit and wait; and still hunting were used. Spotlight shooting produced near equal numbers of sambar and fallow deer, however the number of fallow deer taken increased as we moved towards more daytime shooting.

One of the requirements from Parks Victoria for the program was that all carcasses and offal were to be removed from the reserves to ensure that their amenity was maintained – offal was disposed offsite by Parks Victoria. This allowed volunteers to utilise the meat and on most operations volunteers were able to get some venison to take home. Members who took a deer were happy to share the proceeds of the operations with their fellow participants.

Public access to the parks and reserves is closed during the operations to ensure the safety and efficiency of the program and signs are displayed at all entrance points when hunting is in progress. There are no operations on weekends, public holidays or during school holidays to minimise any impact on the public and there is communication with the various ‘friends’ groups who do environmental work in the reserve for the helmeted honeyeater and Leadbeater’s possum.

The working relationship between our volunteers and the Parks Victoria personnel has been exemplary and the professionalism and dedication shown by all involved has been outstanding. The program has been an excellent example of hunters volunteering their time and working closely with government land managers to achieve common objectives.

Parks Victoria’s Danny Hudson echoed ADA’s thoughts on the program stating in recent correspondence ‘…it was a very rewarding and satisfying year, after well over 12 months of work with the program. As mentioned by Craig Bray and Trevor McIntosh at the end of year barbecue, the program is well and truly up there on Parks Victoria’s list of higher profile programs at the moment and it’s a great credit to you that we can so far say it has been a success, not only as far as deer numbers go, but a totally incident free program.

The program has been accepted and embraced by the wider community and has also been beneficial to the deer hunters overall credibility, so you have done credit to your own organization and the hunting community in general.’

The Dandenong Ranges National Park cull will commence in March 2015 as will programs in various parks and conservation reserves across Victoria. ADA volunteers look forward to continuing to achieve the aims and objectives of this and other programs plus improving the image of deer hunters in the community through 2015 and beyond.