By Brian Boyle
Have you ever sat down and really tried to nut out what is actually going on in deer management across Australia at present? What are the drivers behind some of the policy and management decisions being made on ‘our behalf?' With the onset of the wet season up here in the Top End I have had a bit more time to think it through from my perspective coming from working in parks and wildlife management for 20 years, game management for 10 years and the last couple of years in fisheries and aquatic resource management.
Sun Tzu, Hunting and Deer Management – Really?
One of my hobbies is collecting books on hunting, deer, wildlife and also on the martial arts I am interested in. A while back I was in a bookshop in Casuarina and they were off-loading some very nicely bound copies of The Art of War, so I picked up a copy for myself and also bought a few to give to friends. Around 2,500 years ago Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist, wroteThe Art of War. The book is such a classic that General Colin Powell during his term as Secretary of Defence for the United States of America believed that all American soldiers should read it.
The Art of War has been used and adapted as a philosophy system to guide people in areas such as politics, business and everyday life today. There is a classic quote in the book that I have thought about in the milieu that is Australian deer management today: ‘If you know your enemy and know yourself you need not fear a hundred battles’.
Knowing ‘The Enemy’
In the context of this, a friend who I train with in karate recently loaned me a very interesting book by Tim Low on Australian songbirds, Where Song Began. Anyone who has been following deer management and hunting in the past decade or so in Australia will recognise that Tim is a key figure in a little extreme green group that labels itself as the ‘Invasive Species Council’ (ISC).Now, Tim and the ISC have long been vociferous opponents of the recreational hunting of deer (and for feral animals too for that matter), any deer management that doesn’t involve ‘eradication’and when it existed, the Game Council of New South Wales.
I can remember back in February 2006, I was in Bombala in the carpark outside the local Forests office, I was giving an ABC radio interview a couple of weeks before the first state forests were opened for R-Licence hunting. Tim was interviewed before me and it was the first of many times I was to hear the dogma and mantra that he was opposed to ‘uncontrolled shooting’ and that the only solution was government-funded programs involving ‘professional hunters’.
It seems that no matter how many reports come out or are out there, here or say in New Zealand, about the positive social, economic and environmental effects of recreational hunting, let alone the sheer number of deer and pest animals shot by ‘amateur shooters’ compared to ‘professional hunters’ (have you noticed when the antis talk about us - the recreational hunters they call us ‘shooters’ and when they talk about paid killers they call them ‘professional hunters?’), or how many properties have successful and on-going relationships with recreational hunters that negate the need for expensive ‘professional’ programs, the ISC and their ilk appear to assiduously ignore them in their quasi, pseudo-scientific reports – (which are never peer-reviewed or published in any reputable scientific journals) but which the ABC and other left-leaning media grab so gleefully and willingly as it suits their animal rights and anti-firearms agenda.
In the context of this, (and because I have a real interest in birdlife, - it was my childhood interest in New Zealand before getting bitten by the deer bug) I read Tim’s book Where Song Began.I have long wondered where Tim’s attitudes might have sprung from and what is the motivation for the ISC’s anti-hunting stance. Tim’s book is an interesting, comprehensive (and often repeated), compilation of facts and research on Australian birds.
Tim just couldn’t help himself in the book and took a swipe at the Game Council with an out-of-context quote stating the Game Council‘sought hunters’ rights for mallee fowl’. What he didn’t give was the context with regards to the discussion that hunting could be a driver for the conservation of mallee fowl in the report written by Dr Johannes Bauer and Associate Professor Tony English in Conservation Through Hunting. But it was near the end of the Where Song Began book that the light bulb came on for me about where the well-spring is for Tim’s attitude. Tim talked about the relationship between people and birds and how that relationship had changed from where people only a couple of generations ago used to eat the birds ‘they now so lovingly feed’ (it sounds to me like Tim has possibly not had much interaction with traditional indigenous peoples).
Anyway, Tim’s attitude to harvesting, let-alone sustainable utilisation is revealed by the emotive language and remarks he makes in this area in that section of the book. Tim, hopefully inadvertently, gives a bit of backhander to the sea skills and the ability of the Aboriginals back before European colonisation to read sea conditions in their quest to harvest seabirds on coastal islands. Indeed, the abundance of muttonbirds was such he states that it ‘induced’the Aboriginals to risk their lives negotiating ‘treacherous waters’.
In this section of the book he also selectively discusses contemporary waterfowl and geese hunting and even quotes a newspaper poll about duck hunting in Victoria to back up his bias. By the end of this chapter in his book the source of Tim’s attitudes and bias is blatantly obvious for all to see. He does not want any harvesting whatsoever of his beloved birds and the ISC which he founded is now a forum and a vector for disseminating his anti-hunting attitude.
This is backed up by the fact that about a decade ago when I was CEO of the Game Council, the former CEO of the ISC was from North America and in a phone conversation stated to me he was comfortable with hunting as he grew up with deer hunting back home and was willing to open dialogue about hunting in relation to deer and pest management, but he had to check with the ISC first. He came back to me in an email a week later – he was ‘not allowed to discuss this with me’– dialogue was over, ended, full-stop.
Now the ISC in general may just be a well-meaning bunch of genuine but misguided individuals with an interest in the environment. But it could also be a fringe animal rights anti-hunting group masquerading as an environmental group. It may also be a green group that needs to go from campaign to campaign to generate income and employment for some members of the group and this supersedes the original cause and desired outcome. Check out their website and their biased research reports and make your own decision. Whatever you do, don’t buy any of Tim’s books as the last thing we want to do is support him or the ISC.
Maybe instead you can keep an eye out at book sales for a copy of Sun Tzu’s book and then you can think about ‘getting to know your enemy’in the context of deer management in Australia. Believe me there is a lot happening in that area at the moment.