The public discourse about wild deer management in Australia is as hyped at the moment as it has been in the one hundred and sixty or so years that humans have been interacting with wild deer on this continent.
Just a couple of decades ago writers leaned towards describing the presence of wild deer in Australia as more or less totally benign.
Less than forty years ago there was serious discussion about whether or not wild deer would ‘hold on’ in Australia at all.
More recently commentators have sought to place wild deer as the nation’s most destructive pest animal and as an acute threat to the viability of Australia’s $56 billion agricultural industry.
The reality is that neither of these contradictory viewpoints stand up to the available evidence. They are based on kernels of truth, but, they are extremes which are deeply rooted in ideology and prejudice.
A conversation predicated on apologism is just as counterproductive as one predicated on alarmism.
The situation with wild deer in Australia is incredibly complex and complicated, as it is with any abundant vertebrate wildlife.
There are six established species of wild deer in Australia with self-sustaining populations in every State and Territory, in ecosystems varying from Alpine to Tropical. In that context making blanket statements about wild deer, their management, their impacts or their habits is, self-evidently, absurd.
Complexity does not translate well to media soundbites and it tends to clash with and challenge entrenched ideologies.
Consequently, the discourse tends to be dominated by snappy ‘jingles’ rather than by a sober and nuanced retelling of the facts of any particular case. This in turn leads to reactive decision making by politicians, who face the reality of going to the polls every three or four years.
Most interested stakeholder groups are susceptible to allowing the ideology to overtake the facts, hunting interests like ours are as guilty of this as those with contrary views are. Standing on ideological digs doesn’t actually serve the long-term interests anyone with an interest in practical and effective management. Groups might argue that for any real progress to be made their 'opponent' needs to depart the field, what we all know if we are honest with ourselves is that is never going to happen. Those we disagree with have demonstrated that they are as committed as hunters to advocating for their view of the world.
The experience of the Australian Deer Association over the past five years or so attending public forums about wild deer has been that there are a number of areas in which all of the stakeholders in deer management are in, what appears to be, furious agreement.
For any real progress to be made we all need to park our ideologies and focus on the common ground.
Points on which groups with an interest in real outcomes and evidence-based policy should be able to agree include:
- That wild deer need to be well managed in the Australian environment to mitigate and prevent negative impacts.
- That recreational hunting has an impact on wild deer populations which is mostly unquantified and which is not well understood.
- That recreational hunting alone is not a sufficient control measure to address the negative impacts of wild deer on a landscape scale.
- That the eradication of wild deer from the Australian landscape is not a feasible or realistic aim.
- That conversations about the impacts of wild deer should be based on facts, data and evidence and give way neither to apologism nor alarmism.
- That Governments need to promulgate workable, resourced strategies for the management of wild deer in the Australian landscape that address the realistic needs and views of the range of stakeholders interested in the management of wild deer, but, which are ultimately based on sound management principles.
- That building capacity and co-operation between stakeholders and within communities ultimately benefits all stakeholders.
We have a particular view about the value of wild deer as a game animal and the importance of recreational hunting for cultural, social, economic and environmental reasons - that won’t change. Other groups in the conversation have equally strongly held views which are contrary to ours – we don’t expect that to change either.
We will however continue with the hunt for the middle ground and we will continue to prosecute our commitment to work with any genuine stakeholder in the interest of results where they matter - on the ground.