By Neal Finch
In May 2005 the Queensland government published the ‘Deer in Queensland: Pest status review’. At that time wild deer existed in essentially a policy vacuum in this state. Protected species through a variety of Acts since 1863, legislation relating to wild deer in Queensland changed with the Nature Conservation Act 1992. Wild deer were no longer a protected species under legislation and became declared pests under the Rural Lands Protection Act of 1985. An amendment to this Act in 1997 removed wild deer from any Queensland legislation. During this period new populations of wild deer appeared in many new local government areas throughout Queensland prompting many to call for deer to be declared pests, hence the pest status review.
Very little scientific research had actually been conducted on wild deer in Australia prior to the end of the twentieth century. Any negative impacts of wild deer on the environment or to agriculture was mostly anecdotal, assumed or based on research from other countries. Whilst all these forms of information are incredibly valuable actual scientific research investigating specific questions in the area of interest is the most reliable evidence to base decisions on. It was into this policy and research void that the University of Queensland’s Deer Research project was launched in August 2009.
Based at Cressbrook Dam in South East Queensland this project was the largest research collaboration ever on wild deer in Australia, at the time. The main partners included:
· The University of Queensland
. The Australian Deer Association
· The Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (National)
· The Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (Queensland)
· The Queensland Government (Biosecurity Qld)
· The Queensland Government (QPWS)
· Toowoomba Regional Council
As the project progressed other minor partners contributed in various ways including: The ADRF, SCI, NSW Game Council and Link Water Projects. Total contributions from the various partners was just under one million dollars with direct funding of around $500 000.
The main aims of the project were:
· establish the movement patterns of male and female wild red deer in Queensland;
· compare a range of established survey methods to quantify the size of wild red deer populations in Queensland;
· determine the diet and quantify the environmental impacts of wild red deer in Queensland;
· quantify the cultural and economic values (costs and benefits) of wild deer in Australia;
· document and understand the motivations of Australian deer hunters, particularly in relation to their role as natural resource managers; and
· undertake an extensive review of ‘grey’ literature pertaining to wild deer management in Australia with the intention of reviewing and publishing, where appropriate, this information in the peer-reviewed literature.
The project ran for over five years and achieved all major goals. In total over 100 volunteers from all contributing organisations participated in field-based work. Students from the University of Queensland included three Honours and one PhD candidate and many undergraduate volunteers. Networking between individuals from various organisations was always considered a valuable benefit of the project. The Australian Deer Association and the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding towards the management of wild deer in Queensland during the life of the project. Several of the students involved (both undergraduate and postgraduate) now work for Queensland government departments.
Communicating findings is an important aspect of all scientific research. A comprehensive website was maintained during the life of the project with regular research updates provided. Several articles were written and published in Australian Deer and Australian Shooter providing regular updates as work proceeded directly to each association’s members. Representatives from the University of Queensland presented findings directly to ADA and SSAA meetings at both the state and national levels. Presentations were also made to councillors from the Toowoomba Regional Council and researchers from Biosecurity Qld.
More formal presentations on the research findings were made by staff and students from the University of Queensland at the following scientific conferences:
· 22nd Australasian Wildlife Management Society Conference, Napier, New Zealand, 2009.
· Queensland Pest Animal Symposium, Gladstone, 2010.
· 15th Australasian Vertebrate Pest Conference, Sydney, 2011.
· Queensland Pest Animal Symposium, Caloundra, 2012.
· 16th Australasian Vertebrate Pest Conference, Brisbane, 2014.
· Conservation through the Sustainable Use of Wildlife, Brisbane, 2016.
The ultimate output from any scientific research is the publication of findings in formal science journals through the peer review process. To date the research findings from the deer research project have been published in the following formats:
· Finch, N., Murray, P., Hoy, J. and Baxter, G. (2014). Expenditure and motivation of Australian recreational hunters. Wildlife Research 41, 76-83.
· Amos, M., Baxter, G., Finch, N., Lisle A. and Murray, P. (2014). I just want to count them! Considerations when choosing a deer population monitoring method. Wildlife Biology 20(6), 362-370.
· Amos, M., Baxter, G., Finch, N. and Murray, P. (2014). At home in a new range: wild red deer in south-eastern Queensland. Wildlife Research 41, 258–265.
· Baxter, GS, Finch, NA, Hoy, J and Murray PJ (2018). Practices of Australian recreational hunters. In Conservation through sustainable use of wildlife conference. Brisbane. GS Baxter, NA Finch, and PJ Murray (Eds).