On November 7 the Victorian Government announced their plan to phase out native timber harvesting in Victoria over the next ten years.
This change in policy will inevitably lead to a change in the pattern of management for public land in Victoria. For the past 44 years the management paradigm for State forests and National parks has maintained an insular focus on industrial use, reflected in the Forest Act (1958) and the National Parks Act (1975). These Acts reflect clearly the relevancy deer hunting and deer hunters themselves have historically held in public land management plans – both from a political perspective and within the context of game hunting. Even the State Game Reserve system, which is specifically geared towards hunting, is predominately structured for the interests of duck hunting.
Over the past quarter century, the number of Victorian deer hunters has quadrupled, from 8,000 licensed deer hunters in the 1990s to 41,000 today. Over the same period the overall deer population has more than doubled its numbers. There is no reason to believe the strong growth of both will not continue for the foreseeable future. Both aforementioned Acts fail to fully recognise the compatibility of recreational hunting and other active uses of public land as something worth considering as primary management objectives.
Deer hunting currently supports more than 1,000 regional jobs in Victoria and contributes over 145 million dollars a year to the State economy. 60 percent of this expenditure is in regional Victoria, the key areas being Wellington, Mitchell, Mansfield, Latrobe and Baw Baw. These same local government areas will bear the brunt of any negative impacts associated with a phase out of native timber harvesting. From a social and economic perspective, it seems logical to focus on increasing access and opportunities for recreational deer hunters in Victoria.
For several years Victorian Governments have been aware of the need to take a fresh look at how reserve systems work in a modern context. In the early 2000’s there were attempts to rationalise legislation. 2015 saw a failed attempt to reach a consensus on forest management through the Forest Industry Taskforce (from which recreational users were excluded). There has been little follow through aside from this. We can’t predict the future and with two State elections between now and 2030 we don’t know for sure where the situation with forestry will land. What is clear from this recent announcement however, is that a serious re-organisation of the Victorian reserve system is inevitable.
For deer hunters this poses a serious risk – it shouldn’t, but it does. Despite all that deer hunting contributes to the state economy and the environmental sustainability of hunting, we still face an institutional bias which sees our role as a stakeholder in public land marginalised and often ignored. This limited consideration was understandable when the Forests Act was written in 1958 and deer hunting was just getting going. It was even understandable when the National Parks Act was written in 1975 and deer hunting was more or less a secret society. Today it is neither understandable nor acceptable when currently deer hunting is one of the dominant recreational uses of Victoria’s forests and a significant contributor to the State’s economy.
The recent Victorian Environmental Assessment Council investigation into the Central West exemplifies this in a more recent context.
From the outset the VEAC investigation demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding and knowledge of ethical deer hunting, which they allowed to shape what looks for all the world like their ideological bias against it. Indications of this reflect the erroneous contention that recreational hunting is somehow unrelated and not compatible with the objectives of National Parks and other similarly restrictive reserves.
Those objectives typically include but are not limited to:
- Permanently protecting the natural environment, biodiversity, underlying ecological structure and supporting environmental processes
- Protecting the rights and interests of Traditional Owners and their cultural values
- Protecting historical sites
- Providing an ecologically sustainable location for scientific, educational, inspirational, and recreational opportunities consistent with those conservational values
Recreational hunting and other active uses of public land are compatible with all of those objectives and the values they promote.
Deer hunting is challenging for public policy makers, we understand that. It involves firearms and killing, both of which can be very confronting – particularly today. What we need to do is work past this together and focus on the facts – what we do is safe, sustainable and wholesome and delivers triple bottom line benefits to society. Deer hunting and similar active uses of public land need to be a major consideration in any decision about the administration of public land going forward.