Parks Victoria has advised of plans to conduct aerial culling of wild deer and goats in the Grampians National Park and the Black Range State Park. Between June 22– 28 June 2019, access to some sections of the park may be temporarily closed while aerial shooting from a helicopter takes place.
Overabundant deer and goats are negatively impacting fragile ecosystems and vegetation communities in both areas.
The Australian Deer Association does not oppose the aerial culling of overabundant wild deer on principle.
We do however have concerns with some of the justifications for aerial control given by Parks Victoria. When there is a significant public expense, and wildlife is being shot to waste, the public should be able to be confident that there is a solid and transparent rationale underpinning the control measure.
We maintain that inclusion of the community and the best utilisation of carcasses from culled animals should be high up in considerations when planning any control.
Amongst the more concerning statements from Parks Victoria is that the control will protect “Aboriginal rock-painting sites” and that “Recent trials in eastern Victoria have found aerial shooting to be a highly effective method for controlling deer in remote areas”. The Australian Deer Association has seen no evidence to support either of these claims.
The International consensus principles for ethical wildlife control offer good guidance for land managers who are planning control measures.
Ethically defensible decisions to control wildlife require clear objectives and sound evidence that the proposed methods can achieve the objectives. Too often these requirements are not met. For example, eradication of an unwanted population sometimes fails to achieve the intended ecological benefit (e.g., Bergstrom et al. 2009). Culling animals to reduce numbers in the long term may prove ineffective (Walsh et al. 2012), especially if the level of killing is insufficient to manage recruitment when a species is mobile or prolific or if other factors (habitat, food availability) are not addressed (e.g., Pennycuik et al. 1987).
The objectives of wildlife control should be specific, measurable, and outcome‐based, where the outcome relates to the desired reduction of harm—such as reducing crop loss, preventing transmission of a vector‐borne disease, or increasing an endangered species population—rather than simply reducing the number of target animals (Clayton & Cowan 2010). An understanding of population size, demography, ecology, behavior, and reproductive capacity, and the effectiveness of the chosen action are required to judge the likelihood of success. Monitoring is critical and often over‐looked (Clayton & Cowan 2010), and wildlife control should be rooted in an adaptive‐management framework (Warburton & Norton 2009).
In the case of introduced species, people's objectives may differ. People may wish to restore an ecological system to its pristine state or to reverse the major effects of introduced species, or they may value a rich and functioning ecological system even if introduced species are present. Moreover, eradication may be impossible in large continental systems once a species has become integrated and widespread. In such cases, failed eradications can be costly in terms of animal welfare (Cowan & Warburton 2011) and public support of control programs. Clarity about the desired outcome, the feasibility of success, and how success can be monitored is needed in each case.
We will continue working productively with land managers and government agencies to ‘raise the bar’ for conversations about wildlife management and transparency of monitoring and costs to ensure that public confidence is gained and maintained and, more importantly, to ensure the biodiversity is protected.