Deer management in Victoria

Sambar deer number over 1 million in Victoria. They are extremely destructive of stream sides, rainforests and understorey vegetation.

Comments on the Draft Deer Management Strategy

2nd November 2018

EEG represents 350 members and over 1000 supporters and has been active in the East Gippsland region for 35 years.

Our members have also witnessed a dramatic rise in deer numbers and have experienced the damage. We welcome a state strategy to reduce their numbers as a positive move. We hope there is serious political support, will and resourcing to implement any deer strategy. We also hope it does not primarily rely on hunters and amateur shooters.

We agree with much of the draft plan’s proposed actions but feel it needs to have timelines so that it does not drag out for years for what we believe needs to start being implemented within months with adequate funding and assistance.

Our comments in summary follows:

  • Too much emphasis on shooting.
  • Shooting’s economic value should not be part of this strategy.
  • If commercial considerations used – MUST be weighed up against the economic losses due to deer impact at all levels.
  • Providing hunters with an ‘enhanced experience’ should not come into this. It is an environmental problem.
  • We agree with changing the laws and regulations to allow for commercial use of deer meat – but this must be made clear it could have a limited future if numbers decrease to an economically unviable level.
  • A deer meat industry must not lobby for some areas to remain as breeding grounds to service their businesses.
  • The shooting lobby (as exposed in recent 4 Corners investigation) must not influence government policy on feral animal control.
  • EEG is hesitant to support a proposed zones plan. There should be priority areas with high values to target initially.
  • Areas for immediate and well-funded actions are as mentioned in the plan, plus riparian areas as well as parks and reserves under threat – and the adjoining forest. 
  • Water catchments and areas with identified ground dwelling rare mammals and threatened plant communities should also be on the priority map.  
  • All areas should see consistent actions to reduce or eradicate deer, not simply ‘manage’ them.
  • The language in many areas of the plan is non-committal and meaningless government-speak. We would like to see clearer, well defined, details in the final strategy.
  • There should be a clear and unlimited financial commitment to resource whatever is needed to expedite research into options that should see more broad scale reduction of deer.
  • Research to include biological controls, genetic controls, deterrents and poison which must be humane, targeted to deer and have no secondary impacts.
  • Research should be prioritised over and above the shooting component of this plan.
  • We agree with the need to reduce illegal shooting.
  • Accredited hunters can be engaged to hold free workshops into hunting skills, humane killing and essential considerations around communities.
  • The loopholes in the laws which allow shooters to drink and shoot must be done away with. Shooters should be forced to take breath tests and preferably with a zero blood alcohol level.
  • For smaller communities and settlements a form of ‘shooting neighbourhood watch’ could be established using surveillance cameras.
  • All deer must have protection status removed. Inconsistencies and ambiguities in various laws must also be removed that favours deer population reduction rather than enhancing hunting experience.
  • Community engagement with any organised shooting of deer is essential. Key members of a locality can be a contact point for information and updating.
  • From past research we understand that leaving deer in the bush once killed will not increase dog numbers. Where deer are shot and are unable to be retrieved, it should not be discouraged.
  • Hinds must be the priority for all hunters.
  • We recommend looking into a type of bounty for Sambar deer which should encourage the shooting of hinds and young as well as bucks.
    Photographic evidence of the shot hole and shooter to prove a humane shot could attract a higher bounty.   

The constant reference to preserving the hunting experience and the relatively small economic benefit ($142M) to some is vastly outweighed by the ecological damage being done, agricultural impacts and road accidents. These negative impacts and their costs are essential for comparison in such a document. We see it is being proposed but without this information, citing only one positive side is inappropriate. Comparisons are critical to weigh up the pros and cons of deer in the landscape. 

In the summary the draft says ‘It also recognises that deer are a valuable hunting resource.’

We strong recommend this be removed or become a minor consideration in any strategy. The overwhelming problem we face is exponentially increasing deer numbers and total environmental change. This will include wiping out the more common preferred food species which our native browsing animals rely on.

Deer’s ‘negative impacts’ far outweigh any small economic and recreational ‘positive impacts’ as quoted in this draft.

EEG sees far too much influence on government policy from the shooting lobby. We hope this draft strategy does not further reflect this.

We approve the use of feral deer meat for either pet food or human consumption but we are also aware that once an industry becomes reliant on a problem (feral deer numbers), there will be economic pressure to ensure the problem continues.

We welcome this first move and look forward to rapid action to begin the necessary research and culling strategies.

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