Monday, June 05, 2006

"Killers for conservation"

Earlier this year I wrote about the new trials to allow hunting of feral animals in NSW State Forests. Yesterday I watched a report on the Sunday program looking at the trials so far. The full transcript is on the show's website.

It was a fairly balanced piece, considering the reporter started (in a 'by the way' kind of manner) with the following disclosures:

These men are part of a campaign being waged in more than 100 state forests across NSW. The targets are carefully selected, no native fauna will die today, but ferals are fair game. These men are killers for conservation... Robbie Lynn manages this territory for the Game Council... Lynn and I go back thirty years. As teenagers we hunted pigs, rabbits, foxes and kangaroo, anything we could get our sights on. The places we roamed back then are now all but closed to shooting, such is the poor image of the hunter... There are now 1000 hunters who are venturing into the forest for the first time. Our groups are townies. Kym’s a vision editor for the Sunday program, Larry’s a landscape gardener and Dick owns his own business...

The program played up the political elements of hunters vs greens, the hunters-as-tourists angle and the safety issues. But it didn't delve very far into what I think are some of the crucial issues: Do hunters actually assist with the feral problem? What other activities are restricted when forests are closed for hunting?

My impression is that allowing hunters into forests will have extremely modest benefits. According to the program:

there is still another [feral pig] for every man woman and child in Australia [ie, about 20 million]. Here in the safe haven of state forests, there are 18 million wild cats and countless dogs, deer and foxes. Conservation hunting is the latest tactic in a battle to control these booming populations...

Robbie Lynn: "they’re going to have to do a few trips and start working hard before they get a good result, but we’ve got 31 forests and it’s only been open 8 weeks I think and there’s been over 50 pigs shot through the forest so far"...

After three days in Nundle our hunters have each spent more than $300 in the town on accommodation and food. It’s been modest return in hunting terms, a pig, a few foxes, some rabbits.

Clearly hunting is going to have very little impact on the feral problem. One of the farmers interviewed has a property adjoining a State Forest and summed it up:

Shooting is probably the least effective form of broad scale control that we have. But saying that, it’s better than nothing. Probably one step above no control. It will have an impact but it will not have a major impact on the overall population, but it will help.
Given the minor benefits it brings, I think the questions we need to consider are:

  • Is there any net conservation benefit at all? Hunting reduces numbers slightly, but land managers have commented that it interferes with other more strategic control measures (eg, it disperses animals). Some environmentalists suspect that if hunters can't find ferals they'll shoot native animals instead and there are reports of hunters bringing ferals into forests in order to hunt them. (It's irrelevant now but of course most of these animals were brought into the country by hunters in the first place - which puts hunting as the solution in an interesting light).
  • What other activities are displaced by allowing hunting in forests? I understand that the forest is closed during hunting (for obvious safety reasons) meaning that other recreational activities such as fishing, walking, etc are not available. What is the cost of that?
  • Given that the conservation benefit is limited at best and there are costs on other users of the forests, should we admit that this is a recreational activity, not a conservation activity, and charge hunting fees or auction hunting permits - the revenue from which could be used for feral control activities that are actually effective?
  • Given the limited benefits, the costs and the risks to safety, should we allow it at all?

Update - further info


jindydiver said...

"What other activities are displaced by allowing hunting in forests? I understand that the forest is closed during hunting (for obvious safety reasons) meaning that other recreational activities such as fishing, walking, etc are not available. What is the cost of that?"

Maybe you need to look into the issue some more? Forests are not closed during hunting, the areas where hunting is allowed is defined to minimise adverse impact to other forest users. It is the same as what happens in Victoria where widely differing groups of people all use the State Forests.

“Is there any net conservation benefit at all? Hunting reduces numbers slightly, but land managers have commented that it interferes with other more strategic control measures (eg, it disperses animals).”

Hunting permits will not be issued in areas where other control programs are in place. State Forests are using this program as an opportunity for some control over feral pests that SF management have neither the time or the money to control themselves.

“Some environmentalists suspect that if hunters can't find ferals they'll shoot native animals instead and there are reports of hunters bringing ferals into forests in order to hunt them.”

“Some environmentalists suspect” means that if people can’t find real issues to argue about in the GC program they will just make some up.

“(It's irrelevant now but of course most of these animals were brought into the country by hunters in the first place - which puts hunting as the solution in an interesting light).”

Totally irrelevant.

You claim that it is clear that the hunting of ferals in State Forests will have minimal impact but you can only use the comment from one farmer interviewed on the Sunday show to back up that claim. Seeing as the state forest managers are doing nothing themselves to control feral populations on much of the land they manage you can surely agree that the hunters in state forests will be the ONLY thing having an impact on feral animal numbers?

David Jeffery said...

My my my Jindy!

My piece was my take on the show and throwing out some questions I think it raised so I think some of your comments are a little misplaced. My post is not meant to be the final word on feral hunting.

The hunting area is closed for hunting and that imposes an obvious cost on other uses. That is an issue.

There was nothing in the show that suggested that hunting was being co-ordinated with other control measures and, for example, not being undertaken in areas where other control measures are being used. If that is the case, it's useful information: do you have any more details on that?

There is plenty of information out there that suggests that hunting will have a minimal impact on feral numbers. See this for example:

However, I was looking at the show, so I presented numbers from the show. I think the 20 million feral pigs versus 50 shot so far in 8 weeks in 31 forests is a pretty good indication of a minimal impact - I'm not sure why you chose to ignore that.

50 in 8 weeks is about 300 a year. Out of a population of 20 million how is that more than a minimal impact?

jindydiver said...

Yes that is 50 shot so far by people shooting under the GC system. They can easily count the numbers because all animal taken must be reported, but it is a very new scheme and way less than 1% of all hunters in NSW have joined in yet.

You can read all about the Game Council here

If you visit the site you will be able to argue your position with the benefit of some facts (e.g. you will find that the forests ARE NOT closed when hunters are in there).

It is easy for me to ignore all sorts of stuff I see on TV, it is after all TV, a medium not generally known for it’s reliable portrayal of the facts on any subject. :)

jindydiver said...

I forgot to add

Your link is to a bounty scheme, something that has it’s own pitfalls and is not really relevant to the hunting in SF’s, but if you read the report into the trial you will find that in less than one year over 100,000 foxes were claimed against the bounty, a minimal impact, the foxes wouldn’t think so.

Vincenze said...

Hey guys, I'm a bit lost with this discussion... not knowing much about the topic to begin with probably isn't helping. So I'll be anxiously awaiting any summary. :)

In the meantime I'm hearing that maybe the benifits of hunting may not be worth the potential side effects, or collateral damage?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the effectiveness of hunting for the control of feral pigs; the scientific literature clearly shows that ad-hoc hunting of the type shown on the Sunday program cannot provide effective pig control.
The reproductive capacity of feral pigs is such that a population reduction of over 70% is generally required to produce any meaningful reduction in numbers. This needs to be repeated every couple of years at least, in order to prevent populations returning to pre-control methods. Anything less than this level of control is really just sustainable harvesting.
Realistically, this can only be achieved by well-coordinated broadscale control methods such as baiting or extensive aerial shooting.
And before all you gung-ho hunters think that I'm just some tree-hugging greeenie, I'm a member of the Sporting Shooters Association and I enjoy shooting. What I don't enjoy is seeing people misleading others with half-truths and facts reported out of context.
By the way, I believe the 'farmer' interviewed on the program who said that hunting was the next step up from doing nothing was actually the head of the NSW Land Protection Board, or whatever they call themselves down there. And I don't think that the program was particularly well-balanced: I kept waiting for them to interview a scientist to get some real facts. I couldn't imagine why they'd get a politician's views about the effectiveness of hunting, but not a scientist's. Perhaps all the government-employed scientists are too well gagged?

jindydiver said...

You are correct Anonymous, ad-hoc recreational shooting alone cannot control pig (or possibly any feral animal) numbers but as part of a holistic approach, which would include trapping and baiting, hunting has a real part to play.
I have not seen anybody try and claim that hunters alone could effectively control feral animal numbers.

Vincenze said...

So the hunting is pretty much ineffective in controlling these populations, sweet.

jindydiver said...

It would appear you are going to believe what you want regardless of any facts given to you, but I will show you an example of how using hunters and shooting is indeed an important and effective part of feral animal control.

If you look at this chart
Obtained from this State of the Environment Report

You will see that control measures for feral animals are carried out in the main by the private landowners.
You can see in table 5 of that report the high cost to the government agencies to control feral animals and those agencies in the main use poisons and trapping (although shooters are used to great effect also). Most private landowners have neither the time nor the money to engage in these high cost control measures in any real way and so they use the services of recreational hunters (at nil cost to the land owner).
Being as how people are loudly demanding that something be done about the impact feral animals are having on our unique ecosystems and yet are horrified at the amount of tax burden they are subject to I would have thought there would have been a lot more general support for the hunters who are going out at their own expense to shoot the feral animals.

You should know of another example of hunters making a big impact on feral animal numbers

The state government of South Australia runs a program called Operation Bounceback. This program has hunters being used as an integral part of it, and without the hunters providing their services at no cost the program may never have gotten off the ground.
You can read a little bit about it here
The Hunting and Conservation group within the Sporting Shooters Ass’ of Australia, mentioned in that document, is one of the groups that is being allowed to hunt the state forests of NSW.

Vincenze said...


It would appear that you're being a grumpy bumb, so do us a favour and lighten up. :)

I don't even really know what your point is, sorry, I'm a bit slow, hence my prod with my initial assuming thought and the request of some clarity...

So unless it comes in 2 paragraphs I'm no longer interested, thanks the same and enjoy the rest of your day. :)

Gus said...

It would seem to me that if some ferals are killed it is better than nada. Also if some days hunters get to enjoy the forest, I don't see the problem. Or are you assuming that we are second class citizens ?
Why can't Australian Greeneis join the rest of the planet and stop placing themselves on a super left wing, pagan like position. Science through big economics is the way to save the planet. It isn't by planting tomatoes in your backyard and living a hippie life.

Lis said...

Forests are definitely NOT being closed to other users when general hunting activities are taking place.

Where specific, intensive control programs undertaken by hand-picked hunters being monitored by Forests NSW staff are actively underway, they may choose to close a section, post signs, close roads etc but for general hunting under the Game Council booking scheme this is NOT the case.

Permanent signs at the entrance to forests say "firearms in use for feral animal control" however there is NO public information about when hunters are *actually* going to be in there and no plan to make it available. Brian Boyle in the "Killers for conservation" transcript says it is not workable and not "best practice".

Whether other users will WANT to go in to the forest during hunting activity is another matter and one that goes to the core of fair use and safety concerns - if you can't know whether someone is in the forest with a gun on any day of the year, and you feel uncomfortable about that, regardless of how well-trained or ethical the individual hunters may be, you will probably just go away. Since 1.4 million of the 2 million hectares of state forests have been or about to be declared, and the Game Council is now identifying remaining forests over 500ha for declaration, it doesn't leave a whole lot of options.

Proposals by a number of communities for more restricted and better defined hunting periods to allow for some times where forests are gun-free, exclusion zones to protect adjoining properties (as opposed to just logging operations) and better information available to the public on hunting activity are key issues that could be addressed by the Game Council and Minister but have so far been ignored.

Hunters seem to think any criticism of the scheme is a criticism of them - it is not. The way in which the Game Council has implemented the scheme is what we are taking issue with. We are just as keen to see feral animal control in place - but it MUST be managed and INTEGRATED with other forms of control over an intensive period to have any lastng benefit. Opportunistic shooting of individual animals can make the problem worse by either dispersing animals over a wider area, removing competition for other predators to take over or removing a feral food source that is then replaced by a native food source for feral predators.

As David started out this debate - whether the benefits outweigh the risks is an important consideration in determining whether an individual forest should be declared.

Forests where there were no major feral animal problem reported by landowners or Forests NSW and where there was no support for the Game Council scheme, have been declared regardless by the Minister.

For more details on growing public concern about this issue, the poorly managed consultation process and a list of scientific references on feral animal control under "Issues" see: