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Huge cull of pests underway in NSW, but Invasive Species Council says it may not be working

By Joshua Becker, Tim Fookes and Amelia Bernasconi, Monday May 18, 2020 - 07:12 EST
Audience submitted image
The fires have helped feral animals like red deer spread through NSW. - Audience submitted

After the horrendous bushfires in New South Wales last summer the State Government promised to conduct the state's largest ever cull of feral animals to protect native wildlife and what remained of farmers' livestock.

But Invasive Species Council chief executive Andrew Cox says despite the baiting programs and culling taking place, the number of pest animals has continued to rise.

"There needs to be a relentless and targeted approach by government, agencies and landholders to control numbers," he said.

"Particularly in the wake of the bushfires, pest animals move around into other areas, so investment into management programs is important."

Mr Cox is particularly concerned about the spread of deer.

"In the past seven years, feral deer have gone from covering about seven per cent of NSW to now covering seventeen per cent of the state," he said.

Hundreds of deer culled from above

Thermal imaging had picked up large numbers of feral deer on properties between Orange and Bathurst, prompting Local Land Services to carry out an aerial culling program in autumn that killed 654 of the pests.

Senior biosecurity officer Alistair Gordon-Smith said the deer were particularly damaging to agriculture because they ate pasture, damaged infrastructure and spread weeds.

"Only a few years ago it was unusual to see deer in the region," Mr Gordon-Smith said.

"But they have been breeding quickly and landholders are now reporting more and more large mobs."

Farmer Matt Press said it was common to see herds of 60-70 deer on the paddocks.

"They compete with our livestock and decimate the crops we're trying to grow," Mr Press said.

"I first noticed deer in the area about 15 years ago, but they have now turned into a huge problem, exacerbated by drought."

Spike in wild dogs

After months of fires in nearby scrubland, the Walcha region on the state's Northern Tablelands has seen an "astronomical" spike in the number of feral animals terrorising livestock.

"There's been a lot of dogs coming in from the timbered areas, the National Parks and the forestry areas," Walcha Mayor Eric Noakes said.

"It's having a devastating affect on a lot of sheep."

The council has secured Federal funding to build a barrier fence on the northern side of town for a cost of about $1 million.

"The plan is to start in about July and put up 44 kilometres of what they're calling 'predator proof' fencing to link up existing fences that are there," Cr Noakes said.

When linked together they will create 100km of barrier fencing which will protect farms and livestock.

"This fence will be crucial because of the value of stock at the moment, and a lot of farmers haven't got as many stock as they had, so every animal is important," Cr Noakes said.

"It's a terrible thing, wild animal attacks generally, because you can go out every day for months and have nothing and go out the next day and you've got devastation in your paddocks."

Attacks escalate, baiting program planned

Delegate wool producer Robert Ingram, who is the FeralScan coordinator for the southern Monaro, says the collaborative network is trapping more dogs than ever.

"Since December, over a 15-kilometre stretch of farmland, we’ve shot and trapped over 50 wild dogs." he said.

"That’s the highest number of dogs taken from that area in the last 30 years.

"Our neighbour in the next valley, the Corrowong valley, lost 200 of their 500 maiden ewes in three nights."

Mr Ingram said the maiden ewes had good genetics and would have been worth about $300 each, leaving the farmer out of pocket $60,000.

He said the trapping and baiting plan would see farmers work alongside public land managers, Local Land Services, Forestry NSW and National Parks.

With two baiting runs in May and July, it will be the largest coordinated baiting program the region has seen.

"The baiting is working well," Mr Ingram said.

"Our trappers are doing a great job and some of the technology like FeralScan is incredibly helpful."


© ABC 2020

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