A coordinated and strategic approach to managing Australia's feral deer problem is desperately needed, as the problem intensifies across the nation.
According to Ted Rowley, chair of the national deer planning committee, the feral deer crisis is getting worse; as land owners have seen the animal go from being a "cute" novelty to being widespread and incredibly damaging.
"They are becoming Australia's next rabbit plague. They have the power to drastically impact our agricultural production, environmental and cultural assets, and also pose risks to biosecurity and community safety," Mr Rowley said.
"In NSW in 2017 we managed to get a policy from the state government to get deer out of the game act because, up until then, they were protected as game animals. That policy removed a lot of red tape and allowed for a more coordinated approach to culling deer."
"But now we need a national coordinated approach before it is too late."
At the NSW Farmers annual conference in Sydney this week, the Cooma branch called for the adoption of the Australian national feral deer action plan after a motion was passed.
The plan focuses on improving tools, strategies, capacity, awareness and efficiencies to reduce impacts of feral deer over landscape scales, to manageable levels, where local communities, regions or jurisdictions wish to do so, and to eradicate them where it is feasible.
"A major problem is that there are differing opinions among land owners, with some who are not being heavily impacted just considering the feral deer as looking 'cute' on their property. Trust me, they wont be thinking the deer are 'cute' when they're destroying pastures and spreading disease," Mr Rowley said.
According to Mr Rowley, feral deer move very quickly from property to property and, if they are not managed at one location, they will seek refuge there and quickly repopulate.
Mr Rowley who, until recently, lived on a property west of Jindabyne said action needs to be taken immediately.
"Deer multiply by a rate of 45 percent a year. So even if you remove 45 pc of the animals in a year, you're only removing the breeding component," Mr Rowley said.
"When you realise how many deer you have on your property and surrounding areas, there are huge implications on vegetation and pasture, as well as several diseases, such as foot and mouth which is quickly spread."
Mr Rowley also points out another major issue - deer are highly intelligent. They quickly work out that the sound of an approaching vehicle means danger and they run to a safe area.
"The deer learn very quickly where the refuges are. If they hear a motorbike, they run to the properties where people don't shoot them. So what we need is a move to baiting stations - foxes are baited in a particular way, so we must adapt that technology for deer," Mr Rowley said.
"Feral deer are also very clever at learning how to avoid being cold, for example, and they are very smart at adapting, and very quickly become unable to be shot via spotlight."
"We must aim for a common national strategy to get everyone to participate in control actions as some states, such as Tasmania, are restricted from controlling deer, even though they are also a pest there."
The plan takes a multifaceted approach to reduce the impacts of feral deer, by focusing on three goals:
- Stop the spread of large feral deer populations and reduce their impact.
- Control (drive down densities as far as possible) or eradicate small, isolated populations before they spread.
- Protect significant sites from impacts from feral deer (threatened species, ecological communities and places of national and international cultural or environmental significance).
Invasive Species Council deer project officer Peter Jacobs said feral deer have a devastating impact on local environments, economies and communities.
"We have watched the impact of invasive feral deer grow over 150 years and waited for the species to become a major pest before action is taken," Mr Jacobs said.
"Recreational deer hunting has clearly failed to control numbers. Control is now a necessary but significant cost to the community."
Mr Rowley agrees that recreational shooting has failed to solve the problem, and compares the sport to an amateur tennis match.
"When it comes to recreational shooting of feral deer, this has nothing to do with pest control. In fact, it has more to do with playing tennis. You get all dressed up for the game and then sit around the BBQ talking about how good you were," Mr Rowley said.
However Sean Kilkenny from the Australian Deer Association believes it is contradictory to suggest wild deer are such a problem and publicly undermine recreational hunting.
"In states such as Victoria, the single largest offtake of deer from the environment is performed by recreational deer hunters. They harvest around 200,000 deer and contribute nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to the economy," Mr Kilkenny said.
"Attempts to undermine this smacks of elitism and is an obvious stalking horse for a more sinister agenda of wanting to flood the environment with 1080."