Fire ant fight 2.0: A battle we must win

Feral Herald |

Australia’s agriculture ministers have signed off on the new $411 million fire ant eradication program and pressed go on one of the biggest biosecurity operations ever undertaken in the country.

So much is at stake. Fire ants are a serious environmental, health and agricultural pest in Australia. If not eradicated they will have a greater impact than rabbits, cane toads, foxes, camels, wild dogs and feral cats combined, and cost the economy more than $1 billion a year.

In the US where they are out of control, fire ants have caused the deaths of almost 100 people, wiped out native species and impacted all aspects of life.

Congratulate your agriculture minister

Sign the form below to send a thank-you message to state and federal agriculture ministers for the leadership they have demonstrated by supporting fire ant eradication.

Select your state and we will send your message (personalise it if you like) to the Deputy Prime Minister and agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, along with your own state or territory agriculture minister.

Why we still have fire ants

Despite 16 years of eradication efforts, the area infested with fire ants is still incredibly large – over 400,000 hectares. Eradicating fire ants from such a large area has been incredibly complex.

We now know that if more resources had been poured into eradication during the early stages Australia would probably be fire ant free. Recently, funding became uncertain and was capped, resulting in insufficient baiting and a lack of public support for controlling fire ant movement, allowing the ants to spread. Past reviews have also highlighted deficiencies in the program that were slow to be rectified.

A major independent expert review of Australia’s fire ant eradication program released in December 2016 called for more funding – $38 million a year over ten years. It also called for a permanent oversight body. By ensuring the program is properly funded and has the right structures, success will be more likely.

A long hard fight

Eradicating fire ants from Australia remains technically feasible, but the operation will be long, complex and require everybody in the affected areas and beyond to play a role.

It will require sufficient funds and an open and independent structure that builds trust and learns from the lessons of the past.

That’s why we have released a seven-point plan on the essential governance requirements for the national red imported fire ant eradication program. These are:

  1. Design an effective governance approach, including by consulting stakeholders and seeking the advice of experts.
  2. Ensure structures and processes provide robust oversight and accountability to funders, industry and the community.
  3. Make sure decision-making is transparent so that stakeholders understand the rationale for decisions and can have confidence in the program.
  4. Develop a comprehensive eradication plan that includes techniques, costings, assumptions, milestones, roles and responsibilities.
  5. Create an independent body to ensure the program is managed effectively.
  6. Involve experts from relevant fields for program design, advice and review.
  7. Make sure the community and industry is meaningfully engaged in the program.

These detailed management and decision-making structures will be the most effective way to spend the fire ant eradication money.

Our last chance

The independent review made it very clear that the window of opportunity to eradicate fire ants from Australia is closing – the identification of fire ants on the Sunshine Coast in July is a terrible reminder of how easy it is for these ants to spread to new areas.

Thankfully in July Australia’s agriculture ministers set a clear course that ensured we have the best chance to eradicate this deadly invader.

Many organisations had joined our statement of concern that had been calling for a full, ten-year eradication program, including the National Farmers Federation, AgForce, CANEGROWERS, Local Government NSW, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and the North Queensland Conservation Council.

There is no aspect of our lives that will not be impacted by a fire ant infested Australia. We are extremely pleased that our agriculture ministers showed the leadership required to get the job done.

Congratulate your agriculture minister

Sign the form below to send a a thank-you message to our state and federal agriculture ministers for fully fund fire ant eradication.

Select your state and we will send your message (personalise it if you like) to Deputy Prime Minister and agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, along with your own state or territory agriculture minister.

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Help protect NSW!

Our expert team has written a list of policy asks detailing exactly what the next NSW government needs to do to stamp out some of the worst invasive species impacts across the state. But they will only become a reality if every key political candidate at the 2023 NSW state election hears about it from you!

Dear National Deer Management Coordinator,

Please accept this as a submission to the National Feral Deer Action Plan.

[Your personalised message will appear here] 

I am very concerned about the spread of deer and am pleased that a national plan has finally been developed. Without urgent action, funding and commitment from all levels of government it is clear that feral deer will continue to spread and damage our environment.

The feral deer population in Australia is growing rapidly and spreading across the country, damaging our natural environment, causing havoc for farmers and foresters and threatening public safety. Unlike much of the world where deer are native, our plants and wildlife haven’t evolved to deal with these heavy hard hooved animals with a voracious appetite.
With no natural predators and an ability to adapt to almost all environments, they could occupy almost all of Australia unless stopped. Despite this, state and territory governments have been slow to respond and in Victoria and Tasmania they are still protected by law for the enjoyment of hunters.

This plan should be adopted by all governments but must also be underpinned by dedicated funding and clear responsibilities. A plan without funding or accountability is a plan that will fail and Australia cannot afford for this to fail.

In order to prevent the spread of feral deer and reduce their impact on our native wildlife, ecosystems and agriculture, I ask that the following recommendations be adopted for the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

1. All federal, state and territory governments should adopt the National Feral Deer Action Plan and declare feral deer to be a priority pest animal species.

2. All federal, state and territory governments should commit to:

  • Contain deer to the existing large population areas.
  • Reduce and eradicate smaller and isolated populations.
  • Protect important environmental assets such as world and national heritage areas.
  • Develop and fund regional plans and strategies to manage deer populations which involve land managers across all tenures.

3. In order to drive action and the success of this plan, there should be dedicated Commonwealth funding and support for:

  • A permanent national feral deer coordinator position.
  • A permanent federal feral deer action committee with representatives from the commonwealth and state and territory governments and the environmental and agricultural sectors.
  • An ongoing public education campaign on feral deer.
  • A network of regional feral deer coordinators to drive local action across tenures.

4. The expected outcomes for the plan need to be more ambitious, with clear interim targets including:

  • Within one year, all States and Territories should have in place arrangements to implement the National Feral Deer Action Plan, including allocating dedicated funding for implementation.
  • Within one year, feral deer management plans should be developed for key environmental assets of national significance, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Greater Blue Mountains, the Australian Alps, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.
  • Within five years coordinated landscape scale management should be in place where land owners, land managers, government and community are demonstrably working together.

5. A national feral deer containment map with three zones should be adopted. It should be more ambitious than the zone map in the current draft plan and there should be greater clarity in the naming of the zones. Improvements that should be adopted include:

  • Renaming the zones to better reflect the management intention to ‘Containment Zone 1’ (the current large population zone), ‘Containment Buffer Zone 2’ (the current buffer zone) and ‘Eradication and prevention Zone 3’ (the current small isolated population zone).
  • The NSW northern rivers area should be in the eradication and prevention zone as there are few feral deer currently in this region and eradicating isolated populations and preventing spread into this area is still possible.
  • The whole of South Australia should be in the eradication and prevention zone as eradication is the goal of the SA Government.
  • The Tasmanian region in the containment zone should be smaller to reflect greater ambition and potential for eradication of deer populations.
  • In eastern Victoria areas such as Wilson’s Promontory, Westernport islands and the Mornington Peninsula should be in the eradication and prevention zone.

6. There should be consistent laws and regulations across all states and territories that:

  • Recognise feral deer as a pest animal and treat them as such.
  • Establish a clear responsibility for all landholders and managers to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • Set clear penalties to stop the wilful or negligent release of feral deer.
  • Prevent new deer farms in areas where no feral deer are present and phase out all deer farms in the eradication and prevention zone.
  • Enable enforcement of compliance, including on government land.

I support the follow principles being adopted in the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

  • Feral deer are a pest and should be treated as such on all tenures, except on approved deer farms.
  • Federal, state and territory governments have a responsibility to fund the outcomes under this plan.
  • All land managers in areas where feral deer are present have a responsibility to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • The focus of management efforts should be on eradication of isolated, satellite populations, protection of key environmental assets currently impacted and stopping the spread to new regions.
  • Feral deer control should be undertaken humanely, safely and professionally according to agreed protocols and all tools which meet this criteria should be adopted, including aerial control.
  • Funding for coordination, regional planning and community engagement is necessary for effective feral deer management.
  • Ongoing management and follow up control efforts are required to achieve long lasting results.
  • Rules and regulations should be consistent across jurisdictions and land tenures.
  • Recreational hunting is not an effective strategy for feral deer control and should not be relied upon.
[Your name]
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[Your suburb], [Your state]