Action needed to forestall a feral future for NSW

Media Release |

Ahead of the NSW election, the Invasive Species Council has sounded a warning that NSW faces a pest and weed disaster due to the cumulative effect of recent natural disasters, climate change, underfunding and a lack of political will.

The Council has released a comprehensive policy platform, Combating Invasive Species: Priorities for the next NSW Government, which identifies policies, funding and reforms needed to strengthen the biosecurity system and address key environmental threats from pests, weeds and exotic diseases.

The Council is calling for investment in an additional 300 FTE frontline pest and weed officers across the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Local Land Services, the Department of Primary Industries and local government at a cost of $37.5 million per year.

‘NSW is facing an invasive species crisis due to the cumulative effect of recent natural disasters, climate change, underfunding and a lack of political will,’ said Invasive Species Council advocacy manager Jack Gough.

‘Our frontline pest and weeds agencies are understaffed, underfunded and have been under enormous pressure over the last four years as they responded to fire, drought, floods, COVID-19 and the varroa mite outbreak.

‘The cumulative impact of these natural disasters is now impacting routine operations and preventing ambitious environmental action on invasives.

‘Invasive species are the highest impact driver of extinctions, directly endangering 70 per cent of threatened wildlife and ecosystems in NSW. They degrade and damage waterways and bushland, kill native wildlife and prevent regeneration.

‘Weeds like lantana and madeira vine are smothering our native plants, feral foxes and cats prey upon our birds and small mammals and streams and wetlands are being trampled by hard-hoofed feral deer and horses. New threats on our doorstep like red imported fire ants or tilapia fish could cause new extinctions if they make it into NSW.

‘Invasive species are also a direct threat to First Nations’ cultural heritage and connection to Country. Weeds, feral animals and pests lead to the destruction of sacred sites and cultural landscapes and the extinction of Indigenous totem species.

‘Whoever wins government in NSW must tackle invasive species, including the key issues of highly damaging feral horses in the Snowy Mountains, stopping the spread of feral deer, ending the sale of weedy plants through nurseries and enacting responsible cat ownership rules which protect our native wildlife.

‘Key regional independents like Joe McGirr in Wagga Wagga and the NSW Greens have already come out in support of many of the policies and funding we are recommending. We hope that their leadership in this area will be matched by ambitious action by all parties and candidates,’ said Mr Gough.

Key invasive species priorities for the next NSW government include:

  • Investing in an additional 300 FTE frontline pest and weed officers across the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Local Land Services, the DPI and local government.
  • Amending the Companion Animals Act to allow local councils to introduce pet cat containment policies (in line with every other state/territory except WA).
  • The urgent removal of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park and repeal of the Brumby Protection Bill.
  • The creation of an Indigenous Commissioner for Country to advise on the management of invasive species and their impact on indigenous culture and country.
  • Ensuring weedy plants cannot be sold through nurseries and an increase to the Weeds Action Program to $20 million/year.
  • Establishing dedicated statewide feral deer and feral pig coordinator roles.
  • A commitment to stopping the spread of feral deer, including into the Blue Mountains, western NSW and the Northern Rivers.

The Invasive Species Council election policy platform, Combating Invasive Species: Priorities for the next NSW Government, is available for download here.

Background notes for editors:

  • The Invasive Species Council is an independent non-government organisation that advocates for stronger laws, policies and programs to keep Australian biodiversity safe from weeds, feral animals and other invaders.
  • The recent NSW State of the Environment report found that the health of NSW’s environment is in significant decline, invasive species threaten more than 70% of threatened species and endangered ecological communities and the spread of emerging invasive species is getting worse.
  • In addition to the environmental impact, weeds in NSW account for at least $1.8 billion a year in lost production and pest animals cost the NSW economy more than $170 million every year.
  • Every year feral and pet cats in Australia kill over 1 billion mammals, 400 million birds, 600 million reptiles and 90 million frogs.
  • The feral deer population has grown tenfold in the past two decades to around 2 million animals and is spreading in NSW at a rate of about 1 million hectares per year.
  • Feral horse numbers in Kosciuszko National Park have increased 30% in the past two years to almost 19,000 despite a government commitment to reduce them to 3,000 by 2027. The numbers have almost quadrupled since the Coalition came to power in 2011.

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]
[Your email address]
[Your suburb], [Your state]