Counting the doe; feral deer could cost Victoria over $2 billion

Media Release |

A new independent report from Frontier Economics warns that not controlling the impacts of feral deer in Victoria could cost the community between $1.5 billion and $2.2 billion over the next 30 years.

‘The economic analysis estimates that acting now to substantially reduce feral deer numbers in Victoria could deliver benefits exceeding cost of control by at least 4 times,’ Invasive Species Council deer project officer Peter Jacobs said.

The report, commissioned by the Invasive Species Council, also points out this figure only considers the economic costs of feral deer caused through lost agricultural and forestry production, vehicle accidents and reductions to the recreational values of national and state parks.

‘The impacts on biodiversity, Indigenous cultural values and ecosystem services such as water purification would also likely impose enormous costs to the community, but are difficult to accurately put a dollar value to,’ Mr Jacobs said.

‘What we do know is the real cost will be much higher than $2.2 billion.

‘The Frontier Economics report shows that high growth in Victoria’s feral deer population will cause major economic strife unless the feral deer population is substantially reduced.’

Avoiding these costs represents benefits across society. Specifically, the report finds managing feral deer to a level where they have negligible economic, social and environmental impact over the next 30 years would result in savings of:

  • $245 million to $350 million to farmers due to avoided grazing on farming land by feral deer and $106 million to $144 million due to avoided time spent on managing feral deer
  • $269 million to $365 million to forest industries due to avoided losses in forestry production
  • $576 million to $825 million from all feral-deer-related vehicle accidents being avoided
  • $308 million to $474 million to account for avoided reductions in the recreation and use values of national parks and state parks in Victoria.

Delivering these large savings will require strong leadership from the Victorian Government to guide effective investment in feral deer control.

‘There is no short term fix to mitigate deer impacts now that the population has been allowed to grow to over a million animals spread across the state,’ Mr Jacobs said.

‘We appreciate the Victorian Government is investing $18.25 million over 4 years for feral deer control, but this pales in significance to what we now know the real economic and social costs of insufficient action will be.’

These investments are also at odds with the prevailing Victorian Wildlife Act, created in 1975 when the feral deer population was small and confined to a few areas, that actively protects invasive feral deer as game animals.

‘There is no longer any justification for continuing to classify feral deer as protected wildlife in Victoria,’ Mr Jacobs said.

‘Protecting feral deer as game for hunting under Victoria’s Wildlife Act has been hindering effective control as the population has exploded.

‘The Victorian Government must, as a matter of priority, remove this protection so feral deer can be rightly classed as an established pest animal as recommended by the 2021 Senate inquiry.

‘The Victorian Government has also been slow to deliver promised regional control plans that are essential to guide good investment and effective control of feral deer.

‘We urgently need to prevent further feral deer spread and start to eliminate smaller populations.

‘Further, since current control options are limited, there will need to be support for additional research to develop new methods.

‘This Frontier report will help inform Victorians of the real cost of feral deer to the state’s community and environment and trigger more investment in feral deer control by the Victorian Government,’ he said.

The report was prepared by Frontier Economics pro bono for the Invasive Species Council.

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]