International plea to protect Tasmania’s World Heritage Area from feral deer

Media Release |

The Invasive Species Council and former Greens leader Christine Milne have written to World Heritage governing body UNESCO in a plea for international help to address the ‘urgent and increasing threat’ feral deer now pose to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

The letter warns that despite aerial surveys showing feral deer numbers have doubled to about 54,000 in just four years the Tasmanian Government is failing to take the rapidly expanding deer population seriously.

“It is imperative the special protection for deer under the Tasmanian Wildlife Act regulations be removed consistent with deer posing an increasing threat to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area,” the council’s CEO Andrew Cox said today.

“The management plan for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area warns that the prospect of eradicating an introduced species rapidly diminishes in the the World Heritage Area when the species becomes established beyond a narrow entry point.

“If the Tasmanian Government fails to take immediate action to eliminate deer from the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and protect it from the growing threat of destructive feral deer the heritage values of this global jewel could be compromised.”

The Australian Government is also being called on to act. The letter to UNESCO states:

As a State Party to the World Heritage Convention, the Australian Government has an obligation to ensure that the requirements of the Convention are fully met. In particular, it is required to identify, protect, conserve, present, transmit, and, where appropriate, rehabilitate, the cultural and natural heritage of the TWWHA.

Ms Milne is an ambassador for the Invasive Species Council and former vice president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“In 2016 the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan incorporated a recommendation that included undertakings to develop and implement contingency plans for potential incursions of high-risk species and, where feasible, implement and maintain management and eradication programs for priority species,” she said.

“This has not happened and at a special Senate hearing into the deer crisis in Tasmania earlier this month overwhelming evidence was presented about the increasing damage feral deer are doing throughout the state.

“During the special Tasmanian Senate hearing Professor Chris Johnson confirmed feral deer could easily occupy most of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and have large impacts on very sensitive plant communities.

“The risks and impacts of feral deer on the flora values of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area have not been assessed and action to eradicate new deer incursions has not occurred. Australia has also failed to inform the World Heritage Committee accordingly.”

The letter to UNESCO says decisive action is needed immediately:

  • Comprehensively survey the TWWHA and its adjoining boundary areas to assess the existing numbers and location of deer.
  • Rapidly complete and implement a deer management strategy that keeps the Wilderness World Heritage Area and other high-value conservation areas deer free.
  • Immediately engage professional shooters to start removal of deer from the Wilderness World Heritage Area.
  • Declare deer as a pest animal in line with the rest of Australia.
  • Remove the special protection for deer under Tasmanian Wildlife Act regulations.

A 2013 report warned that in Tasmania fallow deer pose an extreme risk of becoming a pest once established. This was backed up by expert evidence presented this month to the Senate inquiry.

The report said fallow deer may cause damage to the habitat of Tasmanian native fauna. Ground dwelling or nesting birds may be threatened by trampling of eggs and/or nests by fallow deer, and ground dwelling marsupials may be threatened by competition for food or trampling of habitat by deer.

Susceptible Tasmanian native species may include:

Birds: Brown quail, painted button quail, ground parrot, spotted quail-thrush and Richard’s pipit.

Mammals: Long-nosed potoroo, bettong, pademelon, red-necked wallaby, eastern-grey kangaroo, common wombat, spotted-tailed quoll, eastern quoll, Tasmanian devil, dusky antechinus, white-footed dunnart, southern brown bandicoot, eastern-barred bandicoot.

There are also listed threatened plants, threatened invertebrates and threatened vegetation communities that may be threatened by trampling and grazing by fallow deer.

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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.
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[Your suburb], [Your state]