National plan to rein in deer a potential game changer

Media Release |

Today’s release of a draft national plan to tackle the exploding numbers of feral deer across Australia has been welcomed by the Invasive Species Council.

‘The release of a national feral deer action plan is a potential game changer in stopping the spread of one of the most concerning emerging pest animals in Australia,’ said Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox.

‘The message from this plan is simple; if we do nothing to control feral deer then everybody loses, but if governments and landholders step up we can stop the spread, reduce their impact and protect our precious places.

‘‘The deer plague has already taken over most natural areas on the east coast. Scientists now predict that without action feral deer will inhabit every habitat in every part of Australia.

‘Implementing this national plan is our best shot at avoiding wall to wall deer across the continent,’ said Mr Cox

‘In the past two decades, feral deer numbers have exploded tenfold across Australia. There are now millions of deer causing serious environmental damage and costing farmers hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

‘They overgraze and trample native grasslands and ring-bark native shrubs and trees. They cause erosion and degrade water quality by wallowing in wetlands and streams, impacting the homes of native species like the platypus.

‘Feral deer are also a major risk on our roads. In some parts of the country you are now more likely to see a deer on the side of the road than a kangaroo. A large deer can weigh in at more than 200 kilograms and could have devastating consequences for Australian families driving on major roads. In Victoria, it is estimated that feral deer will cost the state’s economy up to $825 million over the next 30 years due to motor accidents.

‘As deer spread into urban areas, including around Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane, they are threatening the lives of motorists, destroying gardens, contaminating critical water catchments and damaging the few remaining patches of urban bushland.

‘This plan is also a wake up call for the Victorian and Tasmanian governments where deer are still legally protected as a game animal for hunters, reflecting an outdated and early colonial attitude to this pest.

‘The proposal to establish a national containment zone to stop the westward spread of feral deer is an important feature of the plan,’ said Mr Cox.

Notes on the draft plan:

The National Feral Deer Action Plan 2022-2027 has been released for public consultation, with submissions closing by 20 March 2023. Key findings from the report include:

  • In just 30 years, land managers in both rural and urban areas have seen feral deer go from being a novelty to being widespread in many parts of the country.
  • Feral deer can be so damaging that many land managers believe they are emerging as ‘Australia’s next rabbit plague’
  • Left uncontrolled in good conditions, feral deer populations can increase by 34–50% every year, meaning that a small herd of 30 feral deer can grow to 500 in 10 years.
  • Over the coming decades, climate and habitat suitability models predict that most of Australia could be inhabited by at least one species of feral deer unless more action is taken.
  • In 1980, there were an estimated 50,000 feral deer in Australia, by 2002, the estimate had grown to 200,000 and in 2022, the population is likely to have reached 1–2 million in Australia.
  • Current populations are too high to be controlled by recreational hunting or recent control efforts.
  • Feral deer are spreading into peri-urban areas, including Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Wollongong, where they impact people’s property and safety through vehicle collisions, damage to parks and gardens, impacts on revegetation plantings and can be aggressive to people and domestic animals.
  • Feral deer also damage Traditional Owners’ cultural sites through loss and fragmentation of valued living landscapes, scar and signal trees, and loss of culturally important trees such as Kurrajong.

The release of the draft plan follows a 2021 Australian Senate inquiry into the impact of feral deer, pigs and goats in Australia which recommended “that the Australian Government commit to providing significant long-term funding to support the implementation of the proposed National Feral Deer Action Plan.

The Invasive Species Council is an independent, donor-funded organisation that protects the Australian environment from harmful pests, weeds and diseases. Formed in 2002, we have been at the forefront of efforts to strengthen biosecurity in Australia to better safeguard our land and seas from invasive species. We strive for a future in which invasive species are no longer a major cause of environmental decline and extinctions.

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