Today’s release by the federal government of a National Feral Deer Action Plan to tackle the exploding numbers of feral deer across Australia has been welcomed by the Invasive Species Council.
But the Council has warned that feral deer are on track to spread across the whole of Australia and severely damage world heritage areas unless significant funding is also committed by the Federal Government.
Invasive Species Council spokesperson Dr Tiana Pirtle said:
‘The release of this national feral deer action plan is a potential game changer in stopping the spread of one of the most concerning emerging invasive species in Australia.
‘Decades of delays in a serious, coordinated effort to stem the tide of feral deer have allowed their numbers to explode tenfold up to potentially 2 million.
‘Feral deer are wreaking havoc on our environment and agriculture. They are now directly threatening our iconic World Heritage areas including in Tasmania, the Blue Mountains, the Gondwana Rainforests of northern NSW and southern Queensland and the Queensland Wet Tropics.
‘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 the negative impacts, and protect our precious places.
‘While we welcome this step, we remain concerned that without significant new funding the plan’s ambitious goals will not be met. It is vital that ministers Plibersek and Watt step up and commit to work with the states to ensure the funding is made available to turn these plans into action,’ said Dr Pirtle.
National Feral Deer Action Plan Committee chair Ted Rowley said:
‘The national plan will raise awareness of the serious threat posed by feral deer to the agricultural industry and environment.
‘This plan recognises that governments and land managers need to work together now to stop the westward spread of feral deer, eradicate them where we still can, and protect our precious places and wildlife in areas where deer are already established,’ said Mr Rowley.
Invasive Species Council officer in Victoria Peter Jacobs said:
‘This plan should be a wake-up call for the Victorian and Tasmanian governments, where deer are still legally protected as a game animal, reflecting an outdated attitude to a serious invasive species.
‘Feral deer 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.
‘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,’ said Mr Jacobs.
Multimedia to accompany this story is available here.
Key findings for the National Feral Deer Action Plan 2022-2027 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.
- Recreational hunting programs are not containing feral deer and have been shown to have little impact on population growth.
- 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’.