A state action plan released last week by the Victorian Government acknowledges the devastating impact feral deer have on the state’s environment. Yet feral deer continue to be protected by law in Victoria as a game species for hunting.
‘It’s a bizarre discrepancy,’ said Victorian-based Invasive Species Council Deer Project Officer Peter Jacobs.
‘The new Peri-urban Deer Control Plan is the first of three action plans for the state. It’s intended to control expanding feral deer numbers in the outskirts of eastern and northern Melbourne.
‘Feral deer are increasingly moving into Melbourne’s suburbs, creating road hazards, destroying crops and gardens, contaminating critical water supply catchments and damaging national parks and the few remaining patches of urban bushland.
‘This plan is a good start and provides much-needed support for local councils and the community to control their problematic feral deer populations, but is overshadowed by existing legal protections for the animals,’ he said.
Under Victoria’s Wildlife Act 1975, feral deer are classified as protected wildlife. It is an offence to hunt, take or otherwise destroy feral deer unless authorised.
‘The protected status of feral deer in Victoria’s Wildlife Act reflects an outdated and early colonial attitude that considers introduced species such as feral deer to be protected as game. This situation has hindered effective control of feral deer as the population has grown and spread to the point where they are a serious pest in the state,’ said Mr Jacobs.
‘Feral deer now threaten the very habitat of many of the native wildlife species that the Act is there to conserve and protect.
‘They are probably Australia’s worst emerging pest problem. There are over 1 million feral deer in Victoria that compete with native animals, degrade sensitive ecosystems and waterways with their hard hooves, spread weeds, damage crops, transfer diseases to livestock and interfere with the recreational use of public lands.
In launching the plan, the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio referred to these devastating impacts of feral deer, their effects on sites of Aboriginal cultural significance and their risk to public safety.
‘The Invasive Species Council welcomes the new plan and its explicit acknowledgement of the devastating social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts of feral deer as well as what needs to be done to control this pest,’ said Mr Jacobs.
‘But only so much can be achieved while feral deer remain protected under state law.
‘It’s going to take bold decisions to push back feral deer from Victoria’s suburbs. The time is ripe for the Victorian Government to show it is serious about the impact of feral deer and remove their antiquated protected status from the Wildlife Act.
‘Only then can they be rightly classified as a pest species and their control be unhindered by the interests of a small number of hunting lobby groups,’ he said.