The opening this weekend of the NSW deer hunting season has sparked a call from conservation groups for professional deer control programs to replace the ad hoc, unplanned and ineffective efforts of recreational hunting on public land as a means of controlling the pest animal problem.
NSW National Parks Association and Australia’s Invasive Species Council both say evidence shows recreational deer hunting is likely to do more harm than good for the environment.
Executive officer of the NSW NPA Andrew Cox warned that deer are probably NSW’s worst emerging feral animal problem.
“Their populations are rapidly expanding and they cause serious environmental damage, as recognised by their listing as a key threatening process because of the damage they do to native vegetation and waterways,” Mr Cox said.
“Recreational hunting does not count as effective feral animal control, and cannot truthfully be called conservation hunting.” he said. “At best some of the more skilled recreational hunters who are genuinely committed to conservation may contribute to professional control programs.
“For humane and effective control of deer, pest experts recommend night shooting with spotlights, targeting entire groups of deer, or aerial shooting. Effective control is difficult and requires well-planned programs with clear goals, professional execution, and monitoring.”
Invasive Species Council policy officer Dr Carol Booth warned the high environmental risks of allowing recreational hunting on public land far outweighed any small population reductions achieved by recreational hunters.
“Opening up vast areas of public land to recreational hunters gives them an incentive to move deer into new areas and create fresh hunting opportunities. This sort of behaviour is happening in NSW at an alarming scale,” Dr Booth said.
“Of 96 deer populations reported in NSW in 2000, 52 (54%) were due to illegal release of deer in new areas. Between 2002 and 2004 a NSW government survey reported 30 new deer populations, most of which were probably due to illegal shifting by hunters.”
Mr Cox said the NSW National Parks Association and the Invasive Species Council are calling on the State Government to introduce a deer control program that targets deer as an environmental threat rather than protects them as a hunting resource.
“Populations should be eradicated where feasible and other populations controlled to protect important environmental values,” he said. This requires professional not amateur control programs.”
“By falsely presenting recreational hunting as feral animal control, the government is finding an excuse not to undertake those genuine control programs that are so badly needed,” Dr Booth said.
The Invasive Species Council has reviewed evidence from around the world showing that recreational hunting is generally ineffective in feral animal control. For more information please download our reports on this subject:
A Deer Mistake – The Victorian Government’s Proposal to Promote Recreational Deer Hunting on Farms
Download report 2mB PDF
Is recreational hunting effective for feral animal control?
Download essay 338kb PDF
Evidence of the damage caused by deer is outlined in the listing of Herbivory and environmental degradation caused by feral deer has been listed as a key threatening process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.
Deer reduce the diversity of native vegetation, threaten rare plants and vegetation communities, damage waterways and cause erosion. Research on the impacts of feral deer in Royal National Park found that the endangered Sutherland Shire littoral rainforest has 70 per cent fewer understorey plant species where there is high deer density compared to areas of low density.
The NSW National Parks Association opposes the Game Council and its approach to feral animal control because:
There is no evidence it has a strategic approach to feral animal control;
Professional hunters will achieve effective feral control outcomes, not sporting hunters;
Areas of bushland used for recreation become unsafe;
Recreational hunters have a history of deliberately introducing feral animals.