A safe list to stop new weeds

Our Work  |  Weeds  |  Photo: Takashi Hososhima CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Australia’s weed problem worsens each year. In what would be the most important reform for weed prevention in the country, each state and territory must create new laws to limit the flow of new weeds escaping into the bush by creating a list of safe plant species that can be sold and moved in each state and territory.

Why is weed reform is essential to halt Australia’s growing weed problem?

Australia’s toughened international quarantine laws, introduced in 1997, make it much harder for new weedy species to be brought into our country.

Now it’s more likely that our next big weed problems are already here, imported for gardens or agriculture before these laws required risk assessment of plant importations into Australia.

There are close to 30,000 exotic plant species in Australia, most cultivated in gardens or paddocks, more than the number of native plant species (about 20,000). About 3000 exotic species have already established in the wild and this number grows by about 20 a year. This is our source of new weeds.

In 2009 an independent review of federal laws found that the movement of potentially invasive plants within Australia is “effectively unconstrained”, and that they represent “a vast reservoir of potential future problems”. Almost a quarter of exotic plants here are weeds in other parts of the world.

Importing weedy species

Right now there is nothing to stop a nursery, say in NSW, importing hundreds of known weedy species from other states and selling them to an unsuspecting public, risking the chance of new species escaping into nearby bushland or farmland, to threaten native species and agricultural production.

Weeds are already recognised as among the top threats to Australia’s native plants and animals, and cost agriculture well over $4 billion annually in lost production and control.

Clearly, we cannot afford the spread of even more weed species already within Australian borders. We need to take action and stop new weeds in their tracks.

To do this, the Invasive Species Council is asking each state and territory to prevent new weed problems by requiring all new introductions into their states to pass a risk assessment. Only plants on a ‘safe list’ would be allowed to be sold or moved between states and territories. Some species already well entrenched would also be on this permitted list.

The Western Australian Government has been running a similar model for six years now. To begin, a list of plant species were assessed as safe, or of low risk to that state’s agricultural sectors and natural environment. When new plants need to be brought into the state they are assessed. In most cases, these are determined as of low risk of becoming weedy and added to the ‘safe list’. Many hundred of potentially weedy species have been kept out of the state.

The onus for compliance lies mostly with large plant wholesalers, who, once they understand the process, are happy to meet the requirements.

“Turn the tap off before you mop up the spill: The development of a list of permitted, non-invasive taxa … could represent the most effective and timely response to the immediate threat posed by thousands of potentially invasive and unrestricted plant species.” (State government weed policy officers1, 2006).

For the sake of both our natural environment and the economy, Australia needs to take a similar approach across the entire country, preventing the spread of weeds between states and territories, as well as different regions. Ideally the reform would be implemented across a number of states at a time, but individual states must take the lead while we are waiting to get agreement.

Western Australia has shown the way, and the Invasive Species Council is now asking the Federal Government, states and territories to act and help stop future weed invasions in their tracks through a ‘safe list’ approach to weeds. Everybody needs to play their part in weed prevention and control. We already ensure that only safe foods and toys are allowed on our shops. We need to stop selling potential weeds. Only a ‘safe list’ of plants can achieve this.

More info

  1. 1. Csurhes S, Randall R, Goninon C, Beilby A, Johnson S and Weiss J (2006). “Turn the tap off before you mop up the spill: Exploring a permitted-list approach to regulations over the sale and interstate movement of potentially invasive plants in the States and Territories Australia.” Proceedings of the 15th Australian Weeds Conference. C Preston, JH Watts and ND Crossman, Weed Management Society of South Australia Inc, Adelaide: 95-98.

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.
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your suburb], [Your state]