Counting the doe: an analysis of the economic, social & environmental cost of feral deer in Victoria

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Feral deer are emerging as one of Victoria’s most serious pests. Their population has been allowed to grow to over a million animals that are spread across the state and causing damage across all areas of society.

A new independent report from Frontier Economics warns that not controlling the impacts of feral deer in Victoria could cost the community between $1.5 billion and $2.2 billion over the next 30 years.

The report, commissioned by the Invasive Species Council, also points out this figure only considers the economic costs of feral deer caused through lost agricultural and forestry production, vehicle accidents and reductions to the recreational values of national and state parks.


In recent years the Victorian feral deer population and distribution have rapidly increased with analysis by the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) suggesting that the population of deer could be between ‘several hundred thousand up to one million wild animals or more’. The dramatic increase is partially a result of the current legal status of deer, which makes it difficult undertake strategic, large-scale management.

The challenge in managing feral deer is likely to be exacerbated in future, with populations expected to increase significantly over the next thirty years, driven by a combination of climate change, natural dispersal and deliberate releases and farm escapes. Our analysis estimates that even under conservative assumptions, if no significant management action is taken, by 2050 there could be 1.7 to 4.6 million feral deer in Victoria.

While the number of deer in future is uncertain, what is known is the significant economic, social, cultural, and environmental cost imposed by feral deer on the Victorian community.

The benefits of more substantive and sustainable feral deer management in Victoria could be significant

Frontier Economics was engaged by the Invasive Species Council to examine the economics of managing feral deer in Victoria. As part of this analysis we have identified, and where possible, valued the economic, social, cultural and environmental impacts on society of failing to manage feral deer to an ecologically sustainably level (i.e. at a level at which they are likely to have limited negative impact on the economic, social, cultural and environmental outcomes in Victoria). To the extent that controlling the feral deer population saves economic, social, cultural and environmental costs, these are considered to be an economic benefit arising from the controls.

Drawing on the best available information, our analysis indicates that the cost to the broader community of feral deer could be over $1.5bn (7% discount rate) or $2.2bn (4% discount rate) in present value (PV) terms, over the next 30 years. This estimate is made up of:

  • $245m to $350m in economic costs from lost gross margin due to grazing (in PV terms, over the next 30 years, 7% and 4% discount rate, respectively). This assumes 10% of the feral deer population are grazing on farmland, which reduces the opportunity to fully stock that land for grazing, resulting in a reduction in income for the farmer.
  • $106m to $144m in economic costs from resources spent managing feral deer (in PV terms, over the next 30 years, 7% and 4% discount rate, respectively). This assumes a farmer spends 20 days a year managing feral deer on their properties.
  • $269m to $365m in economic costs from lost forestry production (in PV terms, over the next 30 years, 7% and 4% discount rate, respectively). This assumes a reduction in production of plantations as a result of feral deer grazing and trampling through the forests.
  • $576m to $825m in economic costs from deer-related vehicle accidents (in PV terms, over the next 30 years, 7% and 4% discount rate, respectively). This assumes that all future feral deer related crashes on highways within Victoria can be avoided.
  • $308m to $474m in social costs from reduced recreation and use values (in PV terms, over the next 30 years, 7% and 4% discount rate, respectively). This is based on the assumption that uses of Victorian national and state parks for recreation will be dampened by 1% due to the impact of feral deer.

The unquantified impacts mean that the cost of feral deer may be higher than estimated

Although our analysis has sought to value the benefits (including cost savings) associated with managing feral deer in Victoria, given the availability of information these figures do not capture the full range of potentially significant costs of feral deer in Victoria. These include the impact of feral deer on:

  • the other costs of management
  • the cost of water supply
  • the risk of disease
  • Indigenous cultural heritage
  • biodiversity
  • the health of rivers and waterways

As such, it is likely that the true economic, social, cultural and environmental costs imposed on the community as a result of feral deer in Victoria are larger than our estimate.

Understanding the change in outcomes and the appropriate price is critical to robustly value the economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits of managing feral deer within Victoria. Given the significant impact of feral deer in Victoria, there is likely to be benefit in undertaking further work to better understand the magnitude of the problem, and therefore, the benefits of action.

Decisive action is required

While there are costs associated with reducing feral deer numbers to sustainable levels, these are unlikely to outweigh the benefits of control. Our analysis suggests that if management is taken in 2022, the cost of removing all feral deer could be between $338m and $581m (depending on the population scenario). This cost would have to rise by around four times before the conservatively estimated benefits of controlling deer was outweighed. Having said this, we acknowledge that both the extent and approach to feral deer management will determine the level of benefits society receives, because different management strategies will have different impacts on the feral deer population, at different costs.

Our findings highlight the need for decisive action to manage the feral deer population in Victoria. The longer control is delayed the larger the population of feral deer and the greater the cost of inaction. In other words, a strategy that quickly and significantly reduces deer numbers will deliver greater benefits than a slower response, while at the same time requiring lower costs to achieve.

These results are inherently uncertain and there are gaps in the available research and primary data on the impacts of specific feral deer in Victoria. However, even if these uncertainties could be resolved with more research, given the conservative approach we have taken, improved information is more likely to increase the benefits of control, thereby reinforcing the conclusion that controlling feral deer is net beneficial.


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Help protect NSW!

Our expert team has written a list of policy asks detailing exactly what the next NSW government needs to do to stamp out some of the worst invasive species impacts across the state. But they will only become a reality if every key political candidate at the 2023 NSW state election hears about it from you!

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]