A number of key actions are fundamental to having in place an effective deer control strategy for Tasmania. These are outlined below and summarised on page 28.
1. Status of feral deer
The partly protected status of feral deer in Tasmania’s Wildlife (General) Regulations 2010 is to be rescinded to enable land owners and public land managers to have unconstrained control of feral deer on the land they own or manage.
“It is recommended that all Australian jurisdictions make any necessary changes to their existing legislative and regulatory frameworks to ensure that wild deer are treated as an environmental pest; maximise the ability of landholders to control feral deer on their land and maximise the ability of park managers to control feral deer in World Heritage Areas and National Parks.”– Australian Senate Report on the Impact of Feral Deer, Pigs and Goats, 2021
2. Establishing feral deer biosecurity zones
The provisions of the Biosecurity Act 2019 and subsequent regulations will be used to:
- Establish Prevention and Eradication A & B Zones as Biosecurity or Control Zones and classify feral deer as a pest animal in those zones.
- Establish a control order for the Prevention Zone directing that the area is to be monitored and feral deer be removed within six months of being detected.
- Establish a control order for the Eradication A & B Zones directing feral deer will be eradicated by 2027 and 2032 respectively and after that the zones are to be monitored and feral deer be removed within six months of being detected.
The unclassified status of feral deer in Control and Containment and Asset Protection zones will enable land owners to act aggressively to remove feral deer impacts where needed to protect assets.
3. The numbers: The annual population reduction needed
The precise population of feral deer in Tasmania is uncertain, but based on the population estimate of 54,000 feral deer in the Midlands “deer range” area in 2019 (Lethbridge et al. 2020) and applying an 11.5% annual increase despite hunting pressure and crop protection culling, (Cunningham et.al. 2021), it can be expected there is a minimum of 75,000 feral deer in that area alone in 2021/22. This is not accounting for feral deer in other areas of Tasmania.
To reduce that number in the Control and Containment Zone to 10,000 over 10 years it is estimated that it will be necessary to remove at least 30% of the population each year until 2032. This will initially be in the order of 15-20,000 a year, reducing to below 5000 a year in the last few years.
These figures are based on simple estimates. Thorough population modelling is required and the removal rates will need to be monitored and adjusted as population data and dynamics become more informed. Once 10,000 is reached in the Control and Containment zone, it is expected an annual removal of around 3000 feral deer would be required to maintain this population level.
4. Capacity and Capability
Drivers of change
Feral deer are currently a contentious and political issue in Tasmania. The overt and uncompromising focus by the Tasmanian Government on managing feral deer primarily as a hunting resource has alienated many within the community and allowed the problem to worsen.
The drivers of change will come from those in the community that understand the growth trajectory that feral deer are on and the consequences of doing nothing. They want to see this divisive and ineffective approach to feral deer replaced with an evidence-based approach and community collaboration established through effective relationships. This will be an essential ingredient for this new approach to controlling the impacts of feral deer in Tasmania.
“We’re spending about $50,000 a year managing recreational hunters on our land. I think it’s unfair that landholders end up having the burden of managing the regulation. It would be great to see more of a whole-of-landscape approach, government and landholders coming together to manage this population collectively and collaboratively. Hunting alone isn’t going to work. We need more tools in the tool kit to control deer.”– James Hattam, Tasmanian Land Conservancy
Governance: Feral Deer Control Taskforce
The Tasmanian Government is to establish a Feral Deer Control Taskforce that is led by DPIPWE Biosecurity Tasmania. The taskforce will (among a range of roles) oversee the implementation of the Biosecurity Act 2019 pest control order for feral deer. To achieve this the taskforce will, working with land owners and public land managers, design and implement formal and cross tenure integrated feral deer removal programs to:
- Ensure that feral deer do not establish in the Prevention Zone.
- Ensure that feral deer are removed from the Eradication A Zone by 2027.
- Ensure that feral deer are removed from the Eradication B Zone by 2032.
- Ensure ongoing surveillance and monitoring is carried out to respond quickly if new occurrences appear.
- Prepare a Midlands Feral Deer Action Plan for the Control and Containment Zone for reducing and sustaining the feral deer population to below 10,000 and providing intensive reduction in the Control and Containment Buffer Zone. Identify high value assets within the external boundary of the Control and Containment Zone that require special protection from feral deer and for inclusion in the Asset Protection Zone.
- Develop strategies to support land managers and land owners to protect their assets in the Asset Protection Zone.
The Feral Deer Control Taskforce will be a multi-disciplinary team led by DPIPWE Biosecurity Tasmania that will also draw on the skills and knowledge of Aboriginal Tasmanians, farmers and graziers, DPIPWE Parks and Wildlife and Game Services Tasmania, NRM organisations, Local Government, conservation organisations, Sustainable Forests Tasmania, Commercial forestry organisations, Hydro Tasmania and hunters.
Working with community
A key role and challenge for the Feral Deer Control Taskforce will be to seek to diminish the divisiveness that currently embodies the feral deer issue in Tasmania and bring the community together to support the Feral Deer Strategy. To achieve this the Feral Deer Control Taskforce will:
- Establish community deer control groups to facilitate land owners and land managers working collaboratively and learning off each other at a district level.
- Ensure public land managers are actively removing feral deer from their respective estates.
- Draw on the skills and knowledge of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community and develop an appreciation of the impact of feral deer on the Aboriginal cultural landscape.
- Provide advice on feral deer impact control methods.
- Work with property owners and hunting groups to prepare property-based deer control plans to replace property-based game management plans.
- Prepare protocols for when the Tasmanian Government should provide financial and practical support to private land owners to have feral deer removed from their properties.
- Encourage hunters, visitors and land owners to register feral deer sightings on Deer Scan or Tassie Deer Spotter or report to Biosecurity Tasmania. Biosecurity Tasmania will monitor records to inform priorities for the feral deer control program.
- Run community awareness programs to inform the community of the threats and impacts of feral deer and how they can support action to control feral deer.
An integrated approach to pest management draws on a range of methods depending on the situation and provides the best outcome for pest control. Feral deer control will be carried out by utilising and integrating methods as presented in Table 1 in the full report.
A code of practice for feral deer control is being developed as part of the planned national deer control strategy. In the meantime, the Pest Smart Standard Operating Procedure: Ground Shooting of Feral Deer DEE001 should be used as a guide for all shooting operations, professional or voluntary.
Ground Shooting: Professional Pest Controllers or Hunters
Pest animal management programs must be carefully planned and coordinated to have a desired and lasting effect.
Most recreational hunting is done on an ad-hoc basis with no defined objective for pest animal control (RSPCA 2021). Recreational hunters may remove substantial numbers of feral deer but their contribution to overall feral deer population control in most circumstances is demonstratively ineffective and fraught with issues including variable skill levels, competing motivations and interests, as well as risks to the environment, animal welfare, and human welfare (ISC 2009). This is evident in Tasmania where the feral deer population has soared despite hunting. Many hunters proudly aim to maintain sustainable populations of game species that they wish to utilise (Green 2009).
Professional pest controllers are clearly the most efficient method for culling feral deer as part of eradication programs that have clear objectives and they will be essential to achieving the goals of this strategy. They are required to be highly skilled, dependable, focused on a prescribed outcome and have access to equipment and methods generally not available to general hunters, such as semi-automatic rifles, night scopes, suppressors and they can be approved to hunt with spotlights.
Nevertheless, skilled recreational shooters will have an important ongoing role in controlling feral deer numbers in the following areas:
- General hunting activity working with land owners in the Control and Containment Zone.
- Accredited volunteer programs engaged in specific ground-shooting culling programs where their skills and experience are valuable to supplement the work of professional pest controllers and arranged and overseen by land managers.
In the Prevention and Eradication Zones professional pest controllers will be primarily engaged to achieve objectives.
Accredited recreational hunters may support the work of professional controllers in Eradication Zones where they can provide supplementary control under direction and supervision.
Accreditation programs will be established to enable volunteer hunters to take part in controlled and targeted feral deer control programs organised and approved by land managers, to supplement the work of professional pest controllers.
Aerial shooting has been successfully used to control and eliminate feral deer in New Zealand and many of the mainland states are currently employing this method as it is considered a cost-effective method in many occurrences. Aerial shooting is particularly appropriate in remote and inaccessible areas where access for ground shooting is difficult and large areas can be surveyed quickly, but it may be limited in areas of dense forest crown cover.
Aerial shooting carried out by professional pest controllers will be the primary method employed to monitor for feral deer occurrences and act if needed in the Prevention Zone and to cull feral deer from remote and rugged areas of the Elimination Zones. In most cases, this will need to be supplemented by other control measures.
The cost benefit of effective control
Investing now in effective control is extremely prudent as this will save millions of dollars that will be needed to protect assets if feral deer numbers are allowed to continue to escalate.
The cost of implementing this Feral Deer Control Strategy is estimated to be in the order of $1.8 million a year in the first few years then may decline as less numbers are needed to be culled and pressure is reduced on Eradication A and Prevention Zone. By year 10 the investment needed should be reduced if the strategy is implemented in full, however removing a few isolated populations could be costly.
The $1.8 million investment in year one will fund:
- Establishing the Feral Deer Control Taskforce with a dedicated Manager, Project Officer with planning and operating expenses.
- Support for property-based deer control plans and educational programs.
- Developing a volunteer shooter accreditation program to support deer removal programs.
- Professional aerial surveillance and culling programs in the Prevention and Eradication zones.
- Professional ground-shooting culling programs for all zones where needed.
- A reporting and monitoring program to record control efforts and deer occurrence, the success of outreach activities and a statewide population census every five years.
- Financial assistance to land managers and land owners for critical asset protection.
- Support to research and investigate priorities.
The $1.8 million annual cost of implementing this feral deer strategy is in the order of 2% of the $100 million a year it is likely feral deer already cost the community and economy annually. This includes a contribution from the Australian Government of $150,000 to monitor and remove feral deer from the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. If this investment is not made and the feral deer population continues to expand at the current rate, the costs to the economy and the environment will grow to be exorbitant.
Tasmanian Government: Biosecurity Budget
The Tasmanian Government will develop an implementation plan to deliver the Feral Deer Control Strategy and will, as a priority, allocate sufficient funds over the next 10 years, from the state’s biosecurity budget, to support the Feral Deer Biosecurity Taskforce to implement this strategy. This will be an initial allocation of $1.65 million annually from 2022 to 2025 and then adjusted annually as required to implement the strategy over 10 years.
Commonwealth Government: World Heritage
The Commonwealth Government will allocate at least $150,000 annually to remove feral deer from the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and provide ongoing funding for surveillance and removal of feral deer.
Local government will be encouraged to carry out surveys of land owners, particularly in the prevention and eradication zones, to build a knowledge base on feral deer presence and impacts for advice to Biosecurity Tasmania. In addition, local government will be encouraged to monitor and record motor vehicle accidents involving feral deer and likely hot spots as part of a road safety strategy. Local governments will be encouraged to jointly fund partnership programs with land owners to assist with feral deer control.
The Tasmanian Government will explore mechanisms for funding feral deer control such as ensuring revenue collected from hunting fees are directed into feral deer control programs in the Control and Containment Zones.
6. Deer farming
The number of deer farms increased significantly in the 1980s, but the rapid decline of commercial deer farming in the 1990s led to some farm deer herds being released or escaping, resulting in herds becoming established in new areas. Most of these have remained as satellite populations.
Under the Wildlife (Deer Farming) Regulations 2010, anyone farming fallow deer for commercial (meat and antler products) and non-commercial (hobby farms) purposes requires approval from Game Services Tasmania and regulations apply to their operation. However, the regulations are weak when it comes to regulating the operation of deer farms to prevent and respond to escapes.
The Wildlife (Deer Farming) Regulations 2010 are under review. The opportunity will be taken to amend the regulations to:
- Require tagging and recording farm deer to identify and trace the source of escaped deer.
- Provide for regular inspection by wildlife officers of approved fences.
- Develop stronger fencing standards to reduce the risk of deer escapes (can draw on South Australian deer farming protocols).
- Have conditions that provide for deer farms to be closed down if they pose an ongoing and unacceptable threat of deer escaping.
- Restrict the sale of live farmed deer only to other approved deer farms or abattoirs.
- In the event of a deer farm ceasing to operate and approved sales completed, the residual deer are to be slaughtered.
- Have severe and enforceable penalties in place for escaped deer.
- Have no new deer farms established outside the Control and Containment Zone.
7. Commercial use of wild caught deer
It is not permitted under Wildlife (General) Regulations 2010 to sell or trade venison from wild shot deer. Currently other wildlife species are allowed to be commercially harvested such as wallabies and possums. Venison is currently imported from the mainland for processing and commercial sale in Tasmania.
“The committee recommends that all Australian jurisdictions implement frameworks to support the commercial harvesting of feral deer as part of an overall deer management strategy.”– Australian Senate Report on the Impact of Feral Deer, Pigs and Goats, 2021
There is a view that leaving shot deer in situ is a waste that should be processed for human and/or pet consumption. There is a risk however that allowing a feral deer meat industry to establish may result in commercial use becoming the primary focus that needs a sustained feral deer herd rather than the objective of reduction of the deer population. Nevertheless, there are large numbers of deer to be removed from the Control and Containment Zone to reduce numbers and sustain that reduction for the foreseeable future. The Tasmanian Government has commissioned a study to determine the feasibility of a trial to use wild shot fallow deer carcasses for commercial use.
The Feral Deer Control Taskforce will:
- Consider the report to trial wild shot fallow deer carcasses for commercial use and the reported value and risks in allowing the commercial use of wild caught deer meat.
- If considered feasible and the risks are negligible, work with the industry to develop a policy for commercial use of wild caught deer meat, to be taken only from the Control and Containment Zone. This will ensure its commitment and financial sustainability is not dependent on maintaining a feral deer herd greater than 10,000 deer in the longer term and will integrate with hunter harvesting.