Feral deer threat to Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area – submission to UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre

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Growing concerns about a failure to tackle increasing numbers of feral deer in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area has led the Invasive Species Council to seek assistance from UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre.

In our letter, addressed to Ms Mechtild Rossler, Director, World Heritage Centre, UNESCO, we outline why deer have become an urgent and increasing threat to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

The letter points out that survey results released by the Tasmanian Government in 2020 show numbers have more than doubled from an estimated 25,000 in 2016 to at least 54,000.

The results also clearly show deer encroachment into the World Heritage Area.

As a State Party to the World Heritage Convention, the Australian Government has an obligation to ensure that the requirements of the Convention are fully met. In particular, it is required to identify, protect, conserve, present, transmit, and, where appropriate, rehabilitate, the cultural and natural heritage of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

In 2016 the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan adopted this Key Desired Outcome:

A comprehensive suite of strategies is in place that minimises biosecurity risks to the natural values of the TWWHA. p122

It undertook to:

  • In consultation with state and national agencies that are responsible for relevant biosecurity governance and policy development, identify and plan for key biosecurity threats to the TWWHA.
  • Update assessments of risks, impacts and control options for priority pests, weeds and pathogens.
  • Develop and implement biosecurity contingency plans for potential incursions of high-risk species, and improve coverage of surveillance and monitoring programs for new incursion.
  • Where feasible, implement and maintain management and eradication programs for priority species.
  • Increase public awareness of biosecurity threats and mitigation actions that can be implemented at the individual level.
  • Make Biosecurity strategies for the TWWHA consistent with the State Biosecurity Strategy.

But this has not happened. The risks and impacts of feral deer on the flora values of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area have not been assessed and action to eradicate new deer incursions has not occurred.

Also, Australia has failed to inform the World Heritage Committee accordingly.

Australia’s current state of conservation reports of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area reveal that the comprehensive suite of strategies to minimise biosecurity risks to the natural values of the World Heritage Area have not been put in place or resourced. In fact, the threat of deer to the endemic vegetation communities is not even mentioned let alone addressed. This contravenes the Management Plan undertaking to:

‘Identify new threats to TWWHA natural values and reassess known threats, including weeds, pests, diseases and anthropogenic impacts; and, where possible, develop or review mitigation options, including the strengthening of biosecurity arrangements and increased cultural and volunteer involvement in control and eradication.’

It is clear decisive action is needed to immediately:

  • Comprehensively survey the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and its adjoining boundary areas to assess the existing numbers and location of deer.
  • Rapidly complete and implement a deer management strategy that keeps the Wilderness World Heritage Area and other high-value conservation areas deer free.
  • Immediately engage professional shooters to start removal of deer from the Wilderness World Heritage Area.
  • Declare deer as a pest animal in line with the rest of Australia.
  • Remove the special protection for deer under Tasmanian Wildlife Act regulations.

The Invasive Species Council is urging UNESCO to intervene with the State Party to draw its attention to its obligations under the Convention to identify and quantify the threat to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area posed by fallow deer and also to its undertakings regarding Biosecurity agreed under the 2016 Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area Management Plan.

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Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area is under threat from deer. The Tasmanian Government knows deer are invading this global treasure but is doing nothing about it.