Independent review of the national red imported fire ant eradication program – April 2016

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The final report of the independent review panel commissioned by the Agriculture Ministers’ Forum. The report was commissioned in November  2014 and provided to the Agriculture Ministers’ Forum in May 2016.

The report reviewed the National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program, advised whether the the south east Queensland infestation has been successfully delimited and outlined options for achieving eradication or long-term containment of red fire ants from south east Queensland.

The report found a ‘compelling case for unified national action to fund the continuation of the eradication program in south east Queensland’. It also found:

  • There is a 95% probability that eradication will be achieved in 10 years, given a treatment, surveillance and program budget of $38 million each year.
  • There is ‘only a small window of opportunity left’ to eradicate red fire ants.
  • If not eradicated, fire ants will become Australia’s worst pest, worse than the combined impacts from rabbits, cane toads, foxes, camels, wild dogs and feral cats, which cost Australia an estimated $964 million each year.
  • The total impact of fire ants to southeast Australia alone is estimated at up to $45 billion over the next 30 years.
  • All state and federal governments have spent a total of $329 million  since 2001 eradicating fire ants from Australia.
  • If the eradication program had not been mounted from 2001, fire ants in Brisbane would now have spread south to Sydney and north to Mackay and Rockhampton.
  • If not eradicated, by 2030 fire ants will cost our healthcare system about 140,000 medical consultations and 3000 anaphylactic reactions each year and possible deaths.
  • Recent funding shortfalls have meant fire ants have reinfested treated areas.
  • 12 more detection dogs and increased community engagement are needed.
  • Fire ants are a risk to ground-dwelling animals and will cause the extinction of some species.
  • Fire ant infestations in broad scale agricultural areas would result in a reduction in agricultural output of 10% for cropping, 20% for livestock and 40% for beef, immediately affecting Queensland’s Lockyer Valley and scenic rim farming communities where fire ants are already present in low numbers.

The independent review panel consisted of Bill Magee, chair, Dr David Oi, John Parkes, Dr David Adamson, Nin Hyne, Deborah Langford, Royce Holtkamp and Prof. Simon Lawson.

The report was publicly released on 30 November 2016 after a motion by the Australia Senate seeking the report’s tabling (see the letter to the President of the Senate on the last page of the pdf download).


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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]