Inquiry into Ecosystem Decline in Victoria

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Invasive species are one of the greatest, if not the greatest, threats to Victoria’s most vulnerable native species.

In 2020 weeds already accounted for a quarter of all plant species found in Victoria, and that number continues to climb.

Pest animals such as foxes, rabbits and feral cats are widespread and others, such as deer and pigs, are expanding their range quickly.

At current rates, invasive species – including pathogens such as phytophthora and myrtle rust – will continue to damage our native species and ecosystems, pushing many further towards extinction.

Our submission to the Victorian Parliament’s Inquiry into Ecosystem Decline in Victoria includes recommendations that would see Victoria make strong progress towards reducing the impacts of invasive species.

Recommendations for legislation, policy, governance and investment

  • Prepare new stand-alone best practice biosecurity management legislation, including the features outlined in our submission on page 9, Legislative solutions.
  • Designate lead responsibility for invasive species issues affecting the natural environment to the Environment Minister and his/her respective department rather than the Agriculture Minister and their department. Refer to Attachment 1 for further detail.
  • Wholly adopt the ‘invasion curve’ approach to invasive species management as the basis of developing appropriate programs for prevention, eradication, containment and asset-based protection. Spread investment across each of these phases with a particularly strong investment in prevention and early action to limit future ‘in perpetuity’ control costs.
  • Assess and identify all risks associated with invasive species is required. For environmental weeds, this would be largely informed by the Advisory List of Environmental Weeds in Victoria. Categorisation in accordance with the invasion curve and appropriate responses to each should follow. Where data gaps are encountered, these should be prioritised for research.
  • Audit all costs associated with invasive species management, particularly those attributable to the natural environment, to provide a base-line from which future budgets can be set.
  • Allocate an increased budget for invasive species, aiming for a measurable reduction in impacts upon Victoria’s ecosystems and threatened species.
  • Direct investment towards invasive species at all stages of the invasion curve, and to all types of invasive species: weeds, pest animals, diseases, pest insects, terrestrial and freshwater.
  • Introduce a monitoring and reporting program that measures against a set of meaningful indicators.
  • Amend the Wildlife Act to exclude the listing of all game species as ‘protected’.
  • Amend the CaLP Act to include the option of listing invasive native flora species.

Recommendations for deer

  • Resource and implement the Victorian Deer Control Strategy.
  • Priorities to implement under the Victorian Deer Control Strategy include:
    • Develop, resource and implement regional deer control plans that align with catchment management authority boundaries and integrate other pest animal control.
    • Designate the highest priority within regional plans to prevention, localised eradication and containment where these gains can be sustained.
    • Remove the regulatory barriers affecting the capacity of public land managers to control deer.
    • Increase penalties for illegal hunting and for the translocation of live deer.
    • Establish a state government Professional and Volunteer Firearms Competency Accreditation and a Peri-urban Firearms Protocol or Code of Practice to improve public safety and encourage humane control.
    • Ensure farmed deer are tagged, fences maintained to standards in accord with the Australian Deer Industry Manual no.2, Planning for Success and review penalties for concompliance.
    • Set evidence-based targets for effective deer control.
    • Allocate adequate recurrent funding to public land managers for pest control operations.
    • Build capacity in the professional pest control sector, including for remote area management and aerial shooting.
    • Expand the engagement of professional and accredited recreational shooters in targeted programs managed by Parks Victoria.
    • Work closely with the national deer coordinator to develop a national deer management plan that integrates with and supports the Victorian Deer Control Strategy.
    • Support research into additional control methods, including the development of genetic and/or biological controls, baiting options, trapping and other remote area control possibilities.
    • Resource an ongoing program to monitor:
      • deer populations and distribution
      • the effectiveness of control and containment measures
      • the costs and impacts of deer populations on the environment, agriculture, the economy and the Victorian community.

Recommendations for feral horses

  • Continue and accelerate feral horse management in the alpine and sub-alpine areas, particularly as the impacts of the recent bushfires are still fresh and ongoing.
  • Utilise aerial and ground shooting professionals trained in RSPCA-approved methods as the primary methods of control.
  • Implement feral horse management in Barmah forest under the Strategic Action Plan, Protection of Floodplain Marshes Barmah National Park and Barmah Forest Ramsar Site 2020–2023, however aim to remove all feral horses during the four-year life of the plan.

Recommendations for smooth newt

  • After confirmation that eradication of the smooth newt remains feasible, eradicate smooth newt colonies from south-eastern Melbourne. If not, contain newt colonies while studies are undertaken to determine the likely environmental impacts of smooth newts.

Recommendations for research

  • Use the assessment of all invasive species (a ‘legislation, policy, governance and investment’ recommendation) to determine data gaps and use invasion curve priorities to inform research designed to address these gaps.
  • Ensure there is long-term budget allocation to fund meaningful invasive species research.


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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]