Wild dog politics

Wild dog politics

Polarised opinions on the issue of wild dog management have seen an awkward term for the State Government’s Wild Dog Management Advisory Committee.

Last month the seven-member committee finished its three-year term and was not expected to be continued.

East Gippsland farmers with experience of dog attacks on livestock, Simon Lawlor, of Omeo, and Alan Brown, of Orbost, were on the committee as well as two scientists, Dr Ernest Healy and Dr Euan Martin Ritchie. 

Committee member, Alan Brown, tactfully said “an awful lot of time was wasted with two people not prepared to accept the situation as it was”. 

“It didn’t allow a lot of progress to be made,” Mr Brown said.

“A couple of people on the committee weren’t across the issue and had what I believe to be ‘misheld beliefs’ that are not consistent with efficient primary production.”

Buchan’s Andrew Sutton goes as far as labeling the wild dog advisory committee a “token committee”, or more precisely, the government’s “ass-covering, box ticking” answer to the wild dog issue.

Mr Sutton said one of the scientists on the committee had protested in Melbourne to stop aerial baiting, as part of the Stop the Drop campaign.

“When you have that sort of conflict of interest it’s never going to work anyway,” he said.

Mr Sutton, who runs 1500 Australian Whites breeding ewes, said more dog trappers were needed.

“You’ve got to have a dog trapper, a baiting program and aerial baiting and there needs to be more of it in the High Country,” Mr Sutton said.

A case in point is the Swifts Creek area. Local farmer, Scotty McCole, says wild dog attacks in the area are now under control.

“Our area was a basket case,” Mr McCole said.

“We used to lose a lot of sheep.

“We had to get pushy but we got a good full-time trapper.

“At one point we had no choice but to trap them ourselves.”

For a farm that runs a couple of thousand Merino and crossbred ewes, the turnaround is substantial.

“We haven’t lost a sheep for two years. We used to lose a couple of hundred a year.”

Mr McCole says ground baiting is almost a waste of time.

“It helps a little but not a lot. The dogs might scratch the baits up then leave them or just walk past them, even your own dog will go past them.”

He said aerial baiting had more of an impact because the baits lay on top of the ground.

“You need to be persistent,” Mr McCole said.

“It’s as simple as having a couple of good trappers. At one stage we had no choice but to trap them ourselves. The trapper might get 50 or 60 a year.

“We were the worst area but I feel sorry for my brothers over at Buchan. It’s so frustrating losing stock.

“The dogs aren’t eating our sheep so they’re obviously eating something else.”

Minister for Agriculture, Jaclyn Symes, said the decision not to renew the wild dog committee was about refocusing efforts to further help livestock farmers.

“It is not a reduction in wild dog management,” Minister Symes said.

Minister Symes office told The Primary Producer the Victorian Government had secured approval from the Commonwealth Government to continue the aerial deployment of wild dog baits at six sites to protect livestock production on private land until December, 2023.

Aerial baiting was undertaken on May 5 and 6, 2020, and the next round is sched uled for October, 2020.

Landholders and other stakeholders will be engaged directly for future advice on the impact and management of wild dogs.

Mr Sutton, who is in the process of erecting wild dog exclusion fences, said a newly instated dog trapper at Buchan had caught 13 dogs since Christmas, while Mr Sutton has accounted for five.

“Since the fire we’ve caught a lot of dogs because they’ve come in closer,” Mr Sutton said.

“They were really bad straight after the fire. While these new fences are a good thing, they’ll just funnel the dogs into places they haven’t been.”

The impacts of wild dogs are significant and are estimated to cost Victorian farming enterprises up to $18 million each year.

Mr Sutton said the biggest issue was the three-kilometre zone, where wild dogs can only be trapped and baited within three kilometres from the boundary.

“The Department is spending money to trap wild dogs within the three-kilometre zone, yet the same Department is trying to protect them from there onwards into the bush,” Mr Sutton said.

“People don’t understand, it’s a hard task to tell city people how it affects you.

“To put it into perspective I end up saying ‘Let’s put it another way, if you had a shop in town and thugs came and took $150 off you every day, how would you feel?’.

According to Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning (DELWP) there are nine wild dog controllers who operate within specific wild dog management zones across East Gippsland. 

Over the 2019/20 year, 252 dogs were trapped, 474 livestock were reported killed or maimed and 8306 baits were laid covering 943 kilometres of track on public land.

DELWP manager statewide invasive species program, Peter Austin,  said the Wild Dog Program was minimising the negative impacts of wild dogs on livestock producers, productivity and animal welfare.

“The best outcomes for wild dog control are being achieved through collaborative action, with the government and community working together using all the available management practices,” Mr Austin said.

“In line with the Action Plan for Managing Wild Dogs in Victoria 2014-2019, which is currently under evaluation, this includes poison baiting, trapping, exclusion fencing, and appropriate animal husbandry, with hunting also playing a role in supporting an integrated management approach.”

IMAGE: Aerial baiting is incredibly necessary in the war against wild dogs according to Swifts Creek’s Scotty McCole. Mr McCole says a persistent combination of aerial baiting, trapping and shooting gains the best results. Photo: Scotty McCole, of wild dogs a few years ago near Swifts Creek.