Wild deer: game animal or feral pest?  Or both?

The deer debate: game animal or feral pest?

Deer have been in the news this week since the recent outburst from the NSW Greens, who have demanded that deer have their ‘game animal’ status removed and that they be officially declared a ‘pest’ in that state. Everyone’s got an opinion on this; for example farming groups have rushed to agree while hunting groups have objected.

Personally, I’m firmly of the opinion that hunters should be objecting to this proposal as strongly as possible. My reasons for forming this opinion are:

1. There’s no doubt that deer cause problems for farmers in some areas at some times of the year. Being from a farming family and employed in an agricultural industry, I fully understand a landowner’s need to control wildlife on their own land when that wildlife is costing them money. My problem is, I don’t see any way that declaring deer a pest would improve a landowner’s capacity to do exactly that?  For example, in Victoria, where deer a still officially a game animal, it is still permissible for farmers and their agents to cull deer under a spotlight. There are no bags limits and all of the control measures that should be reasonably available to farmers to control deer on their properties are available even though deer are declared game.

2. Unlike many pest species, deer have the potential to be a very valuable resource. They are wary game that many people like to hunt and are willing to spend a lot of money doing so. Their meat is eminently edible and they grow antlers that are valued as trophies by many Australian and international hunters. The fact that there are deer available for hunting in Victoria, for example, is the major contributor to the $439 million that hunters inject into that state’s economy each year. That amount could be even greater if hunting was properly promoted. It is entirely feasible that deer be controlled in areas where they cause environmental or agricultural damage, while being managed at sustainable populations as a hunting resource in other areas. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Declaring deer a pest, however, would undermine any attempt at such management.

3. Declaring deer a pest would also undermine public land hunting…this is the Greens primary aim in demanding deer’s game animal status be removed. Game licensing enables clear transparency of training, accreditation and safety standards (in the case of deer in NSW State Forests including a booking system and mandatory GPS carriage). It also enables some cost recovery for government through licensing fees. Whether hunters like it or not, these are all things that Government require to maintain hunting access to public land.

4. Conferring game status on deer provides an animal welfare safety net. Remove game status and the hunting seasons that protect deer with young at heel will quickly follow, as will minimum calibre restrictions. Yes, I have heard plenty of stories about deer being dropped on the spot with a .17hmr…but I also know that deer are wounded by illegal shooters using sub-optimal calibres. I’m not sure how this fits with the Greens ideology?

5. While some shooters consider deer to be just another target, I see them differently.  I have spent many hours hunting, observing, photographing, admiring and eating them. In the scheme of introduced species I consider deer a much higher life form than many others.  As outlined above they are smart, wary, useful, valuable and tasty. When they impact on the environment and on agriculture, that impact is of a lower order than that caused by many other introduced animals. They are also easier to manage and less widespread than many introduced species. To my mind they have been part of the Australian ecosystem long enough to deserve a permanent place here.  Kind of like trout and dingoes I guess. Certainly I would hate to see their complete eradication, which would become the goal if they were declared a pest. I’d also hate to see them subjected to poisoning and heli-culling like other pest species are.  That’d be just plain wrong.

But, anyway, that’s just my opinion. Here are some others. I’d be interested to hear yours.

Farmers and Greens agree

In this article from the ABC, farmers seem to have become uncomfortable bedfellows with the Greens when it comes to wild deer.  The credibility of the piece is stretched, however, with a report that an apple farmer from Eden has taken to carrying a rifle to protect his wife “during the mating season”.  I presume he means the deer’s mating season.  He even had a big stag “stare him down”.  Sounds terrifying.

The ADA doesn’t

The Australian Deer Association has spoken out against the proposal. In this press release they lay out their reasons, making the case that recreational hunters should be a key plank in deer management plans,

More good sense from Garry Mallard

In his latest blog, Garry Mallard ponders the issue of whether deer should be declared a pest and eradicated.  He ends up deciding he’d rather they stay. The new biodiversity he calls it – interesting reading.

Cast your vote

To finish, here is a piece from the Weekly Times with a predicable pro-farming bent (not that I’m not) but not a lot of logic.  In the middle of the article there is a poll where you can cast your own vote.









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