Licensed hunting in state forests has not only given enthusiasts more land on which to fulfil their passion, it has also given farmers a helping hand.
Story and photos Alistair McGlashan
Feral pests are a significant threat to the Australian environment and every year governments spend around $720 million in an effort to control them. The bad news is that much of this cost is taken directly out of taxpayers’ pockets. Also, many of the programs’ indiscriminate poisoning, trapping and even helicopter-shooting is extremely expensive and yields a relatively low return. To top it off, these eradication programs are not always humane.
Hunting with a rifle or bow is a very selective style and, although it is humane, it is time-consuming and expensive. In 2004 the New South Wales Government formed Game Council NSW to introduce and manage hunter access to state forests. The scheme, which has been applauded by the hunting community and open-minded conservation groups since the beginning, aims to give licensed hunters the opportunity to play a more active role in conservation by helping control feral pests in state forests. Initially there were just 31 state forests on the list, but this has quickly expanded to 181 right across the state.
There are more than 250,000 licensed hunters in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, all of whom are eager to find new places to hunt. But, until now, they could only hunt on private land. Game Council NSW effectively opened up a large amount of land to recreational hunters, which not only takes the pressure both physical and financially off government departments to control feral pests, but hunters are now using the state forest for a low impact activity.
On a broader scale, the whole scheme is encouraging hunters back into the bush where they can target rabbits, foxes, wild dogs, goats, pigs and deer year-round (although there are some restrictions on certain deer species). “I am looking forward to taking my sons back to southern New South Wales for a combined hunting and camping trip,” says Owen Cavanaugh, a keen Victorian hunter who, like many others, plans to spend a lot of time introducing his kids to responsible hunting.
Farmers too are praising the initiative and can see a big future in responsible hunting on public land. “I have long had problems with pigs, goats and wild dogs on my northern New South Wales property,” Mick Lyons says. “Employing a full-time shooter makes no difference because the ferals are all coming from adjoining state forests and national parks, so for every pig we trap another smashes through my fences and eats my crops.”
Keen hunter Stewart Irvine agrees. “Allowing us access to state forests means I can get out into the bush more and get back to nature, but also do my bit for the environment and give farmers a helping hand as well,” he says.
Hunting has suffered some negative publicity in Australia in recent years. Well aware of this fact, Game Council NSW has worked hard to ensure that the scheme runs smoothly and continues to have public support. The council has implemented a number of strict controls to ensure only responsible hunters gain access. “Only hunters who are a member of an Approved Hunting Organisation [AHO] can apply,” says Brian Boyle, chief executive officer of Game Council NSW. “They must have also completed an examination, which provides strict guidelines on safety and hunting ethics. Only when all this is achieved can the hunter obtain an R-Licence, which allows them access.” At just $60 a year, this licence has been extremely popular – already there are close to 3000 hunters registered and actively hunting feral animals in state forests.
A similar scheme has been running in Victoria for decades. Indeed, Victorian hunters can stalk much of the state’s public land and even national parks. Paying about $40 for an annual licence, thousands of hunters are regularly heading bush. Despite the high numbers, hunters have acted responsibly and there has been almost no negative interactions with other park users. Hunters tend to focus on the more remote areas where game numbers are high. “At the end of the day, hunting, especially stalking, is one of the lowest impact sports around – it just has to be done right,” Owen says.
Game Council NSW has gone one step further by requiring all hunters to register online every time they head bush. “Knowing which state forest every hunter is in and how successful they have been is a great tool to measure the effectiveness of conservation hunting,” says Jeff Borg, a member of Nepean Hunters Club. Hunters are also required to wear blaze orange clothing, which is highly visible to people but not game, as well as get written permission.
In an effort to monitor the success of the program, hunters are required to fill out and submit a report sheet at the end of the hunt – it must be returned before rebooking. This report also provides scientists with samples that can be analysed to check for potentially dangerous foreign diseases. About 70 percent of human diseases originate in animals, and hunters have already supplied more than 2000 samples to the Federal Government in a pilot monitoring scheme for bird flu.
Feral animals like pigs, goats, deer, rabbits and foxes have long been considered pests, but are now becoming a resource. Opening up more state forests will encourage an increasing amount of hunters to go bush. This means they will spend money in local towns boosting their economies and, at a time when drought is gripping much of the state, that is great news for rural communities. Mick agrees that drawing more city people into the bush can only be a good thing.
If New South Wales opens up national parks in the future and other states follow suit, there is the potential for a lot of money to be saved. “The immediate success of this type of hunting is even seeing acceptance from green groups, so the future is bright,” Jeff says. Indeed, hunting on state land seems to be a win-win situation for everyone.
This story excerpt is from Issue #52
Outback Magazine: April/May 2007