It was a fairly balanced piece, considering the reporter started (in a 'by the way' kind of manner) with the following disclosures:
These men are part of a campaign being waged in more than 100 state forests across NSW. The targets are carefully selected, no native fauna will die today, but ferals are fair game. These men are killers for conservation... Robbie Lynn manages this territory for the Game Council... Lynn and I go back thirty years. As teenagers we hunted pigs, rabbits, foxes and kangaroo, anything we could get our sights on. The places we roamed back then are now all but closed to shooting, such is the poor image of the hunter... There are now 1000 hunters who are venturing into the forest for the first time. Our groups are townies. Kym’s a vision editor for the Sunday program, Larry’s a landscape gardener and Dick owns his own business...
The program played up the political elements of hunters vs greens, the hunters-as-tourists angle and the safety issues. But it didn't delve very far into what I think are some of the crucial issues: Do hunters actually assist with the feral problem? What other activities are restricted when forests are closed for hunting?
My impression is that allowing hunters into forests will have extremely modest benefits. According to the program:
there is still another [feral pig] for every man woman and child in Australia [ie, about 20 million]. Here in the safe haven of state forests, there are 18 million wild cats and countless dogs, deer and foxes. Conservation hunting is the latest tactic in a battle to control these booming populations...
Robbie Lynn: "they’re going to have to do a few trips and start working hard before they get a good result, but we’ve got 31 forests and it’s only been open 8 weeks I think and there’s been over 50 pigs shot through the forest so far"...
After three days in Nundle our hunters have each spent more than $300 in the town on accommodation and food. It’s been modest return in hunting terms, a pig, a few foxes, some rabbits.
Clearly hunting is going to have very little impact on the feral problem. One of the farmers interviewed has a property adjoining a State Forest and summed it up:
Shooting is probably the least effective form of broad scale control that we have. But saying that, it’s better than nothing. Probably one step above no control. It will have an impact but it will not have a major impact on the overall population, but it will help.Given the minor benefits it brings, I think the questions we need to consider are:
- Is there any net conservation benefit at all? Hunting reduces numbers slightly, but land managers have commented that it interferes with other more strategic control measures (eg, it disperses animals). Some environmentalists suspect that if hunters can't find ferals they'll shoot native animals instead and there are reports of hunters bringing ferals into forests in order to hunt them. (It's irrelevant now but of course most of these animals were brought into the country by hunters in the first place - which puts hunting as the solution in an interesting light).
- What other activities are displaced by allowing hunting in forests? I understand that the forest is closed during hunting (for obvious safety reasons) meaning that other recreational activities such as fishing, walking, etc are not available. What is the cost of that?
- Given that the conservation benefit is limited at best and there are costs on other users of the forests, should we admit that this is a recreational activity, not a conservation activity, and charge hunting fees or auction hunting permits - the revenue from which could be used for feral control activities that are actually effective?
- Given the limited benefits, the costs and the risks to safety, should we allow it at all?
Update - further info
- The Game Council's information page on hunting in NSW State Forests. (Does anyone know of any good sources for the arguments from the other side?)
- Federal Department of Environment and Heritage report on options for managing feral pigs.
- The Pest Animal Control Co-operative Research Centre has lots of information at feral.org.au, including a report on management of feral animals.