'It's quite emotional at times': The fight against Victoria's wild dogs

This article was originally published on this site

Landholders in north-east Victoria say a collaborative effort with industry and government is helping keep wild dogs at bay, but warn a reduction in programs could quickly change the situation.

Key points

  • Farmers and landholders are fighting a war against wild dogs that attack livestock and spread disease
  • Communities are coming together with the help of government to stay on top of the problem
  • Even one dog can cause an enormous amount of damage

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) has rolled out community workshops across Gippsland and north-east Victoria in a bid to reduce the impact of wild dogs on private land.

WARNING: This story contains words and images that may be distressing to some readers.

Wild dogs cost the state’s livestock industry up to $18 million dollars a year.

Landholders say the emotional impact can be just as onerous.

“The dogs can be very indiscriminate,” Talgarno farmer and National Wild Dog Management Advisory Group member, Peter Starr, said.

“To a lot of farmers, it’s very distressing to come out and find dead animals in your paddock, but also to find live ones that have still got entrails hanging out.

“It’s quite emotional at times.”

The attacks were not the only problem. Diseases carried by wild dogs were also harrowing.

Mudgegonga farmer Bill Carroll said battling an outbreak of Neospora, which causes abortions in cattle, around 25 years ago was a struggle.

“It was devastating for us because once those cows have got it they never recover from it,” he said.

“When you border onto the bush, we’re in their backyard.”

Communities determined to keep predators at bay

DELWP and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) are working to help landholders in their battle against wild dogs.

There’s a heavy focus on creating a coordinated, collaborative approach to tackle wild dogs to complement state and industry resources.

“While the State Government does employ trappers, currently there are about 19 full-time trapping staff covering up to four million hectares,” DELWP community wild dog coordinator, Tim Enshaw, said.

“That’s a huge part of the country, they can’t do it alone.”

Mr Enshaw said the effort to better collaborate with residents was paying off, by allowing landholders to work with their wild dog controllers, their neighbours, and keep up to date with programs.

Baiting, fencing, and trapping are all measures being rolled out to keep wild dogs away from livestock.

Last year, DELWP’s Wild Dog Management program eliminated more than 500 wild dogs.

“One dog can do an enormous amount of damage. With how much damage 450 dogs can do, well the potential’s enormous,” Mr Enshaw said.

AWI has also reported a 90 per cent reduction in sheep losses since a program that equipped communities with baits and facilitators rolled out in 2012.

Landholders said for the programs to be effective, the community needed to get on board, including those who may not be experiencing wild dog attacks.

“We’ve got two neighbours on each side of us who do all the baiting as well, so it’s been fantastic over the past five years,” Mr Carroll said.

Keeping programs going

Landholders believed the challenge now was to keep the programs and practices continuing.

AWI was now scaling back its wild dog management program as residents took controls into their own hands, and was now focused on assisting groups to become self-sufficient in the longer term and filling gaps groups have identified in their control plans.

Meanwhile, some landholders were calling for more State Government funding to put more trappers on the ground, and to cut red tape around trapping methods.

Mr Starr said no one agency could completely control the problem.

“To a lot of people there’s the expectation that it’s the government’s problem, they’re the ones who have got to deal with it, and a lot of the emphasis is left on the wild dog controllers to do a lot of work,” he said.

Mr Starr said the DELWP workshops and AWI program have introduced effective wild dog management practices to communities, and he hoped residents continued to employ those methods.

“AWI have been very generous in providing funding for landholders,” he said.

“It’s been a fantastic program, it’s been well supported within the community, but unfortunately AWI don’t have a bottomless bucket of funds.

“The challenge now is for the department or whoever to find the funds to keep this going. The community baiting program’s been a great success.

“I just think if they could expand the aerial baiting program it would make a big difference for landholders in Victoria.”

Producers said even the slightest slowdown in practices could have immediate consequences.

Some communities were already noticing the wild dogs returning after a reduction in baiting.

“We didn’t bait as much in the spring and we have noticed,” Mr Carroll said.

“We haven’t seen the dogs ourselves but we’ve seen footprints and faeces and heard them, which we haven’t been seeing since the peak of the baiting.”