Disunity weakening war on feral animals

Conflict between farmers and government agencies is weakening the assault on invasive pests such as feral pigs and dogs, according to new research.

The study, by University of York conservation scientist Adriana Ford-Thompson, also showed that disagreements between landholders, and tensions at the city/country boundary over shooting and baiting were restraining the campaign.

The study, funded by the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre and the Economic and Social Research Council, UK investigated community involvement in pest management. Its aim was to find ways to recruit more farmers to programs to control feral animals on rural land.

Mrs Ford-Thompson interviewed wildlife managers around the country to find out why some landholders were hostile to the programs, with some even denying pest controllers access to their properties.

She will tell the Pathfinders 2010: Challenge and Change Conference at the Alice Springs Convention Centre this week (May 26–28) that community participation is essential to vertebrate pest control. “When some farmers don’t participate, their land can become refuges for pests,” she said.

However, there was disagreement over who should foot the bill. “Some see feral animal control as a government problem, while governments often see it as a landholders’ problem,” she said. And some landholders claimed that governments were not matching their investment by controlling pests adequately on public land.

Meanwhile, many farmers doing it tough did not see control aimed primarily at biodiversity conservation as a priority.

Another cause of tension was mixed land use. “Sheep producers might be affected by lamb losses to wild dogs and foxes, whereas neighbouring beef producers might not be affected much at all,” she said.

And some landholders near cities and towns feared a backlash from urban communities if they participated in pest control programs. “Shooting pests is sometimes seen as unsafe or unsavoury near towns and cities,” she said.

One solution was “nil tenure”, an approach that has worked in the control of wild dogs in some regions. “Ownership boundaries are removed in the decision making process,” Mrs Ford-Thompson said.

Another was the recruitment of community leaders. Wide community participation paid social dividends. “Programs to control the cane toad have brought indigenous and non-indigenous Australians together,” she said.

Mrs Ford-Thompson is one of eight early career scientists invited to present their research results at the Pathfinders Conference, organised by the Cooperative Research Centres Association. The CRCA represents Australia’s 50 CRCs operating under a federal government program to drive public/private sector research.

See the conference program at www.crca.asn.au/conference

See the media releases at www.crca.asn.au/media/annual-conference

Information:

Adriana Ford-Thompson Ph: 0447 628 925

Laurelle Halford (Alice Springs Convention Centre, May 26–28)

Ph: 0417 222 211 Email: [email protected]

CRCA Media Ph: 0419 250 815 Email: [email protected]