WILD dog numbers in the eastern Wheatbelt have been dramatically reduced after years of co-ordinated control methods, according to Southern Cross sheep producer Ron Burro.
Mr Burro, a member of the Eastern Wheatbelt Biosecurity Group (EWBG), which covers 11 shires across the region, said after a dedicated program was put in place with Licensed Pest Management Technicians (LPMTs or doggers) – including baiting, trapping and shooting – wild dog numbers had been minimised with less stock attacks being reported.
Mr Burro is a second-generation farmer with a mixed cropping/sheep production and piggery operation at Lake Julia, Southern Cross, which he has been running all his life.
“My father came here in the late 1920s,” Mr Burro said.
“We are about 15-20 kilometres from the State Barrier Fence.
“Due to the integrity of the fence and doggers combined, we have seen better results than 10 years ago.”
Mr Burro said the baiting technique had changed to target only where the dog activity was noticeable.
He said the doggers also used helicopters to drop baits into hard-to-reach areas and caves, which had been successful in reducing young dog numbers, as well as foxes and cats.
While he is vigilant in keeping an eye out for dog activity in the area, Mr Burro said he had only seen four dogs up close in the past 50 years.
“They are hard to see, especially the older ones,” he said.
“They can be a few metres away and you wouldn’t know it.”
Mr Burro said a study by The University of Western Australia in 2010 found that 70 per cent of the dogs caught on the State Barrier Fence were dingoes.
“You can tell by the size and colouring,” he said.
“Crossbreds are bigger.”
Mr Burro said the fight against wild dogs was important to the security and survival of his sheep operation and livelihood.
“Nine out of the last 10 years in a row have been droughts,” Mr Burro said.
“We have seen two good years, last year and the year before, due to summer rains.
“It has been the value of livestock that kept us here.
“What we’ve grown in wheat, we wouldn’t be here.”
Mr Burro said they seeded wheat, barley and a small amount of oats, which they would cut for hay if there was an opportunity.
He runs a flock of 2000-2500 Merinos and sends 500 wether lambs to the export market each year.
The piggery consists of 25 sows, and produces enough supply for a small butcher in Perth.
Mr Burro said if the State Barrier Fence and the LMPTs were not in place to manage the wild dogs he would struggle to stay on the land.
The EWBG has been operating for 12 years and is the oldest recognised biosecurity group inside the State Barrier Fence.
The EWBG Annual Report last year highlighted the results of efforts from 2012-2017.
In 2012-13, 124 sheep were lost from 35 wild dog attacks, this rose to 195 lost from 37 attacks in 2013-14, but then in 2014-15 things changed with 80 stock lost from 16 reported attacks, and then in 2015-16, 59 sheep were lost from seven attacks.
In 2016-17 only 16 sheep were lost from eight attacks.
Last year 14,700 baits were laid across the region, with two dogs shot and 14 trapped by doggers.
EWBG chairman Mark Crees, Burracoppin, in his 2017 annual report said that the group had been “very successful in reducing dog predation in the area enabling farmers to enter back into livestock or agisting sheep over the summer months in the area and thus diversifying the agricultural economic base”.
Mr Crees said in 2000-2001, reported sheep losses were more than 2000 head.
“This was reduced to losses of 1000 head in 2008 and 59 head in 2016,” he said.
Mr Crees said the State’s South West, which includes the EWBG control area, was one of the only areas in Australia that was marked free of dogs behind the State Barrier Fence.
“We are on the fringe,” Mr Crees said.
“We are protecting the rest of the State.
“To date, the EWBG has played a significant role in ensuring farmers can continue to stock sheep and other livestock in the South West of WA.”
While millions of dollars has been allocated by the State government to repair and maintain the State Barrier Fence to protect agricultural land from the threat of wild dogs, there were glitches in the system.
Mr Crees said despite their success, there were some challenges for the LPMTs due to the removal of the Marvel Loch Grid.
“This gave an access point to wild dogs so therefore increased the workload for the LPMTs,” Mr Crees said.
“The grid has been out for over 18 months however and the EWBG has constantly placed pressure to have this replaced.”
The road is used as part of a local mining operation.
In the Shire of Yilgarn May 17, 2018 Council Meeting Minutes, deputy shire president Wayne Della Bosca “queried the ongoing issue of the Vermin Proof Fence and the fact that wild dogs were accessing through the Haul Road access point”.
While Mr Della Bosca acknowledged that Minjar Gold – Southern Cross Operations, had erected wings to the fence similar to that on the Great Eastern Highway, which are 150 metres in length, he said “it did not work and wild dog attacks had been prolific recently with local farmers contacting Council to express their concern”.
Mr Della Bosca said “the wings were not effective as the traffic through the gate was minimal”.
Minjar Gold environmental superintendent David Swain informed the council that he “had been in touch with the EWBG and together were looking at possible solutions to this problem”.
Mr Della Bosca said that it wasn’t a Yilgarn Shire issue as it was a “private road going through a State government fence”.
He said there used to be a set of gates on the fence line but the previous company that operated there removed them to allow easier access for trucks.
“There’s nothing we can do legally, all we can do is ask,” Mr Della Bosca said.
State Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said she was surprised that there was an issue on the State Barrier Fence at the Yilgarn Gap, since no one had contacted her about it.
Ms MacTiernan said she had been visiting areas of the State Barrier Fence in the past week, including the area near Marvel Loch, but issues about the Haul Road section had “not been mentioned”.
“We are surprised to hear that there are issues,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“It hasn’t been raised with me before.
“We have had no knowledge of it from the Shire.”
Ms MacTiernan said the Yilgarn Gap was upgraded in 2014, when Haul Road was not in use, and so a double gate was put in.
Since then Minjar Gold has taken over the mining operation and installed wings on the road – which the minister said was an effective way to prevent wild dogs entering the area.
“I know there is a perception that wings don’t work,” she said.
“However, at the forum we had in Perth there was a study available that suggested they did work.”
Ms MacTiernan said she would look into the situation and see what could be done.
Minjar Gold was contacted for comment.