THE new State Government has reconfirmed it will scrap the wild dog bounty but continue aerial baiting to protect wildlife rather than support Victorian agriculture.
A spokesperson from the Premier's department told Stock & Land: "Aerial baiting as a means of controlling wild dog and fox populations must continue so endangered animals are protected.
"Labor will not continue the $100 bounty for wild dogs but will liaise with stakeholders to ensure a broader, more complex approach to managing these pests as part of a targeted, strategic approach to dealing with wild dogs."
Recent government reports reveal populations of wild dogs from Gembrook to Cann River in Gippsland, spread across Mt Hotham and throughout Hume in the North East.
The largest concentration of wild dogs killed this year was at Bairnsdale, Swifts Creek, Licola and Burrowye.
Victorian farmers this week spoke strongly in support of the combined baiting and shooting program funded by Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) as officials responsible for implementing the State's wild dog management plans into 2019 met on Wednesday to discuss their future.
Michael McCarthy, who farms near Tallangatta and is the immediate past chair of the national wild dog group, said the sheep population in the Tynong Shire had dropped from 130,000 to 15,000 because of wild dog attacks.
"The AWI-co-ordinated program of trapping, shooting and on-ground and aerial baiting is starting to really knock some dog numbers down," Mr McCarthy said.
"Aerial baiting really has a place in difficult-to-access places.
"The baiting program is proactive and the trappers are reactive.
"Trapping, shooting, baiting – we really need all those.
"In the North East we've noticed an improvement but we mustn't get complacent and think the job's done, because it isn't."
In the Omeo region, Brendan Ah Sam and Simon Turner said they were in support of retaining the scalp bounty and aerial baiting, having seen the effects of both.
Mr Ah Sam said responsible sporting shooters shot wild dogs because the bounty made it worthwhile for them.
Mr Turner, the Victorian Farmers Federation Omeo president and a farmer at Bindi, said the aerial baiting had reduced dog numbers, particularly on absentee-landholder land.
In May, 1042 baits were distributed across Bindi.
"The early signs of aerial baiting are positive," Mr Turner said.
"A permanent population of wild dogs has been almost eliminated off one property.
"But we're still seeing lots of kills.
"The ground baiting program isn't showing signs of success.
"We'd need to run the aerial baiting and shooting a couple more years to quantify the impact."
He also spoke about the effect of the AWI-funded program on farm communities.
"Wild dogs are a top-order predator that's hybridised," Mr Turner said.
"Are we prepared to let them continue to be out of control, killing native and domestic animals?
"The scalp bounty system is positive, not just because people are keen to shoot wild dogs but because of its broader community awareness through the media – it empowers people to do something and feel involved.
"This plague has been wearing people down for 20 years but we're cautiously optimistic the baiting and shooting programs are having an impact."
At Swifts Creek, wild dogs have killed 50 of Scott McCole's sheep this season.
"Every time you think it's improved, sheep are killed," Mr McCole said.
"One of the local guys has shot five wild dogs in the past three weeks.
"Responsible sporting shooters make an effort to get the wild dogs as it's worth their while with the $100 bounty."