FOR the first time, Australia has a plan for tackling wild dogs that rubs out the artificial borders between public and private lands, and the States, and considers wild dogs as a national issue, to be tackled on a continental scale.
The National Wild Dog Action Plan, launched last week by Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, takes the position that a free-ranging pest is everyone’s problem.
Wild dogs have emerged as one of the biggest challenges to profitable livestock production across large swathes of Australia, although researchers have struggled to calculate their actual economic impact.
The official estimate is $48.5 million a year, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the figure could be in the hundreds of millions.
The Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association (NTCA) estimated that 60,000 calves were killed or maimed in 2011-12 in its jurisdiction alone, at a cost of about $80 million.
The new Plan, initiated by WoolProducers Australia, aims for a more holistic approach to wild dog control. Along with the “nil-tenure” concept of pursing shared dog control strategies across boundaries, with all stakeholders pulling their weight, the Plan aspires to better sharing of information, and better monitoring of dog populations and of control strategy effectiveness.
Not least, the plan aims for effective, humane control of wild dogs.
Sheep producer Jim McKenzie, Cunnamulla, Queensland, who chaired the Wild Dog Action Plan project steering group, says the plan is only a first step.
The real test of the plan’s effectiveness will be the willingness of all stakeholders to give time and energy to the issue.
Even with a concerted effort, Mr McKenzie said, wild dogs will remain an ongoing challenge that require long-term commitment.
“The plan is no silver bullet,” he said.
“We can’t guarantee that we will reduce dogs overnight. It’s taken 15 years for dog numbers to build up - it will probably take that long, or longer, to reduce them to the point where areas like the Queensland central-west can go back into sheep.”
The completed plan will now be handed to an implementation committee. Made up of representatives from the livestock production sectors, government and researchers, the committee has access to a federal grant of $280,000, and nine months, to put the plan into action.
Some of the grant will also be used to directly help landholders tackle dog problems.
Many strategies for tackling wild dogs have been rolled out in the past. The difference this time, according to WoolProducers chairman and Yendon, Victoria, wool producer Geoff Fisken, is that the National Plan is truly that: it has “buy-in” from every relevant State government minister and department.
“Everyone has come on board to say they support a co-ordinated approach,” Mr Fisken said.
“In ways it’s no different from what’s been happening on the ground, where groups of people have been coming together to tackle the problem.
"We’re trying to expand that to a national level. We want to make use of every possible tool that can be used to tackle the problem of wild dogs.
“We’ll still continue to use what we have out there; the difference is that everyone should have access to all the tools.”
The Plan also proposes to ramp up communication about wild dog control, increasing awareness of stock losses and the sharing of information between groups working to control dogs.
Mr Fisken is hopeful that by increasing public attention to the dog problem, landholders not currently working on dog control will start to play their part.
“We all know that dogs affect cattle producers,” Mr Fisken said.
“If the sheep move out, the dogs start on calves."
Several of those involved in the plan’s development complimented Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce on his commitment to making wild dogs a national issue.
“It is not just the financial and environmental consequences of wild dogs that concern me; but also the emotional distress this problem causes farmers concerned for their livestock,” Minister Joyce said.
“It’s clear that there is a real need for a co-ordinated approach to this issue and I congratulate WoolProducers Australia for taking such a leading role in developing the National Wild Dog Action Plan.”