WILD dogs are ravaging sheep inside the State Barrier Fence due to holes in its defence.
While there are five recognised biosecurity groups (RBGs) within the fence, some areas are still in the organising stage and lack the resources to cope with the constant threat posed by dogs.
Some producers are also pointing the finger at State government bodies, which have taken over previously-run station country and turned them into eco-tourist parks, that they say are not doing enough to deal with the problem.
Morawa farmer Bruce Davidson said he was on the verge of sending the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) an invoice for the 300 sheep he had lost to wild dogs on his property since April last year.
Mr Davidson said his property was more than 50 kilometres inside the State Barrier Fence but not far from the former Kadji Kadji, Lochada and Barnong stations which were now the property of the State government.
“They were mainly lambs that got attacked, but we also lost four ewes,” Mr Davidson said.
“They went after the lambs because they are smaller and easier to catch.
“When the dogs attack they only maul the lambs so you have to go back and euthanise them.
“We have a deep pit where we put their remains.”
The loss of his sheep was taking an emotional toll on the Dorper sheep and Droughtmaster cattle farmer, who said it was almost not worth running sheep anymore.
“We use to run 600 head of sheep but that has dropped back to 300, plus 100 cows,” Mr Davidson said.
“We have cut back and moved them away from the perimeter.”
Mr Davidson said despite the efforts of government bodies to bait wild dogs on conservation land he was seeing “heaps of dogs” encroaching on his family farm.
“Since April last year, between shooting and baiting we have destroyed 12 dogs on my property and there are still heaps coming in,” Mr Davidson said.
“My first attack was in April – before that we hadn’t had one.
“We still see them in the area because of their tracks.
“We don’t have an issue with foxes or cats because of the baiting program, but you can tell the dogs are still around because of their footprints.”
Mr Davidson said they had been trapping goats on the northern Yalgoo side of his property but “once the dogs came in the goats have gone”.
He said the neighbour to the north of his property had, through shooting and baiting, destroyed 18-20 dogs since last April – with all the dogs being killed in about a 10 kilometre radius.
“The stations near us were purchased by government departments,” he said.
“It should be mandatory that if they are not going to shoot them and trap them properly, like the rest of us, then they should put up dog fences around the property to keep them in.”
Mr Davidson was pessimistic about solving the issue due to the management of State-owned land.
“The problem is still going to be the department,” he said.
“There’s no trapping, or baiting near public tracks – and everyone knows that dogs travel down tracks and firebreaks.
“They also have two litters a year on average, with about five pups per litter.
“In 18 months the first litter is breeding again – so it doesn’t take long for numbers to get out of control.”
Mr Davidson said his property was about 20km from the Irwin River system and there were dogs at the top end of that moving west down the system.
“In a few years they’ll be through to the coast unless they are stopped now,” he said.
Mr Davidson said the other aspect to consider was the push for on-farm biosecurity.
“How can you do biosecurity on farm when department land has animals coming off it onto our property?” he said.
“You don’t know where the dogs have been and what diseases they might have.
“If any exotic disease comes in, biosecurity won’t do anything – it’ll be too late.”
Central Wheatbelt Biosecurity Association executive officer Linda Vernon said the RBG was still in its early stages but already seeing positive results in the region.
The group has funded three local pest management technicians (doggers) who recorded 20 dogs destroyed from trapping or shooting and more than 13,000 baits being laid across the region since July/August last year.
Ms Vernon said the statistics were as only as good as the reporting and some farmers in the area, who were not yet part of the group, had seen results through their own efforts that they hadn’t reported.
“Stock attacks have decreased overall – according to the data we have collected,” Ms Vernon said.
“The statistics from 2017 show there were 244 stock attacks reported in the area.
“That was down from 461 attacks reported in 2016.
“So we have halved our stock losses.”
Ms Vernon said since becoming an RBG the group has access to funds, support and resources and a co-ordinated approach to baiting, trapping of wild dogs and other pest management activities for control of foxes, feral pigs and rabbits had been instigated in the region – including on State-owned land.
She said there was a focus on landholders being involved in the group and encouraged landholders to use the Feral Scan wild dog app, which she was actively promoting within the group.
“We are taking some confidence in the results we have seen and we have an operational plan for the next two years, working in conjunction with all landholders,” she said.
DBCA works with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development to implement the WA Wild Dog Action Plan 2016-21.
A DBCA spokesperson said the programs for wild dog control on DBCA-managed land include aerial baiting and ground control operations, such as trapping, that were developed in collaboration with DPIRD, local RBGs, local government and landholders.
DBCA uses poison baits containing sodium fluoroacetate (commonly known as 1080).
Use of 1080 is regulated by the Health Department and must comply with the Code of Practice for the safe use and management of 1080 in WA.
Prior to undertaking baiting, the responsible landholder must undertake a risk assessment of the operation, which is why baiting avoids dwellings, roads, recreation sites, water bodies, mine sites and areas of public use.