AUSTRALIAN Wool Innovation (AWI) is maintaining existing contributions to wild dog and other pest control programs in Western Australia despite a 50 per cent budget cut.
Geraldton-based State wild dog co-ordinator Meja Aldridge, now in her second contract term wholly funded by AWI, retains her position and the exclusion fence construction unit funded by AWI, initially for the Esperance triangle extension of the State Barrier Fence, but also used to repair an existing section of fence, will continue to be funded.
Existing grant commitments to regional biosecurity groups (RBGs), mainly along the barrier fence in the northern agricultural, Murchison and Gascoyne regions, to assist with vertebrate pest management will be met.
But in the short-term, there will be no new grants to RBGs.
AWI's vertebrate pests program manager Ian Evans pointed out this week his national budget for this financial year had been cut in half because of woolgrowers voting in November 2018 to reduce the wool levy from 2pc to 1.5pc of wool sales value and by the volatile nature of wool prices in the past 18 months.
"We knew the cut was coming, the vote to reduce the wool levy by 25pc happening well ahead of its impact (the levy provides funding for AWI and the 1.5pc levy did not come into effect until the start of this financial year) so we had time to plan for it," Mr Evans said.
"Pest control to protect sheep in WA and to reopen pastoral areas for sheep production is very important to AWI - per head of sheep we spend either the most or second most in WA than in other States on vertebrate pest control.
"Most of AWI's grants to RBGs are short term, eight-14 months, but we recognise they are important because they fund activity on the ground, they enable the groups to employ licensed pest management technicians, or doggers as they are known.
"We had a choice, we could do half of what we were doing and take on a limited number of new grants to RBGs or we could continue doing what we are doing well and not make any new grants available.
"So new funding grants to RBGs are suspended until our funding improves.
"Basically, with those grants we were saving local woolgrowers money because they didn't have to pay the dogger, we did.
"Now woolgrowers have got more money in their pockets because they don't pay as much in wool levy, so they should be able to afford to pay the dogger," he said.
Mr Evans said although AWI had stopped funding a wild dog co-ordinator in north-west New South Wales - the State government picked up funding his role - the co-ordinator role in WA was considered too important to drop.
"Meja's tenue in WA has coincided with the creation of the RBGs and she liaises with group members, with the various exclusion fence groups, with DPIRD (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development responsible for the barrier fence), with the two farmer representative bodies you have over there and with others involved in pest control - not just dogs, but foxes and feral pigs in some areas," he said.
"We know from experience in other States, having an independent person who can talk to each of the groups and government departments involved in pest management programs is invaluable in resolving differences and keeping projects moving.
"Through creation of the RBGs we can see the light at the end of the tunnel (for effective wild dog control in WA)."
Part of Ms Aldridge's role has been liaising with different groups of pastoralists and shire councils on wild dog exclusion fencing projects, including the Southern Gascoyne Rangelands Cell, completion of the Murchison Regional Vermin Cell (MRVC) and the smaller Murchison Hub Cell proposed within the wider MRVC.
At the south end of the barrier fence, AWI will continue to fund the construction unit - a mobile plant that strings 1.8 metre high wire netting on fence posts, Mr Evans said.