A DISPUTE has erupted between landholders in the Esperance region and the Department of Biosecurity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), over the issue of wild dog management on unallocated Crown land.
Esperance Biosecurity Association (EBA) chairman Scott Pickering said for 17 years the group had been working well with DBCA but recently there had been "a change in the department" that had forced them to remove their two doggers, or licenced pest management technicians, from Crown land so that they weren't personally responsible for baiting controls.
The doggers were stood down two weeks ago and Mr Pickering said there had been a wild dog attack on a sheep flock in the Salmon Gums area since then.
"All of a sudden they want us to write permits out in order to bait on Crown land," Mr Pickering said.
"It's not our land - we are volunteers, not employees of the government.
"I'm not going to do the government's work.
"I don't want to be held accountable for what happens on government land."
Mr Pickering said all the group's troubles came from the DBCA not carrying out its own baiting program and ensuring the Biosecurity Management Act (BAM Act) was followed - but relying on them to do it.
"We never wanted to be a recognised biosecurity group (RBG)," he said.
"They forced us into it and now they treat us like this."
The dispute is on the back of the Office of the Auditor General finding the State government had failed to meet all of its biosecurity targets.
The handling of wild dogs has been an ongoing issue for landholders across WA and the DBCA.
"Under the BAM Act the landholder is responsible for controlling wild dogs and in this case the government is the landholder," Mr Pickering said.
"The dingo is a declared pest under the act.
"I'm not sure what they are trying to do - let the dogs thrive in the State parks?
"If they get through the State Barrier Fence then they'll make it all the way to Albany.
"And think of the damage they will do."
Mr Pickering said up until now the association had been working "successfully" with DBCA.
A DBCA representative attended their meetings and reported back what was discussed.
By using the two doggers and regular baiting controls, they had also managed to create a 20-30 kilometre buffer zone between the dogs and agricultural land.
"If there's no doggers baiting in there then the numbers will build up," he said.
"They have to sort it out.
"This could have serious consequences."
A DBCA spokesperson said the department collaborated with a range of groups, including community groups, recreational hunters and recognised biosecurity groups "to deliver pest and weed management consistent with the department's Good Neighbour Relations policy".
"The current issue relates to the process for permitting the use of 1080 and strychnine under the code of practice for the safe use and management of registered pesticides containing 1080, PAPP and strychnine administered by the Department of Health," the spokesperson said.
"The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development is the agency responsible for authorising the use of 1080 and strychnine for agricultural purposes.
"DBCA acknowledges the important work undertaken by private property owners and RBGs.
"DBCA will continue to provide such groups access to DBCA-managed lands for pest animal management for the purpose of agricultural protection."
Liberal agriculture spokesman Steve Thomas said that the issue appeared to be one of liability, with DBCA requiring contracted dog control officials to be personally liable for all actions related to the use of toxins including fluoroacetate, commonly known as 1080.
"The State's repeated biosecurity failures have been highlighted by the dispute," Dr Thomas said.
"The Esperance Biosecurity Association has spent the past 17 years doing the biosecurity work the State government couldn't or wouldn't get done.
"Now an administrative spat means their work to control wild dogs on the massive areas of unallocated Crown land and government lands has ceased."
Dr Thomas said that the requirement being pushed by the DBCA that local doggers had to be made personally responsible for the outcomes of the chemical use required to do the job should have been easily fixed.
"Adding extra red tape just adds another administrative roadblock," he said.
Dr Thomas said the EBA had taken up the job the State should have been doing, "saving DBCA and the Department of Primary Industries having to make any significant effort to control feral dogs".
"To then have those same departments get in the way of that work would be hilarious if it wasn't so ridiculous," he said.
Dr Thomas has called on the government to fix the problem immediately, so that the control program was not interrupted.
"There must be a workable solution that allows the program to continue but protects operators going about their normal business under a set of standard protocols," he said.
"Wild dogs are prolific breeders and a single year of lost control could see numbers double.
"The State government must act now."