Alpine deer devastation

Deer devastation in Victoria's alpine region

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FRUSTRATED: Omeo grazier Simon Lawlor says wild deer are damaging exclusion fencing used to protect lambs from wild dogs at his property in the Upper Livingstone Valley.

FRUSTRATED: Omeo grazier Simon Lawlor says wild deer are damaging exclusion fencing used to protect lambs from wild dogs at his property in the Upper Livingstone Valley.

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Wild deer are causing havoc for farmers in Victoria's alpine region, destroying wild dog fences and attracting illegal hunters who are trespassing on private land.

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Simon Lawlor's picturesque property in the Upper Livingstone Valley, 12 kilometres south of Omeo, is remote and isolated.

The 1700-hectare property used to breed Herefords, first cross ewes and fat lambs, is green and lush as high rainfall contributes to good seasons year-round.

In recent years wild dog fences and baiting have reduced the mortality rate among the region's lamb flock.

However, Mr Lawlor believes the region has a new threat - wild deer.

Data released by the state government suggests the deer population is growing, with more than 121,000 deer harvested in Victoria in 2018, a 14 per cent increase on 2017.

"Deer numbers have increased tenfold in the last few years and they seem to be increasing on a yearly basis at an astronomical rate," Mr Lawlor said.

"I remember going spotlighting with my young bloke one night and we counted 50 in our southern paddock and that's only a 300-acre block."

According to Mr Lawlor, deer are destroying electric seven-wire exclusion fencing, propped up by steel and concrete posts, costing hundreds of hours in maintenance with no simple solution to fix the problem.

"The fence itself is 1200 [millimetres] high but the problem we're having in one area in particular deer seem to be continually smashing the fence and it's hard to work out why," he said.

Since the 2003 Eastern Victorian alpine fires, which eventually joined together to form one of the largest bushfires in the state's history, farmers believe the deer population has increased with concern recreational shooters and primary producers alone are unable to control the growing numbers.

"We've concentrated our efforts to extend our dog fences to look after our sheep but we had no intentions of building exclusion fencing to keep out deer but based on current economics I'm going to have to consider that given the fact they're eating so much grass," Mr Lawlor said.

WORK TO BE DONE: Mr Lawlor says he is repairing fences "smashed" by wild deer on a weekly basis.

WORK TO BE DONE: Mr Lawlor says he is repairing fences "smashed" by wild deer on a weekly basis.

Omeo is one the most deer-populated areas in Victoria, with Mansfield, Bright, Dargo and Wodonga also recording high harvest rates in 2018.

Farmers are also concerned about the effect deer are having on pasture crops, forcing producers like Mr Lawlor to destock in areas which are prone to deer.

"To grow a crop in my most southern block, I have to plant enough up there to sacrifice it so you have enough feed for your stock and enough feed for the deer which is a ridiculous scenario," he said.

"We're running a third less cattle in that environment than what we were 10 years ago and if the current rate continues and that third becomes 50 per cent less, then it's going to have an impact of 30 to 40pc on our total operation."

Mr Lawlor said wild deer, such as Fallow, should be declared feral so landowners could take "reasonable measures" to control them.

"Once an animal is declared feral, it's like the rabbit and the dog, all land managers have a responsibility to deal with it," he said.

"Otherwise they'll be like carp because you'll go into the bush and you won't see them but you'll see the horrendous destruction they create."

KEEPING NUMBERS DOWN: Benambra producer Gary Pendergast says a coordinated approach is needed to limit the deer population in Victoria.

KEEPING NUMBERS DOWN: Benambra producer Gary Pendergast says a coordinated approach is needed to limit the deer population in Victoria.

At Benambra, 28 kilometres north-east of Omeo, Hereford and fat lamb producer Gary Pendergast, Springvale, first encounted deer on his property about a decade ago.

He said shooters were regularly invited onto his property to control deer, but feared without intervention the population could grow to "heightened levels".

"I get shooters on so we keep on top of them in the bush because a good deer is a dead deer," he said.

"We shoot them to keep their numbers down but what's really needed is a coordinated approach."

Illegal hunters causing angst

Mr Lawlor said illegal hunters were adding to the frustration by driving through pasture to access deer and having "complete disregard for where they go".

His property, located on a public road with limited internal fencing, is only separated by stock grids.

"There's plenty of people who come hunting on our place, I've got an association with a hound crew and a few friends who do some hunting and I don't have problems with those, the problems I have are with those I don't know," he said.

"Apart from the pure frustration of not feeling like you own or manage your own land, it's a sense of helplessness when you see carcasses laying about and you know that's going to attract unwanted vermin.

"The other side of it is you can have a nice crop or pasture and someone takes it upon themselves to drive from one side of it to the other ... the paddock becomes bogged and rough."

He said illegal hunters who often accessed his property at night were posing a safety risk and biodiversity threat to the farm.

"While you're riding around on a horse with some dogs and you see a vehicle parked there you don't recognise and someone is walking around with a rifle looking for something brown that's similar to what I'm riding ... it makes you feel very uncomfortable," Mr Lawlor said.

'IT"S A PROBLEM': Swifts Creek Leading Senior Constable Paul Newton says illegal hunting is one of the biggest issues in his patch.

'IT"S A PROBLEM': Swifts Creek Leading Senior Constable Paul Newton says illegal hunting is one of the biggest issues in his patch.

Swifts Creek officer in charge Leading Senior Constable Paul Newton, who patrols the alpine area, said illegal hunting was a growing problem in the alpine region.

"People are shooting on or going onto private property to shoot, we're having stock shot and it's upsetting a lot of farmers," he said.

"A lot of landowners are ... confronting shooters and obtaining regos.

"I would definitely try and avoid it but I understand the frustration and in the past some valuable information has been obtained by people safety getting a registration of a vehicle which has led to people getting charged."

In a statement, a government spokeswoman said illegal hunting on private property would not be tolerated and people caught trespassing could face fines or imprisonment.

She said the government was "developing a coordinated strategy to cope with a rapid increase in wild deer numbers across the state".

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