Pressure mounts as farmers slam decision to disband wild dog group

Pressure mounts as farmers slam decision to disband wild dog group

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DESTRUCTIVE: Farmers say wild dogs are the main threat for livestock and native wildlife in the state's east.

DESTRUCTIVE: Farmers say wild dogs are the main threat for livestock and native wildlife in the state's east.

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One farmer has lost 100 sheep and lambs to wild dog attacks since January.

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Landowners are demanding Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes detail what steps the government will take to prevent the spread of wild dogs after last week disbanding a committee set up to advise bureaucrats about the invasive pests.

Farmers fear the step to not renew the terms of the seven Wild Dog Management Advisory Group members will mean less representation for primary producers when controversial discussions, such as the use of 1080 for aerial baiting, are debated at Spring Street.

Related: Wild dog committee gets the axe

Farmers' concerns are supported by the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions, which fears landowners could miss out on vital high-level policy decisions in the future.

Buchan East farmer Aaron McCole farms with his brother and father and together they have lost 100 lambs and sheep since the start of the year.

Devastated by bushfires, Mr McCole critcised the state government for its decision to disband the committee without "little or no consultation" with affected communities.

"It's disappointing because it means the Andrews' Government won't be as accountable as they were when they had the committee in place," Mr McCole said.

"If the government opts to change its direction by not going ahead with aerial baiting or changing their tactic on how they control wild dogs, where will the farmers - who at the end of the day have to bear the financial and mental cost - be?

"This committee was a voice for farmers by farmers and it's simply crap the government has all but scrapped it."

Wild dogs are loathed in regional communities, mostly in Victoria's north-east and East Gippsland where they are known to injure and kill livestock and native wildlife.

Centre for Invasive Species Solutions national wild dog management coordinator Greg Mifsud, who sat as an observer on the committee, said he was not surprised the committee was disbanded.

"This committee was put together to provide the minister with specific advice and recommendations on a couple of matters ... mainly aerial baiting and the wild dog and fox bounty," Mr Mifsud said.

"We had achieved those two outcomes and we were hoping to work on other issues but it's obvious the minister felt the committee had achieved the outcomes and it was no longer necessary."

However, Mr Mifsud said the absence of a statewide farmer-led wild dog committee could broaden the gap between landowners and bureaucrats.

"When things were at their worst with the wild dog attacks in Victoria in the early 2000s, it was because the communication between government and the affected stakeholders was at an all time low," Mr Mifsud said.

"The reason why the program Victoria has come so far ahead in terms of reduced impacts is the cooperation between industry and the government and the landholders.

"If there isn't an avenue for which landholders can engage with government, you could get that separation and ongoing conflict where decisions are being made without landholder engagement."

"It would be ideal to see some sort of committee established and whether industry takes on that role and if industry does decide to do that, it would be good to see that committee supported by government."

Tallangatta Valley primary producer Michael McCormack, who was one of the primary producers to serve on the Wild Dog Management Advisory Committee, said decision to disband the group was "short-sided".

Mr McCormack also served on the wild dog management committee under the previous Coalition government.

"This is the third round of the committee and they've all been three-year terms and following a independent review into the second committee under the current Labor government and the top recommendation was to reinstate the committee after the second term had finished," Mr McCormack said.

"We haven't heard what the government is planning to do now and I seriously believe hand on heart this committee is needed so it's essential the Minister Symes comes forward and reveals her plans for wild dog control in Victoria."

In state parliament last week, Ms Symes described the committee as "unworkable" and said it had "came to the end of its life" after reports previously of internal conflict among committee members.

"This is not any reduction in our attention to wild dog management," she said.

"I think I have made myself pretty clear in that this is an area that I am particularly interested in making sure we beef up ... it is just a committee that has served its purpose and no longer needs to continue."

The government said it planned to continue aerial baiting in the state's east until at least December 2023.

In parliament last week, Ms Symes described the committee as "unworkable" and said it had "came to the end of its life" after reports previously of internal conflict among committee members.

"This is not any reduction in our attention to wild dog management," she said.

"I think I have made myself pretty clear in that this is an area that I am particularly interested in making sure we beef up ... it is just a committee that has served its purpose and no longer needs to continue."

The government said it planned to continue aerial baiting in the state's east until at least December 2023.

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