Illegal hunters pose risk to primary producers

Illegal hunters pose risk to primary producers

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CONUNDRUM: Omeo producer Simon Lawlor stands by a fence damaged by wild deer in 2019 but says deer populations are attracting illegal hunters to the area.

CONUNDRUM: Omeo producer Simon Lawlor stands by a fence damaged by wild deer in 2019 but says deer populations are attracting illegal hunters to the area.

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Illegal hunters are causing big headaches for farmers.

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Rum cans strewn across the roadside and tyre tracks through Simon Lawlor's paddocks are evidence of the damage hunters are causing for both primary producers and the environment.

Mr Lawlor's 1700-hectare property in the Upper Livingstone Valley, 12 kilometres south of Omeo, is remote and divided by stock grids.

He says illegal hunting activity is a growing problem in the state's High Country.

"We have plenty of people that come in and do the right thing but there is a rogue element of illegal hunting which seems to be growing," Mr Lawlor said.

"One of the frustrating things they do is they drive across the paddock and if a paddock is wet or has a crop, they can bog your paddock up and leave wheel marks through your pasture.

"There's still an odd cow or calf being shot as well."

Omeo is one of Victoria's most deer-populated regions in the state and has a long association among the hunting fraternity as a go-to place to shoot venison.

"Most people underestimate how much they disturb livestock whether they are invited to hunt on the place, or illegally hunting," Mr Lawlor said.

"When they're calving they can mis-mother calves and it's simply because they stop feeding and fret."

Trespassing taking its toll on farmers

A survey of 56 Victorian farmers by University of New England Centre for Rural Criminology in 2015-2016 found illegal hunters caused farmers economic loss and emotional anguish by:

  • damaging fences
  • shooting at buildings, beehives and livestock
  • stealing from sheds
  • failing to extinguish campfires
  • destroying fields with their vehicles.

In a follow-up survey in 2017-2018, 906 Victorian farmers responded to questions on illegal hunting.

"Farmers reported the following issues as either serious or very serious: illegal shooting on farms (34.4%), animal activism (30.9%), and trespass (44.2%)," lecturer Alistair Harkness wrote in The Conversation.

In May, the state government announced on-the-spot fines following its inquiry into the effect of animal rights activism in response to a number of high-profile cases involving activists on rural properties.

However, Mr Harkness said illegal hunters largely escaped attention in the report.

"Unauthorised access to farm properties can create many problems - not least, it runs the risk spreading disease such as African swine fever that can devastate farming industries," he said.

In Victoria's High Country, wild deer are grazing out pasture and destroying infrastructure such as fences on Mr Lawlor's beef property.

While he often allowed hunters onto the property who sought permission, he said the growing deer population was often an incentive for illegal hunters - without a firearm licence or permission to be on the farm - to trespass.

"I think the drink of choice is Jim Beam and you see the cans littered along the roads and often deer are shot and the carcase is just left there," Mr Lawlor said.

"I don't think any amount of hunting will have any significant impact on deer numbers and most of this hunting happens at night so it's hard for authorities to crack down on it."

'Farmers frustrated', say Victoria Police

Police say illegal hunting and trespassing is an "ongoing issue" for the's state's High Country and as far east as the NSW border.

Orbost police station officer in charge Senior Sergeant Wayne Rothwell said police ran operations with Parks Victoria and the Game Management Authority each year to coincide with the deer hunting season to crackdown on bad behaviour.

"Most examples we hear are people shooting from roads and spotlighting and people who are unlicensed with unregistered firearms going onto private properties," Senior Sergeant Rothwell said.

"Along with that you have people that are camping and some are affected by alcohol or other means."

During a five-month operation in the second half of last year, 21 firearms were seized in the state's east and 12 people were charged in relation to illegal hunting offences.

Police said the hotspots included Omeo and Buchan and further east at Bendoc and Cann River.

"Farmers are frustrated no doubt," Senior Sergeant Rothwell said.

"We encourage people to report all instances of illegal hunting because it assists us to gather our intelligence and better target our enforcement in certain areas.

"Our issues are not only with NSW residents but also a lot of Victorian hunters not doing the right thing."

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