A new report from Frontier Economics has warned failing to control the impact of feral deer in Victoria could cost the community between $1.5 billion and $2.2 billion over the next 30 years.
The report, commissioned by the Invasive Species Council, points out this figure only considers the economic costs of feral deer caused through lost agricultural and forestry production, vehicle accidents and reductions to the recreational values of national and state parks.
"The economic analysis estimates that acting now to substantially reduce feral deer numbers in Victoria could deliver benefits exceeding cost of control by at least four times," Invasive Species Council deer project officer Peter Jacobs said.
"The impacts on biodiversity, Indigenous cultural values and ecosystem services such as water purification would also likely impose enormous costs to the community, but are difficult to accurately put a dollar value to.
"There is no longer any justification for continuing to classify feral deer as protected wildlife in Victoria."
Mr Jacobs said the report showed high growth in Victoria's feral deer population would cause major economic strife unless the feral deer population was substantially reduced.
The Invasive Species Council estimates Victoria has possibly the largest deer population in Australia, with more than a million animals.
"Avoiding these costs represents benefits across society," Mr Jacobs said.
"Specifically, the report finds managing feral deer to a level where they have negligible economic, social and environmental impact over the next 30 years would result in savings of: $245 million to $350 million to farmers, due to avoided grazing on farming land by feral deer," he said.
Other savings would be found in avoided time spent managing feral deer, reducing losses to forest industries and the cost of vehicle accidents.
"Delivering these large savings will require strong leadership from the Victorian Government to guide effective investment in feral deer control," Mr Jacobs said.
"There is no short term fix to mitigate deer impacts now that the population has been allowed to grow to over a million animals spread across the state."
He said the council appreciated the Victorian governments investment in feral deer control but that paled into insignificance, when it came to the real economic and social costs of insufficient action.
"These investments are also at odds with the prevailing Victorian Wildlife Act, created in 1975 when the feral deer population was small and confined to a few areas, that actively protects invasive feral deer as game animals," he said
The Victorian Government must, as a matter of priority, remove this protection so feral deer could be rightly classed as an established pest animal, as recommended by the 2021 Senate inquiry, he said.
"The Victorian government has also been slow to deliver promised regional control plans that are essential to guide good investment and effective control of feral deer," Mr Jacobs said.
"We urgently need to prevent further feral deer spread and start to eliminate smaller populations.
"Further, since current control options are limited, there will need to be support for additional research to develop new methods."
The state government released the Victorian Deer Control Strategy in October 2020, investing $19.25 million over four years.
In 2018, it introduced reforms to lift protection for deer, except hog deer, on private land.
Funding provided in the 2021/22 budget to support the Deer Control Strategy would be used to deliver deer control activities.
The first of three regional deer control plans for Victoria - for peri-urban Melbourne - was released by the Victorian Government in March 2022.
"Our Victorian Deer Control Strategy focuses on addressing the increasing numbers of wild deer across the state," a government spokesman said.
"Hunters and landholders play an important role in reducing these numbers," the spokesman said.
"Wild deer are unprotected on private land and their status as game under the Wildlife Act does not prevent hunters from being able to control their numbers."
The outcomes and assessment of the peri-urban plan would be used to help develop other regional deer control plans in the east and west of Victoria due later in 2022.
Deer control was being carried out in various locations across Victoria while the regional plans are being developed.
Shooting was the primary method of control, but trials involving baiting and trapping were also underway.