Advocacy is a critical element of Field & Game Australia’s work on behalf of members and your assessment of that work is understandably based on results.
The National Office team has most recently been engaged in the process to consider wetland closures or restrictions in Victoria.
This involves discussions with the Game Management Authority; Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (supported by the Arthur Rylah Institute); Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions; Birdlife Australia; and Sporting Shooters Association of Australia (Vic).
The recommendations are with the relevant Ministers for determination, but you deserve to know what our position was, and our concerns with the way the process was conducted.
As an organisation founded on conservation, we approach these annual meetings with an open mind, prepared to consider difficult decisions where the protection of threatened species or non-game birds should, based on the science, take precedence over hunting.
We are generally opposed to wholesale closure of wetlands, understanding that natural behaviour of some species and the skill of hunters to distinguish between game and non-game birds reduces the risk to a manageable level.
Partial closures have worked well in the past to provide hunter access while also providing refuge areas for non-game birds.
We supported a partial closure at Tower Hill State Game Reserve due to Blue-billed duck because the area proposed for closure is not as popular with hunters .
We also supported a restriction on hunting from boats on Lake Bolac to protect Blue-billed duck. We opposed a complete ban because water skiing and fishing still occurs on the lake and hunters using boats purely for travel and retrieving downed birds would not cause any conflict.
At Lake Lonsdale we believe management and education can be utilised to protect Blue-billed duck present while allowing hunting. We opposed full closure for the following reasons;
- It is a large wetland which even at 12% capacity provides areas for birds to move to
- Blue-billed ducks do not generally fly and are easily identified by hunters
- 124 is only just above the trigger point for management, and does not warrant a total closure
- Hunting pressure in 2020 will be minimal, with a likely midweek “opening” and restrictions on travel, camping and public gatherings. The reduced bag limit decreases the time hunters are present and the hunting pressure.
- The presence of 4,000 game birds.
At Reedy Lake - Lake Connewarre State Game Reserve a significant number of Australasian bittern were counted but we do not support closure for the following reasons:
- Bittern have a long history at Reedy Lake and are thriving despite an equally long history of hunting and other activities.
- There is no risk that Bittern will be accidentally misidentified.
- Many wetlands where hunting occurs are home to Bittern and there is no evidence of impact and no science around the use of “disturbance” as a trigger for closures.
- We need to better understand what disturbance means to the Bitterns in May/June when they are not breeding.
- Other habitat is available nearby, including areas that are not hunted, particularly between the inlet and outlet channels on the Southern side of Reedy Lake, the Barwon River, Hospital Swamp and Lake Connewarre.
- Limited hunter pressure due to the short season, reduced bag limit and restrictions due to COVID-19.
It is worth noting that Geelong Field & Game has done significant work over many years to foster the habitat that Bittern and other native birds flourish in.
The conduct of the meeting and the lack of debate from key officials led us to conclude that the meeting was not a genuine discussion to determine appropriate and agreed outcomes; it was simply a process to tick the consultation box.
Field & Game Australia has a long history of practical conservation and a willingness to act responsibly in the interests of wildlife and wildlife habitat. We are always prepared to work with agencies to promote ethical and responsible hunting and in the past this cooperation has been successful in maintaining access for hunters while reducing the risk to non-game and threatened species.
When significant issues do occur, we work with authorities to ensure better outcomes. We accepted late start times and regulations around retrieving game birds and harvesting meat that impacted all hunters. We also accepted a higher pass mark for the Waterfowl Identification Test to better prepare new hunters.
Hunter compliance and behaviour in recent years has been exemplary.
Wetland closures should be a last resort. The objective of this process should be to reduce risk to acceptable levels to allow hunting to occur, rather than always seeking to prevent the activity to eliminate risk.
Field & Game Australia understands that hunters are responsible, ethical and sensible. We trust you to be able to implement your knowledge, skill and experience to hunt effectively when non-game and threatened species are present. We know you respect the rules, and the natural environment from which you derive enormous pleasure and food for the table.
We continue to fight for hunting, and we will continue to advocate through the closure consideration process. Our hope is that the process evolves to consider the positive contribution hunters can make to the management of the presence of non-game and threatened species through education and self-regulation.