Set the rules and fol­low them

Hunters are highly reg­u­lated but they ac­cept the rules gov­ern­ing their ac­tiv­ity. Field & Game Aus­tralia's David Mcnabb re­flects on a Vic­to­rian sea­son where the ac­cepted prac­tice and key ad­vice has been ig­nored.

Field and Game - - Hunting -

I'm writ­ing this on the day we should have been at John­son Swamp State Game Re­serve, talk­ing with hunters com­ing in from their morn­ing hunt.

While the sea­sons in Tas­ma­nia and South Aus­tralia got un­der­way largely un­her­alded, the big story is the un­prece­dented ac­tions against duck hunt­ing by both gov­ern­ment and an­ti­hunt­ing an­i­mal rights ac­tivists in Vic­to­ria.

It gets worse. The ac­tions to close Lake El­iz­a­beth State Game Re­serve were un­prece­dented, and we called them out as that. In­cred­i­bly, what ini­tially ap­peared as un­prece­dented is now the norm. In this con­text, it's im­por­tant to look at the re­stric­tions im­posed on duck hunt­ing this sea­son and high­light the key is­sues.

The lengthy de­lay to an­nounc­ing a full-length sea­son, with mod­i­fied bag lim­its, was pre­ceded by the process in De­cem­ber 2015, where the Gov­ern­ment in­vited sub­mis­sions for the 2016 duck hunt­ing sea­son. The FGA sub­mis­sion is ti­tled

In fram­ing our sub­mis­sion, we as­sessed —

• the eco­nomic and other ben­e­fits from hunt­ing,

• the fo­cus on con­ser­va­tion,

• the sus­tain­abil­ity of duck hunt­ing, and • sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the pro­cesses to al­low bet­ter data collection and anal­y­sis. It is worth­while test­ing th­ese against state­ments from gov­ern­ment.

In pre-elec­tion cam­paign­ing then Op­po­si­tion leader and now Pre­mier Daniel An­drews stated his sup­port for sus­tain­able duck hunt­ing. In gov­ern­ment, the record of sup­port ap­pears to have con­tin­ued, with Min­is­te­rial state­ments that duck hunt­ing is sus­tain­able and de­liv­ers a sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic ben­e­fit of $439 mil­lion to Vic­to­rian com­mu­ni­ties, the ma­jor­ity of this to re­gional com­mu­ni­ties.

There has ap­peared to be sup­port also for the Gov­ern­ment's own ex­pert body, the Game Man­age­ment Au­thor­ity. This statu­tory au­thor­ity was es­tab­lished in 2014 by the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment. The es­tab­lish­ment of this au­thor­ity, de­spite re­sis­tance within the bu­reau­cracy, was a great achieve­ment. It re­flected the ef­forts of FGA for more than 20 years. >>

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The real­ity, how­ever, is that the Gov­ern­ment has im­posed un­be­liev­able re­stric­tions on duck hunt­ing.

As part of the stan­dard pre-sea­son as­sess­ments iden­ti­fy­ing con­cen­tra­tions of rare or pro­tected species, a num­ber of wet­lands were closed with in­con­sis­tent meth­ods be­ing ap­plied to en­sure clo­sures: Lake El­iz­a­beth State Game Re­serve was closed sud­denly by the Gov­ern­ment on the eve of the open­ing. Three is­sues arise here:

ac­tion to pro­tect a wa­ter­bird that ex­hibits lit­tle or no sim­i­lar­ity to game species of duck;

a mech­a­nism used to close the wet­land out­side all the nor­mal game man­age­ment pro­cesses; and

the hu­man im­pact on hunters who had to move off the re­serve in two hours and find al­ter­na­tive camp­sites, and hunt­ing op­tions for the next morn­ing. Toolondo Reser­voir has one water body closed to pro­tect a con­cen­tra­tion of Freck­led duck. Their ar­rival was iden­ti­fied through the wet­land mon­i­tor­ing that con­tin­ues through­out the sea­son. This process of par­tial clo­sure would usu­ally sur­vive scru­tiny, ex­cept that gov­ern­ment did not rely on ad­vice from the GMA — not to men­tion the sideshow of le­gal ac­tion taken by an­i­mal rights ac­tivists. John­son Swamp State Game Re­serve was closed for the ini­tial four weeks of the sea­son to as­sess rare and en­dan­gered wa­ter­birds, pre­dom­i­nantly the Aus­tralasian Bit­tern. Af­ter weekly sur­veys with fan­tas­tic con­tri­bu­tion from FGA vol­un­teers, it was sched­uled to open on Sun­day, April 17. In­cred­i­bly, or is it in­cred­u­lously, the Gov­ern­ment also closed this wet­land to hunt­ing with­out prior ad­vice or no­tice. The con­clu­sions that can be drawn are th­ese. Gov­ern­ment: • thinks that hunters will be grate­ful for a full length sea­son, and con­se­quently will ac­cept re­duced bag lim­its and fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties to hunt. • will dis­re­gard ad­vice from its own ex­perts, the GMA, se­lec­tively choos­ing ad­vice to achieve its own out­comes. • is un­able or un­will­ing to con­sis­tently apply stan­dard game man­age­ment pro­cesses. I've writ­ten re­cently that while we may not like the de­ci­sions we are handed, and we will cer­tainly not agree with some of them, we can op­er­ate with con­sis­tent and trans­par­ent pro­cesses based on facts and data, and where there is good com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

This has not been our ex­pe­ri­ence with this Gov­ern­ment in the 2016 duck hunt­ing sea­son.

Our pref­er­ence is to work with the Gov­ern­ment. How­ever, it does not ap­pear there is the like­li­hood for im­prove­ment any time soon, and af­ter care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion, we made the de­ci­sion to re­sign from the Emer­gency Clo­sures Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, as have our col­leagues the Aus­tralian Deer As­so­ci­a­tion. My thanks for the sol­i­dar­ity of our ADA col­leagues on this is­sue, and oth­ers are also con­sid­er­ing their position.

The Gov­ern­ment's ap­proach raises se­ri­ous ques­tions about the fu­ture com­mit­ment for the GMA. That's a real con­cern to FGA. It high­lights the in­ter­fer­ence in the long stand­ing, law­ful, cul­tural tra­di­tion of hunt­ing, by a few. Be very clear, the facts demon­strate the pro­tester reach is out of all pro­por­tion to their ac­tual num­bers. Their own ac­counts tell us less than 200 both­ered to in­ter­rupt open­ing week­end in Vic­to­ria, and only a hand­ful in pink tu­tus both­ered in Tas­ma­nia. Bal­ance this with the thou­sands of li­censed duck hunters, and the con­tri­bu­tion made by th­ese hunters to re­gional com­mu­ni­ties.

It's ironic two of the wet­lands closed dur­ing the sea­son are State Game Re­serves, de­signed for two pur­poses — breed­ing habi­tat to off­set the loss of other habi­tat, and to al­low for highly reg­u­lated hunt­ing. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of th­ese two cri­te­ria ap­pears op­posed to con­ser­va­tion out­comes. How­ever, it's proven around the world that ap­ply­ing value to wildlife cre­ates the mo­ti­va­tion for on­go­ing preser­va­tion of habi­tat and sus­tain­able wildlife pop­u­la­tions. This has been demon­strated for al­most 60 years from duck hunt­ing and the ef­forts of vol­un­teers in con­ser­va­tion ac­tiv­i­ties. Ex­trem­ists and gov­ern­ment are now ef­fec­tively re­mov­ing value from our nat­u­ral re­sources by deny­ing ac­cess to hunt: ducks are a “pub­lic” re­source, and their har­vest is a le­git­i­mate ac­tiv­ity. We have to con­tinue to re­mind Gov­ern­ment th­ese wet­lands would not be here to­day with­out hunters, Aus­tralia's most sur­prising con­ser­va­tion­ists.

The re­stric­tions im­posed on duck hunt­ing make no sense in the con­text of long-term en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits. Dr Richard Kings­ford, long seen by some as op­posed to duck hunt­ing, re­cently stated that habi­tat is the crit­i­cal is­sue for duck pop­u­la­tions, and not hunt­ing. This is a very im­por­tant state­ment of fact, and coun­ters the fic­tion put out by ex­trem­ist an­i­mal right ac­tivists.

The other in­cred­i­ble dis­ap­point­ment is the lack of any tan­gi­ble progress by this gov­ern­ment with the Hunt­ing Ac­tion Plan. The orig­i­nal plan was signed off by the pre­vi­ous Coali­tion State Gov­ern­ment in a whole-of-gov­ern­ment com­mit­ment to hunt­ing. Shelved by this Gov­ern­ment, there has been much talk about but no ac­tion on an al­ter­na­tive plan since De­cem­ber 2014.

At the same time there ap­pears to be a chang­ing of the guard on the anti-duck hunt­ing front. We should as­sume that this more wide-rang­ing and so­phis­ti­cated ap­proach to cam­paign­ing against duck hunt­ing is the way of the fu­ture.

It is not only Vic­to­ria where our abil­ity to hunt can­not be taken for granted. The South Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment de­lib­er­ately short­ened the South Aus­tralian sea­son, in do­ing so the open­ing date was de­layed to co­in­cide with the start of the Vic­to­rian sea­son. This lim­ited the ca­pac­ity of Vic­to­ri­ans to par­tic­i­pate in the South Aus­tralian sea­son open­ing, and for South Aus­tralians to par­tic­i­pate in the Vic­to­rian sea­son open­ing. The im­pact was also felt by the re­gional com­mu­ni­ties who are the re­cip­i­ents of the eco­nomic ben­e­fit from trav­el­ling hunters.

A cam­paign has com­menced to build our fight­ing fund so we can in­form and ed­u­cate the com­mu­nity, telling the facts of con­ser­va­tion and hunt­ing, and dis­pelling the fic­tion.

Hunters at Lake El­iz­a­beth were forced to pack up and leave on the eve of the Vic­to­rian Duck Sea­son

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