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.
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. >>
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