Ac­count­abil­ity is crit­i­cal

Wel­come to edi­tion seven of our mag­a­zine for telling your sto­ries. What a hunt­ing sea­son it’s been across south east­ern Aus­tralia, I trust you’ve made the most of con­di­tions and ex­plor­ing new places to hunt, and you were able to hunt more than last year.

Field and Game - - FGA CEO DAVID MCNABB -

In­creased participation is one of the best ways to demon­strate the im­por­tance of hunt­ing to our com­mu­ni­ties.

While we re­flect on an in­cred­i­ble hunt­ing sea­son, it has not been with­out its chal­lenges. To ad­dress the is­sues means we must al­lo­cate pre­cious re­sources and time, di­vert­ing us from our pri­mary fo­cus on im­prov­ing con­ser­va­tion, hunt­ing and recre­ational shoot­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties that we should be max­imis­ing.

In this col­umn we also re­flect on the prac­ti­cal is­sues when gov­ern­ment states there is no change to the ar­range­ments for duck hunt­ing; how im­pa­tience cre­ates the stim­u­lus for ac­tion; our thirst for knowl­edge and an­swers; and why ac­count­abil­ity is crit­i­cal. We also con­sider ‘stake­hold­ers’, an overused term that leaves lit­tle to be de­sired when crit­i­cally as­sessed against value cre­ated.

This needs to be set in the con­text of what we are priv­i­leged to ac­cess as hunters, and some­times it takes a dif­fer­ent set of eyes to re­mind us of this. We’ve spent time with a num­ber of in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors, ex­pe­ri­enced wa­ter­fowl hunters, and they are as­tounded by our in­cred­i­ble game bird hunt­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in Aus­tralia — a va­ri­ety of truly wild, na­tive game species, set in an amaz­ing land­scape with pub­lic land ac­cess. Our hunt­ing is truly world class.

Thanks must go to the amaz­ing fore­sight of the hunter/con­ser­va­tion­ists for the prac­ti­cal con­ser­va­tion ef­forts that have been es­sen­tial to pre­serve our rapidly di­min­ish­ing wet­lands. The original pri­vate/pub­lic part­ner­ship estab­lished with gov­ern­ment of the day has evolved and to­day in­cludes in­valu­able pri­vate part­ner­ships and the WET Trust. Con­ser­va­tion ef­forts con­tinue to be un­der­pinned by ded­i­cated vol­un­teers im­prov­ing wet­lands for all species. It is an­other story about the links be­tween prac­ti­cal con­ser­va­tion and sus­tain­able use of wildlife by hunt­ing. This story is the FGA story and is 59 years in the mak­ing.

Yet all the re­ports told us we shouldn’t have ex­pe­ri­enced any hunt­ing this sea­son. Well, some­one got it wrong.

Hunters know from time spent in the field that na­ture will pro­duce when habi­tat plus water is avail­able, stim­u­lat­ing breed­ing events, cre­at­ing new hunt­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, and an abun­dance of game birds in fan­tas­tic con­di­tion. The re­sult is the sus­tain­able harvest of a vi­able natural re­source within the highly reg­u­lated frame­work of the hunt­ing sea­son.

The re­al­ity is that there is very lit­tle sci­ence or research ded­i­cated to game and game man­age­ment in Aus­tralia.

Yes, we’re im­pa­tient at the lack of research and game man­age­ment, and we can’t wait for oth­ers to even­tu­ally pri­ori­tise fund­ing and re­sources to research. We are forg­ing ahead with on­go­ing and new research pro­jects, en­sur­ing de­ci­sions about game species are based on facts and data. Mod­i­fi­ca­tions to hunt­ing sea­sons and ex­clu­sions of species from hunt­ing, ex­am­ples in­clude the shov­eler in both Vic­to­ria and South Aus­tralia, where the hard­head was also ex­cluded, must be based on sound sci­ence, not per­cep­tions or at­tempts to ap­pease so­cio-po­lit­i­cal agen­das.

These mod­i­fi­ca­tions and ex­clu­sions from hunt­ing made in the bub­ble of ex­treme aver­sion to risk have the prac­ti­cal ef­fect of re­duc­ing hunt­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and de­valu­ing our natural re­sources. When you crit­i­cally as­sess the re­sults of these de­ci­sions the only con­clu­sion is that they pro­duce the same out­comes sought by the anti hunt­ing an­i­mal rights ac­tivists, the groups who ac­tively cam­paign to stop hunt­ing.

It is why we pro­mote the need for sci­en­tific rigour in de­ci­sions made about habi­tat, wildlife and hunt­ing and why we talk with sci­en­tists who have long ex­pe­ri­ence in sus­tain­able use of wildlife and the links with pos­i­tive con­ser­va­tion out­comes. It’s why we ask ques­tions and hold peo­ple and agen­cies ac­count­able, we don’t al­ways have the an­swers but we have an in­sa­tiable ap­petite to know “why” and it makes for some chal­leng­ing con­ver­sa­tions.

We wel­come the state­ments by the Vic­to­rian State Gov­ern­ment that ar­range­ments for duck hunt­ing will con­tinue un­changed. How­ever, we can never take this for granted, and the state­ment there is “no change” high­lights an­other of the is­sues we face each sea­son. The prac­ti­cal re­sult of “no change” is that the cur­rent man­age­ment ac­tions ap­plied to hunt­ing will con­tinue. These man­age­ment ac­tions are the same as sea­son mod­i­fi­ca­tions, do noth­ing to cre­ate new habi­tat or ac­quire new knowl­edge of our game species, and in fact only serve to ef­fec­tively re­strict and ex­clude hunt­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

This is where the collection of data and mon­i­tor­ing sup­ports de­ci­sions based on

facts, avoid­ing rhetoric and short-term knee jerk re­ac­tionary man­age­ment ac­tions that usu­ally have lit­tle ef­fect other than being seen to act.

We also wel­come an­nounce­ments and the fund­ing al­lo­cated to the Sus­tain­able Hunt­ing Ac­tion Plan (SHAP) by the Vic­to­rian Gov­ern­ment. This is such an im­por­tant ini­tia­tive that we joined our col­leagues at the Aus­tralia Deer As­so­ci­a­tion to put steps in place to cre­ate ac­count­abil­ity, en­sur­ing hunters and the tax pay­ing com­mu­nity re­ceive the best value from the fund­ing that has been al­lo­cated.

We’ve had con­struc­tive dis­cus­sions that re­sulted in Min­is­te­rial com­mit­ment to quar­terly re­port­ing of the progress with the SHAP. We’ve also been ac­tive to en­sure we have in­put at the early stages of de­sign­ing the pro­jects. These com­mit­ments by the Min­is­ter are wel­comed; it’s now up to the project teams and agen­cies to de­liver. At the time of writ­ing we’ve seen some in­for­ma­tion pub­lished on SHAP, but it’s a long way from the ro­bust re­port­ing that clearly demon­strates the pro­jects are on time, on bud­get, and are de­signed in a way that will ful­fil the ob­jec­tives.

We con­tinue to mon­i­tor progress against the bench­marks agreed by the Min­is­ter in the Key Per­for­mance In­di­ca­tors de­vel­oped by ADA and FGA, as of to­day we have con­cerns at what has been re­ported and we feel this is let­ting the Min­is­ter and her Cab­i­net col­leagues down.

As we seek ac­count­abil­ity from oth­ers who make de­ci­sions that af­fect what we do, we hold our­selves ac­count­able. Sim­i­larly, we ex­pect ac­count­abil­ity from within the hunt­ing com­mu­nity.

Work­ing with lead­ers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives through­out the hunt­ing com­mu­nity we’re con­tin­u­ing to ad­dress the is­sues cre­ated by the mi­nor­ity at the Vic­to­rian open­ing week­end. The be­hav­iours of a few re­sulted in re­stric­tions on hunt­ing im­posed on the ma­jor­ity of hunters who are eth­i­cal and responsible. The real im­pact is the ir­re­spon­si­ble and un­eth­i­cal mi­nor­ity have done as much, or more, than the anti-hunt­ing ac­tivists to re­strict hunt­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. Why should we tol­er­ate these peo­ple in the field with us?

Our re­port into the open­ing week­end has been cir­cu­lated to key stake­hold­ers, and ad­dresses the ar­eas for fo­cus; com­mu­ni­ca­tions and ed­u­ca­tion, com­pli­ance, en­force­ment, de­ter­rents and con­se­quences, and cul­ture. This work is on­go­ing and builds on the fo­cus on en­force­ment ef­forts started by FGA in 2015. We’ll con­tinue to pro­vide up­dates.

The lead­er­ship demon­strated through­out FGA when ad­dress­ing these is­sues has earned the op­por­tu­nity for con­tin­u­ing con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion with Gov­ern­ment. That’s been valu­able as we nav­i­gated the bu­reau­cratic pro­cesses that sought to close even more wet­lands dur­ing the sea­son. We were suc­cess­ful in keep­ing sig­nif­i­cant wet­lands open be­cause we are con­sis­tent with in­sist­ing de­ci­sions are based on facts and data, and we hold peo­ple ac­count­able.

Mem­o­ries are still raw at the me­mory from last year of the ex­clu­sion of hunters from John­son Swamp State Game Re­serve due to the re­ported pres­ence of Bit­tern. What a con­trast this sea­son, Bit­tern were at Cul­lens Lake State Game Re­serve but hunt­ing went on with­out is­sue.

This brings us to “stake­holder,” widely used when en­gag­ing and con­sult­ing yet of­ten ques­tion­able when as­sess­ing the value of the con­tri­bu­tion. How can peo­ple claim to be a stake­holder and rep­re­sent hunt­ing is­sues when they aren’t present in wet­lands. It stands to rea­son they can only speak from a the­o­ret­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal ba­sis. On the other hand we are priv­i­leged to have the ben­e­fit of speak­ing with 59 years of prac­ti­cal, hands on ex­pe­ri­ence. We speak and ask ques­tions with a na­tional view, and in­creas­ingly we bring a global per­spec­tive to is­sues. This knowl­edge is ir­re­place­able. It’s also in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant as more and more de­ci­sions af­fect­ing hunt­ing and game man­age­ment are made in the city, by peo­ple with­out prac­ti­cal knowl­edge or ex­pe­ri­ence in hunt­ing or con­ser­va­tion through sus­tain­able use of wildlife.

We must also ques­tion how a stake­holder earns a seat on com­mit­tees ad­vis­ing gov­ern­ment on an­i­mal wel­fare is­sues when they or their or­gan­i­sa­tion have an overt an­i­mal rights ide­ol­ogy?

As eth­i­cal hunters we know the in­cred­i­ble re­spon­si­bil­ity of de­cid­ing when to pull the trig­ger or not to pull the trig­ger in the field. This brings an in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the need for an­i­mal wel­fare, and a unique per­spec­tive on this im­por­tant is­sue. Yet where is our seat as a stake­holder, how do we get our voice heard above the ide­o­log­i­cal noise? “Stake­hold­ers” pro­vide a con­ve­nient tool for bu­reau­cratic at­tempts to cor­ral our in­put be­hind con­ve­nient pro­cesses. This is rife with firearms and par­tic­u­larly re­cent at­tempts to re­vise the Na­tional Firearms Agree­ment, and the in­ter­state amend­ments to firearms leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tion such as the re­cent changes forced through in South Aus­tralia. In that state FGA’S re­quest to par­tic­i­pate in what was a closed con­sul­ta­tion process was de­clined by the State Gov­ern­ment, pre­vent­ing the op­por­tu­nity to rep­re­sent our mem­bers yet politi­cians and bu­reau­crats still de­scribe a ro­bust pro­cesses to en­gage and con­sult widely. On paper that may be the case. The prac­ti­cal re­sult is changes are made with­out ba­sis on facts and data, avoid­ing the un­com­fort­able ques­tions and ac­count­abil­ity that must be a part of de­ci­sions that af­fect the pur­suit of our pas­sions.

It’s why we in­vest heav­ily in ad­vo­cacy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions on your be­half. It’s why we en­dure con­stant di­ver­sion of or pre­cious re­sources to face the is­sues pre­sented al­most daily. It’s why your mem­ber­ship is so valu­able. On be­half of the as­so­ci­a­tion, I ex­tend our sin­cere thanks for your mem­ber­ship.

Now that the south east­ern Aus­tralian game sea­sons are done I hope you’re busy plan­ning other ac­tiv­i­ties, whether it’s pick­ing up your sport­ing gun for Sim­u­lated Field events, wet­land con­ser­va­tion work, fox drives that are so cru­cial to as­sist the breed­ing sea­son or even plan­ning a visit to the NT for their wa­ter­fowl sea­son, mag­pie goose meat is sen­sa­tional.

En­joy time with a gun or a shovel in hand as hunter/con­ser­va­tion­ists, con­tin­u­ing the rich legacy of 59 years of lead­er­ship in wet­land con­ser­va­tion, sus­tain­able hunt­ing, and recre­ational shoot­ing.

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