Tackling the issues
The start to Victorian Duck Season undermined the reputation of hunters and Field & Game Australia has been proactive in making sure the illegal and unethical actions of a few do not jeopardise our great hunting tradition.
FGA was on the ground near Kerang as events unfolded on opening weekend and we took immediate action, both publicly and behind the scenes. Crucially, FGA has taken a leadership role in addressing those issues.
We quickly organised a summit to draw on the experience and wisdom of our members and other leaders in the hunting community. The aim was to explore the root causes of illegal hunting, the ramifications of those actions, and to identify a way forward, to provide a proactive response and protect the reputation of law-abiding hunters and the long-term future of duck hunting.
The importance of the actions we are taking cannot be underestimated.
What occurred on the Marshes was front of mind when Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’ambrosio wrote to FGA chairman Rob Treble in early May in response to correspondence about wetland closure principles. “Minister Pulford, the GMA and I are very disappointed that threatened and non-game species, including freckled and blue-billed ducks, were illegally shot at the Koorangie SGR wetland complex over the opening weekend, despite strong compliance presence. The Victorian Government will not tolerate unlawful and unethical duck-hunting behaviour,” the Minister wrote.
FGA has since met with Minister Pulford to deliver the outcomes of the summit, which identified seven areas of focus.
Trust and Credibility
The actions of a few have tarnished the reputation and credibility of many, and FGA has continued to engage with multiple agencies and government to ensure hunters and their interests are represented.
We have already seen the loss of trust in effect, with agencies moving to a highly precautionary approach, and in correspondence from other Ministers in the Victorian Government.
FGA helped spread a cautionary
message about the presence of Australasian bittern at Lake Cullen towards the end of the season, a better outcome than 2016 when Johnson Swamp SGR was closed due to the presence of bittern.
FGA has been working hard since then to argue against this ‘extreme caution’ becoming the policy norm but illegal and unethical hunting makes it more difficult.
Hunting continued at Lake Cullen without incident but trust and credibility remains a crucial element to maintain hunter access in future when protected and/or non-game species are present on a wetland.
Loss of Access to Public Land
One direct result of the damage to trust and credibility following on from the actions of a few is the loss of access to public land for hunting. The actions of these few have had a direct impact on many. FGA views these closures as similar to closing the Hume Freeway to all traffic because of one drink-driver: an extreme reaction.
In the absence of meaningful enforcement, however, the loss of trust will continue to impact on all hunters.
A variety of reasons and restrictions are hampering the ability for enforcement resources to be effective.
In 2015, we wrote to the Game Management Authority about the concentration of taxpayer-funded resources being used mainly for crowd control of anti-hunting activists, and this year we observed, once again, enforcement focused away from monitoring hunting activity.
FGA continues to advocate for a critical review of the effectiveness of existing enforcement methods and improving the monitoring of hunters.
Education is a critical component, directly linked with the regulation and enforcement of responsible hunting. How do new hunters learn about hunting with respect, or their ethical obligations while hunting? FGA has identified opportunities to incorporate hunter education as part of the accreditation and licensing process that all lawful hunters go through. Education is a critical component of regulation and we believe the GMA has a significant role to play.
Culture and Diversity
The hunting community is diverse, with members from many cultural backgrounds.
While we celebrate this diversity, it also presents challenges. Some groups may hold different attitudes to hunting due to their background, or there may be a language barrier, which makes it difficult to engage. There are also changes in the way some hunting is undertaken (in NSW it’s for crop protection, while in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Northern Territory, we have regulated seasons) and does this contribute to the culture within which individuals make decisions while hunting?
FGA, as the premier duck hunting organisation in Australia, has identified some areas where we can do more, but with so many different cultures and backgrounds, multiple and complex solutions are necessary to improve outcomes for hunting.
Communication and Setting Expectations
FGA will continue to communicate the positive stories around hunting: the sustainable, ethical harvest of amazing wild food, the enjoyment of our beautiful wetland habitats, and spending time with family and friends, connecting with nature.
For the majority of hunters, this is not news, it’s a matter of fact, and the value placed on the experience of hunting wild food and sharing it with family and friends, is what drives our members to act responsibly, hunt ethically and continue to give back through conservation.
The failure of some to retrieve shot game birds impacts on the perception of responsible hunting and sustainable harvest.
FGA will also continue to communicate the expectations around hunting and encourages responsible hunters to act as leaders among the community.
One major issue that emerged from our summit was that of managing risks. FGA has been advocating for some time that a more flexible, adaptable approach is needed.
We’ve seen a bit of improvement this season, with Lake Linlithgow simply having motorboat use restricted with little or no practical impact on hunting effort. However, we are still seeing decisions made around public land where there are only two choices considered: keep the land open or close it completely.
FGA takes issue with this approach as a complete closure removes opportunities to learn. If we’re able to learn more about how different non-game birds react when hunting occurs around them, we’ll be better able to make informed decisions in future.
As you can see from these seven areas of focus, there’s a lot of work to do, and while the opening weekend shook up the hunting community, we’ve had a really strong response from our members. We’ve identified issues that will affect hunting in the years to come and we are working hard to protect it.