Fence to fight wild dog scourge
Fifth-generation pastoralist Ashley Dowden comes from a proud line of farmers to run sheep at the Mid West’s historic Challa Station.
And he is determined not to be the last.
The station was among leases caught up in WA’s ferocious wild dog scourge, making sheep a rare commodity across the State’s rangelands when many pastoralists were forced to de-stock.
“We had our flock decimated 10 years ago,” Mr Dowden said.
“When the wild dogs first came into this area, one thing we said to ourselves was ‘We won’t let them turn our sheep into dog food’.”
The Dowdens now run about 1000 Santa Gertrudis cattle at Challa.
The heartbreaking decision to destock on the back of the wild dog influx has prevented Mr Dowden from flourishing in Australia’s record wool prices, trading at more than 2000¢/kg at one point last year.
Although the sheep are gone, evidence of the pest is everywhere, Mr Dowden says.
However, with developments on the Murchison Regional Vermin Council’s cell fence — set to surround 52 stations and encompass 6.5 million hectares — making headway, Challa Station is eyeing a return to its sheep origins. Backed by two State Government grants totalling $1.14 million, Murchison and Mid West pastoralists are banking on the fence to safeguard properties from wild dog populations.
The infrastructure builds on the existing State Barrier Fence, with the new funding set to erect the remaining 326km to complete the 1400km development.
A jubilant Mr Dowden is hopes it will make a difference.
He hopes to re-enter the sheep industry within three years of the longawaited project’s completion.
“We will be inside the boundary, right on the eastern side,” he said.
“The country isn’t suited to cattle and our preference wasn’t to enter into cattle, but you have to do what you have to do to survive.”
The mighty MRVC cell will stand in conjunction with the 180km Murchison hub cell fence, which is poised to surround four pastoral leases, to strengthen wild dog prevention measures.
It will run north via Jingemarra and Meka stations.
Murchison and Mid West pastoralists are also implementing vast baiting regimes to tackle the issue.
About 26 tonnes of meat, mainly horse, is being processed into baits — injected with the 1080 toxin — annually and distributed across Meekatharra, Yalgoo and Cue.
Professional doggers have also been engaged in the area, providing on-ground pest management control.
More than 600km south-east of Challa Station, Goldfields pastoral leases are also fighting the wild dog issue.
Brendan Jones, owner of Mt Monger Station about 60km east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, elected to diversify his operation and abandon sheep for cattle because of the wild dog threat.
Mt Monger was once one of the Goldfields’ premier sheep stations, but now holds about 700 head of cattle.
The 950km Kalgoorlie Pastoral Alliance’s cluster cell development will surround 11 stations and 2.4 million hectares of rangelands.
With the KPA cell development also providing hope to Kalgoorlie-Boulder pastoralists, the region’s premier biosecurity group is trumpeting the wool industry’s return.
Goldfields Nullarbor Rangelands Biosecurity Association chief executive Michelle Donaldson took the reins from veteran pastoralist identity Ross Wood on January 1. She is confident the fence could reignite the area’s once-burgeoning sheep sector.
In preparation for the fence’s completion, the GNBRA has been equipping station owners across the Goldfields and Nullarbor with trapping equipment since October.
“There are a lot of dogs around, especially younger ones at the moment, so we need to get on top of them before they mature,” Mrs Donaldson said.
Ross Wood Ashley Dowden comes across a dingo trapped weeks ago. Zach Relph Teen Ryan is a dogger from Kalgoorlie-Boulder leading the charge in eradicating WA of one the most damaging pests — the wild dog.