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Management of overabundant and pest species

Natural Resources Management Committee: Management of Overabundant and Pest Species

Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (11:40): I also rise to make a contribution on what is the third report of the Natural Resources Committee, entitled Inquiry into Management of Overabundant and Pest Species. I agree entirely with the member for MacKillop that it is best to stay off the road between 4am and 6am, and I am pleased that the member for MacKillop, most evenings at least, is at home before 4am; so that is good.

The Natural Resources Committee initiated an inquiry into the management of overabundant and pest species in August 2018. Many years of sustained effort have gone into managing overabundant pest species in South Australia, yet the committee has recognised that overabundant and pest species continue to impact on South Australian agricultural outputs, environments, tourism, road safety, amenity and other values.

The Department for Environment and Water anticipates that populations of overabundant and pest species will increase, as will the number of species causing impacts in South Australia. The department also expects that the social, environmental and economic impacts of overabundant and pest species will increase. The costs of managing these impacts are therefore also expected to grow. The relationships between communities and overabundant and/or pest species are highly complex. The dimensions of these relationships include both positive and negative elements.

Overabundant and pest species pose threats to agricultural outputs and have impacts on urban lifestyles as well. They cause ecological imbalances but can also occupy the position of necessary apex predators. For food and tourism industries, certain species can represent opportunities for new markets, or fulfil roles as icons. Some species may be regarded as cultural totems within Aboriginal cultures.

In view of significant reforms being implemented within the natural resources management system in South Australia with the new Landscape South Australia Bill, this inquiry provides the opportunity to consider how overabundant and pest species should or could be managed into the future. The inquiry investigated the extent to which current approaches have been successful and sought evidence about any novel approaches that may warrant consideration. The terms of reference incorporate considerations about the efficacy of arrangements at the state and national levels and seek to understand whether current management strategies facilitate short and longer term outcomes.

During the last decade, the South Australian parliament has conducted several investigations into the impacts of certain abundant plant and animal species in South Australia through the Natural Resources Committee and also the ERD Committee. Stakeholders regularly discuss overabundant and pest species when the NRC conducts fact-finding visits to natural resources management regions. I am fully aware of this because I spent some very enjoyable years on the Natural Resources Committee here in this parliament.

The Department for Environment and Water explained to the committee that overabundant species and native species are occurring in population volumes significantly greater than would occur in natural environmental conditions, and pest species are invasive species that are not endemic to South Australia. That is a significant description of the difference there.

The Department for Environment and Water also distinguishes between species that occur in overabundant population volumes across the state and those it considers as impact causing. Impact-causing species have an impact on a particular industry or geographical location and thus may warrant specific management or intervention responses.

The report addresses overabundant and pest species issues raised in submissions and evidence presented to the inquiry. The committee heard evidence in relation to several species and has adopted a case study approach in using these specific species as illustrative of principles that can be applied to a broad management approach. It has derived recommendations that can be applied to specific species and, more broadly, to emerging challenges. Should time permit, I will run quickly through those recommendations.

The committee heard evidence that there is presently an abundant animal problem that is causing an imminent threat to our state’s biodiversity. The overabundance of several species was caused by changes to the landscape, including the clearing of native vegetation. I also agree with the member for MacKillop in that, obviously, since European settlement we have significantly changed our natural environment. In many instances, we have created a perfect environment for even native species to become abundant.

I cite a couple of examples from my electorate in particular: one is kangaroos, and that has been touched on already by members’ contributions. As drought conditions impacted the north of the state during 2018, certainly in the southern areas of the electorate of Flinders we saw increasing numbers of western grey kangaroos and the pressure they put on fences, livestock and existing infrastructure.

The other example that I am fully aware of and is not often mentioned—it is not even realised particularly—is the example of wombats in the west of the state. Those farmers who farm west of Ceduna, particularly—even more so west of Penong—spend a significant period of the year looking to control wombats. They do that under permit of course, always, but the damage wombats can do to cropping paddocks and wheat paddocks is significant, and land restoration needs to occur before paddocks can be profitably cropped.

It is a significant impost for a relatively small number of farmers but, for those in the Far West of the state, it is a significant and growing problem. I can also say from casual observation that the population of wombats is spreading further east and further south across the peninsula, so it is going to be an ongoing problem. I now come to the recommendations because they are important and I am sure they will be well considered by the Minister for Environment:

  1. The Minister for Environment and Water should be able to declare a species as ‘overabundant’, for the purposes of managing its population impacts.
  2. The Minister for Environment and Water should consider immediate declarations in relation to western grey kangaroos, little corellas, long-nosed fur seals…

I know the fur seals have caused a particular problem for the tuna ranches in and around the bays of Port Lincoln. They have developed strategies to overcome that threat; nevertheless, the population remains high. The recommendations continue:

  1. The South Australian Government should apply a risk-based and impact-based approach to both native and invasive impact-causing species alike, and to both Crown land and privately-held land.

This is an important recommendation because many of the concerns of farmers in the electorate of Flinders over the last 12 months have been about the number of kangaroos that are impacting their properties coming from national parks or Crown land where there is no effort to control populations. Further:

  1. The South Australian Government expedites the development of integrated strategies for priority species where these are not already in place…
  2. The South Australian Government should develop policy and codes of practice for the management of species in partnership with Landscape Boards, Councils, communities including landholders, local Aboriginal communities, industries, and relevant experts.

In other words, there are many stakeholders who need to be involved in this conversation. It can never be purely and simply left to the landowner even though the landowner is often the one bearing the economic impact of these species. The recommendations continue:

  1. The South Australian Government should seek engagement with and advice from local Aboriginal communities…
  2. The South Australian Government should continue to monitor research to provide an evidence base for effective management responses and greater understanding of best practices.

There are a further half a dozen or so recommendations. I probably will not have time to touch on them today, but they are readily available to anybody following the Hansard and are also in the committee’s report.

I particularly want to get back to the electorate of Flinders very quickly. My earliest memory as a boy growing up on the farm was around the efforts we had to make to control rabbits back in the day. Myxomatosis had come and gone, it was prior to the days of calicivirus, and one of the genuine life skills that my grandfather passed on to me was how to set a rabbit trap. I can take anyone who is interested through that process, but it involves digging a hole, setting the trap and placing the trap in the hole. They are illegal now, of course, but they were a great tool for us at the time.

Before we were to sprinkle sand over the trap and the mechanism, we were to lay a small piece of cut newspaper over the top. That protected the mechanism from the dirt that was overlaying it so it was able to go off. I remember as a little boy asking my grandfather what the piece of newspaper was for, and he said that it was for the rabbits to read before we got back to them.


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