Concerns at the threat of an increasing deer population to agriculture in the Yarra Valley have led to a call for changes to laws protecting them from hunting and a bounty on kills.
Experts warn that the problem will get worse and could “invade” other parts of Australia.
Manningham City Council’s environmental planner says deer are having “a huge impact” on agriculture.
“They’re starting to be a significant problem in the Yarra Valley, particularly for wineries and strawberry farms,” Samantha Bradley says.
Since deer were introduced to Australia in the 19th century their numbers have increased dramatically and are estimated at between 800,000 and 1,000,000 in Victoria alone, according to the Australian Deer Association.
Mrs Bradley, whose council hosted the Yarra Catchment Deer Forum earlier this year, says the deer “eat all the vegetation from under 12 feet (3.6 metres),” changing the ecological structure of the vegetation in some areas.
“We now have them in urban areas of Manningham, so they’re following the Yarra Corridor all the way into the city.”
Deer wallowing in the river “create mud, which then affects the water quality”, Mrs Bradley says.
Mrs Bradley says that while she doesn’t have any scientific data to back it up, it is likely the deer population will double every three years.
Luke Woodford, a speaker at the Yarra Catchment Deer Forum, warned that eventually sambar deer could “cover the entire continent of Australia”.
Victorian National Parks Association spokesperson Philip Ingamells agrees. “If you don’t remove or control (deer) in Victoria they could potentially invade the rest of Australia,” he says.
Landcare Victoria chair Terry Hubbard says such is the concern over deer that “we are nearing a stage where a bounty on kills is warranted.”
Manningham City Council’s Samantha Bradley agrees with a statement by the Yarra Riverkeeper Association that “deer are damaging vineyards and orchards, and, beautiful as some species are, they need to be eliminated from the Yarra Valley.”
However, Barry Howlett, executive officer of the Australian Deer Association, says the elimination of deer in the Yarra Valley is “completely unfeasible”.
As there have been no successful attempts to eradicate them so far, a better informed strategy for deer management and better local management of wildlife is needed, he says.
Mrs Bradley says a sustainable hunting management plan was recently released. “We need to sustain deer for hunting purposes but also try and protect biodiversity.
“If you talk to most scientists, or even deer shooters, it’s pretty clear that deer are here to stay and we don’t really need a policy to be supporting the protection of them.”
Victorian National Parks Association’s Mr Ingamells agrees policy change is needed and laws protecting deer from hunting should be amended because they make it difficult to improve deer control. Present limits on hunting mean it has not reduced the population.
He says deer have “a whole range of impacts” on the Yarra River environment, from “trash(ing) wetlands” to destroying fragile ecosystems. They also rub their antlers on trees, removing the bark and undermining threatened species.
Mrs Bradley says deer are costing many farmers a great deal of money, but at the forum Landcare representatives told of the difficulties of obtaining government support and funding for action.
Mr Ingamells says solutions must have minimal impact on deer and avoid suffering.
“There’s been a lot of research into genetic controls,” he says.
But he warns that some are so effective they could “wipe out every deer off the planet, which of course nobody wants to do.
“I think the answer is essentially going to be in good research into control methods.”
Since the forum, Mrs Bradley has written a draft plan.
“Solid actions will come out of that,” she says.