The problem of feral deer in Tasmania is reaching a level where the government is being warned the animals could soon cause “significant damage” in Wilderness World Heritage areas — while near urban areas, the options of sedatives and nets has again been raised.
- There are predictions Tasmania’s feral deer population could reach a million by 2050
- Scientists are warning of the potential for ‘significant damage’ in World Heritage Areas
- Commercial harvesting and use of strong sedatives are among some suggestions for managing feral deer
A new Senate Committee Report into the impacts of feral deer, pigs and goats in Australia has recommended state, territory and federal governments commit to eliminating feral deer populations in World Heritage Areas, areas of national environmental significance, and national biodiversity hotspots.
Fallow deer were introduced to Tasmania in the 1830s, and the wild population has surged dramatically since about the 1970s.
The report noted modelling in 2015 found that “without active management beyond current policy settings, abundance of fallow deer in Tasmania is estimated to increase substantially in the 10 years to 2025”.
“The study stated that, uncontrolled, the fallow deer population in Tasmania could exceed one million animals” by 2050.
University of Tasmania ecologist and conservation biologist Chris Johnson told the Senate Committee the state’s wild deer population had the potential to expand significantly from an estimated 54,000 animals to half a million over the next few decades.
Professor Johnson said deer had already begun to make incursions into the eastern side of Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area, and eliminating them from the area should be a high priority.
“Even quite simple models of the potential distribution of deer have them occupying most of the World Heritage area and all the way across to the west coast,” Professor Johnson told the Senate Committee.
The report has also recommended that Tasmania make changes to ensure wild deer are treated as an environmental pest, and introduce commercial harvesting of feral deer in an attempt to manage the population.
Sedatives, nets first suggested in 2018
In its submission to the Senate Committee dated 2018, Tasmania’s Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment (DPIPWE) said it was “investigating the efficacy of using sedatives such as diazepam and nets to capture deer to either remove them … or humanely destroy them”.
DPIPWE was asked to provide further information about the use of diazepam but did not respond.
Diazepam, which is sometimes sold as Valium, is commonly used to treat people with anxiety.
In a statement, DPIPWE said that as part of a trial undertaken three years ago “diazepam was safely used to sedate three deer on the state’s eastern shores”.
“This trial was supervised by departmental vets.”
Tasmanian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, who was a substitute member of the Senate Committee, said it was an indictment on the Tasmanian government that the state’s natural environmental values, agricultural productivity, and cultural heritage had been badly impacted by feral deer mismanagement.
“The report is a clear indication that the state government is failing to halt the spread of this pest, which subsequently now requires federal intervention,” Senator Whish-Wilson said.
“The situation in Tasmania has been left untreated for so long that the report did not recommend the total eradication of deer in Tasmania, as this was deemed unrealistic and unachievable.”
He said federal government funding was needed to eradicate the pest from Tasmania’s World Heritage Area.
A spokesman for the Tasmanian government said it had committed $250,000 over two years to implement a management plan for wild fallow deer in Tasmania.
He said the plan would set management objectives and control techniques in areas including the World Heritage Area, agricultural land, conservation areas, peri-urban areas and satellite populations.
The draft plan is expected to be released for public comment later this year.
Millions lost due to feral deer
Tasmanian wool grower Simon Cameron told the committee that he lost about $50,000 each year due to the impact of feral deer on his operations, because they reduce his farm output by up to 15 per cent.
He said the main impact was from the deer competing for feed, but they also damaged infrastructure.
A survey of 250 members of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association revealed estimated losses of between $10m and $80m each year across the surveyed group.
The northern municipality of Meander Valley also reported there had been a significant increase in deer-related traffic incidents in recent years, including one fatality.