FMD fear drives deer cull call

THE RISK of foot and mouth disease being spread by Tasmania’s feral deer population has prompted calls for the Government to act on rules around culling. Well-respected Tasmanian wildlife biologist Nick Mooney said it was time for the State Government to look seriously at deregulating deer and allowing farmers and groups of farmers the opportunity to cull the population.

“I am perplexed to see no consideration of the millions of feral hooved animals that roam freely onto and between farms across Australia, species that are potential prime carriers on FMD,” Mr Mooney said.

“Australia has feral pigs, buffalo, deer of several species, horses, donkeys and goats besides feral cattle, all scattered through cattle areas to various degrees and all capable of spreading FMD. “Fortunately Tasmania has few of these, fallow deer being the absolutely outstanding exception, almost unbelievably still legislated as protected wildlife.”

Mr Mooney spent three decades working with the former Department of Primary Industries. “We have a few feral goats scattered in groups through the dryer parts of Tasmania and feral pigs on Flinders Island. “However, we have many tens of thousands of feral deer roaming virtually at will over much of the farmed area of Tasmania. “I was recently doing helicopter surveys for eagles as I have been doing sporadically for decades and never have I seen so many wild deer and I saw them in parts of Tasmania I have never seen them before. In many cases they were in the same paddocks as sheep and cattle.” Mr Mooney said Tasmania must use its geographical isolation to get ahead of the game.

“If Australia is unfortunate enough to have an outbreak of FMD logic would suggest Tasmania has some extra time before the disease might get here. “Dealing with deer would be another layer of risk management. “The additional time our relative isolation surely gives us a working chance of at least creating deer-free or at least drastically reduced zones in and around domestic stock areas.

“This is exactly what has been advocated by many people for a long time and vehemently resisted by others. “A good, easy and cheap first start would be to deregulate deer and at least give farmers and groups of farmers the chance to do what authorities have refused to do but might have to.

Shadow Primary Industries Minister Janie Finlay said the minister had failed to consider the catastrophic consequences the state’s wild deer population could have in spreading the disease. “Does the minister have a plan to isolate and control this population so that further incursions do not occur?” Ms Finlay said.

Primary Industries Minister Jo Palmer said the Tasmanian Wild Fallow Deer Management Plan 2022-27, released in February, set out the Government’s approach for managing wild fallow deer in Tasmania over the next five years. “One of the goals contained in the Plan is to protect Tasmania’s biosecurity by reducing the risks of deer as a potential disease vector,” Mrs Palmer said. “In addition to undertaking targeted population monitoring to help refine deer and browsing animal management over time, further research will be conducted to improve our understanding of deer biosecurity issues.