WILD fallow deer in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, including The Walls of Jerusalem National Park, will be culled by aerial shooters in May next year.
The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service has received $440,000 in funding from the Federal Government to trial the deer mitigation program over the next two years.
Marksmen in two helicopters, using thermal imaging technology, will target about 100 deer in the national park.
They will be backed up by a team of hunters on the ground plus veterinarian support.
In readiness for the cull, staff will undergo an aerial shooting training program on Flinders Island where there is a feral pig problem.
The department is also considering supplementing its internal ground team with selected volunteer recreational shooters.
Natural Resources and Environment deputy secretary Jason Jacobi said that visitors and park users would be excluded from the area while culling was under way.
A 2021 report by the Invasive Species Council says there are an estimated 100,000 deer in Tasmania – almost double the 54,000 estimated in the last NRE wild fallow deer census of 2019.
It is predicted numbers could reach one million by 2050 if no action is taken.
Tiana Pirtle of the Invasive Species Council said that fallow deer are damaging the fragile eco-system on the central plateau as well as posing a significant problem for farmers and forestry and a potentially fatal risk to road users.
She said that action needs to be taken to manage the broader deer population in Tasmania.
Tasmanian Deer Advisory Committee member and Australian Deer Association Northern Branch president Andrew Lockett said changes in agriculture during the past 20 years had promoted a growth in deer numbers.
“The shift to irrigation and high value crops in areas that were traditionally dry sheep farming districts has attracted more deer,” he said.
“I’m not altogether sure if it’s about population or density – there might just be more deer in specific areas.
“However our attempts to get the statistics on how many deer are being taken by shooters, for both crop protection and recreational hunting, have failed.
“We would like NRE to make these figures publicly available – since extending the doe season and other permit changes we feel like we’re taking more deer than ever before, but we don’t know if we’re even making a dent in the population.
“Perhaps numbers could be controlled by traditional hunters over time, and that could be balanced out against the cost of paying staff and helicopter operators.”
Fellow TDAC member Peter Darke said he was worried about the animal welfare aspects of aerial culling.
“As an ethical hunter I pride myself in knowing that an animal doesn’t suffer, is taken cleanly, and I use what I take – nothing gets wasted.
“The hunters that I’ve spoken to are not in favour of this (culling) – they would want to be brilliant shots if they’re shooting from a chopper.”
Primary Industries Minister Jo Palmer recently 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.