March 31 - April 6, 2024: Issue 620


Experts Recommend Closing At Least 30 Victorian Wetlands This Duck Hunting Season

BirdLife Australia has recommended for 30 Victorian wetlands to be closed to duck hunting this season, including Lake Wongan, Koorangie Wildlife Reserve and Andersons Inlet. 

The recommendation comes after extensive monitoring by multiple environmental organisations, including BirdLife Australia, which found the sites to support significant populations of birds recognised in state, federal and international threatened species listings.

Experts at BirdLife Australia have advised the negative impacts of hunting activities include disturbances to critical stages in the life cycles of these threatened species that cannot be reliably mitigated.

The 2024 Victorian duck hunting season will commence on April 10 despite an upper house inquiry that recommended ending the practice amid increasing evidence of the negative impact on native bird populations.

This week, the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Change (DEECA) discussed sensitive populations at 24 sites with stakeholders, including hunting groups. BirdLife Australia presented the supplementary survey data for those sites and for 11 further wetlands not previously considered.

“BirdLife Australia has expanded our bird survey efforts ahead of this year’s hunting season, and we have more data than ever before to back our call for the closure of these wetlands,” said CEO Kate Millar.  “With over 4,000 huntable waterbodies in the state, we hope that they act on our advice to protect the threatened native birds at these 30 wetlands as an absolute minimum.”

A final list of wetlands closed to hunters this year will be released by DEECA this week.

Decades of waterbird monitoring in Australia reveals an ongoing and significant population decline in most waterbird species – including five of Victoria’s eight species of game duck.

The Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey, an independent survey conducted annually by experts at the University of New South Wales, shows waterbird populations have declined as much as 90% over the last forty years in eastern Australia

Despite this, in the last ten years, an average of 320,000 ducks were shot and killed each hunting season in Victoria alone.

“With threatened birds like Freckled Duck mistakenly shot every year, efforts to educate shooters and restrict negative impacts are ineffective,” said Kate Millar.  “We will continue our decades-long fight to end duck hunting in Victoria and advocate for the practice to be banned across the country.”

BirdLife Australia will continue monitoring wetlands and bird population movements and make further recommendations to the Game Management Authority, if necessary, ahead of the 2024 season.

Which Victorian wetland closures are recommended?

  • Andersons’s Inlet
  • Big Reedy Lagoon State Game Reserve
  • Brady Swamp
  • Bullrush Swamp
  • Cundare Pool
  • First Marsh (Koorangie State Game Reserve)
  • Gaynor Swamp
  • Greens Lake (Corop)
  • Hird Swamp
  • Lake Bolac
  • Lake Buloke (Little Lake Buloke)
  • Lake Buninjon State Game Reserve
  • Lake Colongulac
  • Lake Connewarre (Hospital Swamp)
  • Lake Cullens
  • Lake Elingamite
  • Lake Goldsmith
  • Lake Martin
  • Lake Muirhead
  • Lake Murdeduke State
  • Lake Natimuk
  • Lake Stewart
  • Lake Tutchewop
  • Lake Wongan
  • Moodie Swamp
  • Nooramunga Marine & Coastal Park (Clonmel Island)
  • Pine Lake
  • The Green Swamp
  • Tower Hill
  • Victoria Lagoon

From Issue 612 of Pittwater Online News, February 2024

Victorian Government To Continue Allowing Native Duck Slaughter

On January 31,2024 the Animal Justice Party of Victoria announced firmly stands against the State Labor Government's decision to maintain recreational duck (and quail) shooting. This contentious decision, disregarding both the growing public outcry and the advice of a recent parliamentary inquiry, sets the Victorian Government in direct conflict with the principles of animal welfare and the wider community's expectations.

In Inquiry stated in its final report:

The Committee has made a recommendation to end recreational native bird hunting on all Victorian public and private land as of 2024. This would bring Victoria in line with many other Australian jurisdictions, including those in throughout the eastern seaboard. The Committee’s rationale is driven by the considerable environmental evidence of long-term decline in native bird populations, and a worsening outlook as our climate continues to change. The Committee was also acutely aware of the animal welfare issues associated with native bird hunting, as well as the amenity loss of large areas of public land to the overwhelming majority of the Victorian public during the hunting season.

Victoria’s native fauna is unique and should be protected. Native bird populations across eastern Australia have been in constant and consistent decline over the last 40 years. This has been caused by significant habitat loss driven through mismanagement of water resources, the impacts of climate change, repeated drought and fluctuating weather cycles. Although Victoria has experienced a significant increase in water surface and fuller wetlands in the most recent La Niña cycle, we have not experienced the same rebound in bird populations. This is an ongoing trend.

The Victorian Government responded on January 29 2024, stating:

Recreational duck and quail hunting will continue in Victoria with important changes to ensure it remains safe, sustainable and responsible.

The Victorian Government today announced its response to Parliament’s Inquiry into Victoria's recreational native bird hunting arrangements – confirming its position has not changed, and recreational duck and quail hunting will continue with common-sense changes.

The Government will accept seven of the Select Committee’s eight recommendations in full or in principle. While the Committee did not reach consensus in its report, the views of more than 10,000 Victorians and organisations were heard in the biggest response to a Parliamentary inquiry ever in Victoria.

Recreational duck and quail hunting is a legitimate activity, and it matters to thousands of Victorians who love the great outdoors, but it needs to proceed safely and sustainably. That’s why we’re introducing common-sense changes to make hunting even more responsible from 2025, including:

  • Improving hunters’ knowledge and skill by making education and training for hunters mandatory
  • Stricter compliance levels, including further penalties for hunters breaking the rules
  • Banning the use of lead shot for quail hunting
  • Implementing the Waterfowl Wounding Reduction Action Plan, to reduce the risk of wounding, and
  • Greater recognition of Traditional Owners’ knowledge of hunting and land management

To guide the length and conditions of each duck season, the science-based Adaptive Harvest Management process will be implemented from 2025 – making sure that it’s always science that guides the season.

After record-high native bird breeding in recent years due to the significant rainfall Victoria has received, the Victorian game duck population increased by almost three-fold.

Minister for Outdoor Recreation, Steve Dimopoulos has announced the 2024 duck season will commence on Wednesday 10 April 2024 and end on Wednesday 5 June 2024, inclusive.

Hunting start times will be delayed to 8:00am for the entire season. With a daily bag limit of six ducks per day, the Blue-winged Shoveler and Hardhead cannot be hunted for the 2024 season due to their threatened status. Determinations will be made as part of normal seasonal arrangements about sites where duck hunting will be prohibited.

Minister for Outdoor Recreation Steve Dimopoulos stated:

“Duck hunting is a legitimate activity – but more than that, it supports regional communities and economies.”

“Our position has not changed and we’re supporting recreational duck and quail hunting to continue in a safe, sustainable and responsible way with minimal harm to our environment.”

“We thank everyone who contributed to the Inquiry – the process was about listening to different perspectives, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

However, political opponents have stated ''the continuation of duck shooting in Victoria is a stark contrast to the actions taken by three other Australian states, where this practice has been rightly banned. The AJP views this as a significant setback in the fight for animal welfare and environmental protection. It reflects a concerning disregard for the declining populations of native waterbirds, a fact well-established by scientific research and acknowledged in the inquiry.

The AJP questions the logic and motivations behind the Government's decision, especially in the light of clear evidence and strong public sentiment against the practice. This decision, according to the AJP, is not just a matter of animal welfare but also raises concerns about the proper use of public lands and taxpayer resources. The continued support for duck shooting limits the use of state game reserves for more peaceful, non-harmful recreational activities, essentially prioritizing a minority's interests over the general public's, the party said in a statement.

''Furthermore, the Government's justification for citing an increase in duck numbers contradicts the findings of environmental studies and the recent inquiry, which indicate a worrying decline in native bird populations. This inconsistency brings into question the basis of the Government's decision-making process, suggesting that it may be influenced more by political considerations than by a commitment to animal welfare or environmental conservation.

The AJP firmly believes that this decision does not reflect the values and desires of most Victorians, who are increasingly supportive of animal welfare and environmental conservation. The party asserts that the Government's stance is not only detrimental to native wildlife but also disregards the growing public demand for more ethical and humane treatment of animals.

In our commitment to advocating for the voiceless, the AJP is determined to continue its fight against this outdated and cruel practice. The party calls on the Victorian Government to reconsider its stance and align its policies with the progressive, compassionate values that represent the majority of Victorians. The AJP's dedication to this cause is unwavering, and we stand ready to lead the charge toward a future where the welfare of all living beings is given the priority it deserves.

The Animal Justice Party's stance on this issue is clear: the time for change is now. It's time for the Government to show true leadership and compassion by banning recreational duck (and quail) shooting and protecting our native wildlife for future generations.''

Allowing Duck Hunting To Continue In Victoria Is Shameful And Part Of A Disturbing Trend

KOCHMARYOV, Shutterstock.

by Jack PascoeThe University of Melbourne

The Victorian government has confirmed duck and quail hunting will continue in the state, albeit with changes which would purportedly ensure the practice “remains safe, sustainable and responsible”.

The controversial decision is a rejection of recommendations by a bipartisan parliamentary committee chaired by a Labor MP, which recommended ending native bird hunting this year.

I, along with my Elder Anthony McKnight, made a submission to the inquiry. To us as Yuin men, Yumburra (black duck) – one of the species being hunted – is a culturally significant species and our tribal totem. Yumburra is Country, we are Country. Harm to Yumburra is harm to us.

Our submission argued against recreational hunting of native birds based on concerns for the ongoing health of duck populations and questions over the ethics of the sport. We acknowledge that not all Traditional Custodians share the same position, but this is ours.

Artwork showing a family of Yumburra (black duck) swimming together, mother and three ducklings
Yumburra the black duck is a Yuin tribal totem. Lyn Harwood

Open Season For Controversy

Duck hunting has long been contentious in Victoria. The issue emerges every autumn when the responsible minister is set to announce the details of the shooting season. Each year the same groups come out to wade through the muddy water and thrash out the same bloody arguments.

Advocates of the sport argue it brings money into regional communities and that it has become a tradition (albeit one with a short history in the context of this old land).

But the fact remains that waterfowl populations are in long-term decline. The inquiry heard that habitat destruction is the major contributor to this trend but that hunting was likely to be a small contributing factor.

Duck hunting also causes avoidable injuries to birds. The inquiry heard non-lethal wounding rates of ducks could be as high 6-40%, or 15,700 to 105,000 based on the 2022 season.

I cannot accept such high rates of injury to a significant totem. I hunt for feral deer, species that cause great damage to Country, but I only shoot when I’m confident of a humane kill. And I fish, but I only take fish when I’m comfortable that crayfish and abalone numbers are strong on the reefs where I have swum all of my life.

Legislative Council Select Committee Chair Ryan Batchelor talks about the report’s findings and recommendations.

In allowing duck hunting to continue, the Victorian government is ignoring the main recommendation of the committee.

The government says it will accept the other seven recommendations “in full or in principle”, by changing the rules from 2025. This includes:

  • making education and training for hunters mandatory
  • improving compliance and toughening penalties
  • reducing the risk of wounding
  • increasing recognition of Traditional Owners’ knowledge of hunting and land management.

In theory this addresses many of the problems. But in practice these measures will be resource-intensive and challenging to implement effectively. Education and compliance activities will need to be well funded and staffed. And hunting-related harm to individual ducks and populations can only be reduced, when it could have been eliminated.

Finally, these measures fail to address the issues that have been driving waterbird populations down over decades.

A Disturbing Pattern Of Behaviour

The Victorian government has form in ignoring evidence of the declining health of our environment.

In December 2021 I was invited to present an Indigenous perspective to an inquiry into ecosystem decline in Victoria. I told them of watching the decline of the manna gum woodlands I had grown up in, and how that impacted me.

That inquiry found threatened native species are suffering severe declines and are not being holistically protected. It also recommended the Victorian government consider revoking the “unprotection order” that allows dingoes, a threatened native species, to be killed over vast areas of Victorian private and public land.

Three weeks afterward as part of the Independent Expert Panel reviewing the Wildlife Act, I submitted our report to the state government. The government commissioned the review because it was concerned about limitations of the laws following two high-profile cases, including the deliberate mass killing of wedge-tailed eagles, a species acknowledged by many Indigenous Victorians as the Creator.

In the two years since we submitted our report, the Victorian government has not responded nor released our report publicly.

In September last year, the Barengi Gadjin Land Council called for an end to indiscriminate killing of dingoes, a species Indigenous Australians consider kin. Just weeks later, the Victorian government extended the unprotection order for dingoes.

In October 2022 the Victorian Auditor General’s Office released a report titled Protecting Victoria’s Biodiversity. It highlighted flaws in the state environment department’s threatened species protection and the data that informed decision-making.

That report also noted the department received less than half of the funding it requested to meet its own targets. What’s more, the most recent state budget decreased spending on the environment.

So where does this get us? Late last year the Victorian State of the Environment report was quietly tabled in parliament. Among the grim findings were that biodiversity continues to decline. Most biodiversity indicators assessed had deteriorated since 2018. These declines included “waterbird species in the Murray–Darling Basin” and “distribution and abundance of waterbirds in the Murray–Darling Basin”.

Demand More From The Victorian Government

The Victorian government’s support for recreational duck hunting is just one in a litany of failures to respond adequately to environment decline and to support the views of Indigenous Victorians.

The world is achingly beautiful, but that beauty is fading. It’s not fading in a faraway place, it’s happening on your doorstep, within your sphere of influence.

We, as Victorians, must accept our responsibility to care for this place that sustains us both physically and spiritually. We must demand that governments acknowledge the environment is being devastated and prioritise policies to reverse the trend. We cannot abdicate this responsibility to Country any longer.The Conversation

Jack Pascoe, Research fellow, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.