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The Big Dry - Our Wildlife - Our Future

It's around this time of year that people who live and work around Victoria's wetlands start to feel heightened anxiety.

For many there are concerns about noise and disruption from unsupervised shooting from before daylight for months each year.

For them and many others, concerns about the killing and maiming of hundreds of thousands of our native waterbirds including protected species, many unique to Australia whose numbers have been declining for years. According to shooting experts, at least one in four birds shot will not be killed outright, many flapping away to die show painful deaths over days or weeks, some left with permanent injuries.

An announcement regarding a further bird shooting season is looming.

Will this announcement take account of the consistent and accelerating decline in our wildlife and prolonged drought?

The Centre for Ecosystem Science at University NSW is currently performing the annual aerial waterbird survey, the most robust long term dataset available about the health of our native waterbird numbers along east Australia.

Already the picture is bleak.

As per Peter Hunt's article in the Weekly Times Wednesday 23rd October,

"Drought has devastated waterbird populations across eastern Australia, once again raising the prospect of cuts or even a ban on the 2020 Victorian duck season. Reports are already coming in from the annual aerial waterbird survey that conditions are now as bad as during the millennium drought".

The Bureau of Meteorology has already declared the current drought the worst on record in the Murray Darling Basin, a critical breeding ground for native waterbirds.

Surely, given the drought and lack of safety risk assessments or public consultation about the impacts of duck shooting on tourism or families nearby, next shooting season will be cancelled?

Sadly, recent precedent does not leave us confident.

Many view that taxpayer funded Game Management Authority (GMA) which has the responsibility to make recommendations to government regarding duck season arrangements, has a very poor record on protecting threatened Victorian wildlife.

The recommendation by GMA to Ministers about last season was that it go ahead despite dire environmental conditions, little if any regard for widespread community concerns, and low levels of waterbirds abundance and breeding. The recommendation was made within one week of receiving submissions, five of which called for a ceasefire. The other three were from shooters groups.*

Adjustments to the season were made which we know from history make little difference to the cruelty, the hundreds of thousands of birds "bagged" or the adverse impacts to community.

GMA's independence has been questioned due to many factors including the fact its Chair and other management are duck shooters, notwithstanding the Pegasus report which criticised its ties to shooters.

Are the questions valid?

Let's hope the GMA acts responsibly and recommends a ceasefire. There is an extremely strong argument for a ban in the effects of drought and serious ongoing decline on bird numbers, even if other arguments about cruelty, community disturbance and the alternative of wildlife tourism are ignored.

*All three shooting clubs requested full seasons with no restrictions irrespective of environmental conditions or waterbird populations. One wanted this for the next five years.

The recommendation to Ministers about the last season, released under freedom of information, can be viewed on our website

The last Centre for Ecosystem Science Aerial Survey summary can also be found on our website under information, the science.

Picture Australian Wood Duck, courtesy Eleanor Dilley

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