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Did someone say science?



“Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.”

- The Science Council (established under Royal Charter in October 2003.)

Pink-eared Duck, monogamous species, unique to Australia. Photo Nalini Scarfe

With the conclusion of National Science Week on Sunday 22nd August, it’s timely to highlight blatant shortcomings in the application of science to the plight of Victoria's wildlife. In continuing the slaughter of our native birdlife in Victoria, there has been very little “systematic methodology based on evidence”. Here are just a few examples:

  • There have been no attempts by policy makers to understand the impacts of hunting on the 99% of Victorians who don’t hunt. (Just a few of the many letters from regional folks can be seen at the end of this newsletter.)

  • There have been few if any attempts by regulators to understand bird populations. It’s been confirmed there is no understanding of quail populations. There was no count of Chestnut versus Grey Teal. NSW survey teams noted the low numbers of Pink-eared duck, and in Victoria only 16 “Pinkies” were counted in last year’s survey. That first-time, experimental survey counted 13,000 ducks across Victoria but scaled up to make the contentious claim that we had 2.5 million ducks. (The bag limit was more than doubled then, without consulting wildlife groups.) Our regulator put all these birds in the line of fire despite long-term scientific evidence of their dwindling populations.

  • It is not possible to estimate what birds are killed and maimed at waterways around our state because no government department has been able to estimate whether the number of shooting waterways is closer to 8,000 or 15,000. In any case, it’s far too many to be able to monitor even a tiny percentage of them. Inexplicably, regulators have not recommended a reduction in shooting areas so that they might have a hope of monitoring what goes on there.

  • The evidence which shows that birds are twice as vulnerable to climate change as mammals, has been overlooked. Similarly, lead ammunition is still permitted for quail shooters, littering our landscape with lead pellets that are easily ingested by wildlife. Our hunting regulator ignores the evidence which shows lead poisoning is not only an extremely cruel way to slowly end an animal’s life, but inhibits breeding in the interim. It seems our regulator chooses instead to gloss over the fact our waterbird populations are struggling, despite improved rainfall and habitat.

  • Without evidence or explanation, regulators have adopted a 10% cull rate borrowed from America where climatic conditions and species of waterbirds are very different.

  • Although scientists have carefully documented the adverse impacts of duck shooting on threatened species, nothing will be done to protect them from this unnecessary disturbance. For example, the most at-risk species is the Curlew Sandpiper, a migratory bird that travels here from Alaska, and needs to feed undisturbed to build up energy reserves for the return flight. But the hunting regulator has decreed that 180 of this rare species (1 per cent of its total known population worldwide) would have to be counted at one location before even considering possible restriction of duck shooting there. The 1% criterion has no basis in science. It is copied from the 1% criteria for declaring a wetland to have RAMSAR global significance. In other words, we only care about protecting vulnerable species if there are enough of them to qualify the wetland as a famous RAMSAR site!

All this is without considering what would appear to be scandalous, deceptive data-tampering to support fake claims that “regulated” hunting has no effect on the long-term decline of waterbird populations. In a 2012 government discussion paper (Regulatory Impact Statement or RIS) prepared by the hunting regulator, the data from Professor Richard Kingsford’s long-running, gold-standard aerial surveys appears to have been falsified to support the incorrect claim that duck populations hit a record high in 2011 (but the true record high was way back in 1984): “The current regulatory regime... is sustainable and has not prevented game ducks from reaching their highest level of abundance in 2011 in almost 30 years.” [RIS, pp35-36] This is patently false. Kingsford’s survey data shows in 1984, game duck abundance was 966,292 and in 2011 it was only 630,470 – 35% down. But the RIS produced a falsified graph (Fig 6, below) supposedly showing Kingsford’s data.

Compare the above, with the true graph shown below. Note that the true 1984 abundance would not even fit on the vertical scale of this graph from the RIS.

A little science would go down well in Victoria - but alas it appears a “shooter’s state” instead, as our struggling native bird populations and vulnerable rural communities are subjugated with gunfire.

Our Say

RVOTDS have been hard at work and made numerous submissions lately, including to the Review of the Wildlife Hunting Regulations, The Review of the Wildlife Act and the Sustainable Hunting Action Plan (SHAP).

You can see our submissions to the Review of the Hunting Regulations and Sustainable Hunting Action Plan (SHAP) here.

Our summation of the SHAP sham was highlighted in The Age earlier this month in an article which generated 46 comments, the vast majority in support of our views, in 24 hours. It was also captured in Mirage News.

We have also made a formal detailed complaint to the regulator (and Victorian Ombudsman) about the matters raised in this newsletter.

Your Say

(some! - sorry we can't include all the excellent pieces which have been written)

Like what we do? Please help us do more! As a not for profit group of volunteers we greatly appreciate community support. On behalf of our beautiful waterbirds who cannot speak for themselves and the communities who love being home to them, thank you!


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