The issue of bounties has come up again, as it often does in pest animal management. I've blogged before on why groups like the Australasian Wildlife Management Society don't support bounties. But there is no doubt it tends to be a polarizing debate - farmers like and support bounties but scientists in the field don't. Why such a difference of views? In my experience, farmers tend to know what's best on their farm and it is hard to find a farmer that doesn't support bounties. On the other hand, it would be hard to find a scientist that does support bounties.
ABC's Stateline program in Victoria did a story on the issue last Friday night, following a pledge from the Victorian Opposition to reinstate a bounty on both foxes and wild dogs in that State if they win the upcoming election. The story shows some of the complicating factors: for example, dogs are a major concern around baiting programs. The labour shortage on farms means that working dogs are critical and they can have a very high dollar value as well as the obvious other values to farmers. Another reason is probably that when you shoot foxes, you see the immediate result whereas baiting doesn't provide that satisfaction.
Glen Saunders and Lynette McLeod authored Improving Fox Management Strategies in Australia for the Bureau of Rural Sciences in 2007, summarizing decades of research over 200 pages. They concluded that "bounty schemes are a clumsy pest animal management tool. The principles behind their use are ecologically and socially flawed". Any Australian reader interested can obtain a free copy of this book from our CRC - simply ring us and we'll send you a copy while the limited stocks last (02) 6201 2887.
Baiting is still a much more common practice that shooting, accounting for about three quarters of fox control in NSW compared with about 13% through ground shooting.
Turning to toads - the publicity for the draft Threat Abatement Plan prompted a letter to me from a cardiologist from Sydney who had recently been in the Northern Territory. She was concerned about the number of cane toads and suggested a bounty of sorts - 50 cents a toad offered to kids to encourage humane collection. I remember looking for Argentine ants as a kid in Sydney because of a (perhaps mythical) reward for finding a nest. Public consultation on the plan is open until 16 June 2010. I have seen enthusiastic kids in Australia's north picking up toads with Kimberley Toad Busters, where they are kept safe, have been educated about toad identification and they are having fun. But to date, we can't say they slowed to toad advance. If you have an opinion, fire it into the Department for consideration.
Posted by Tony Peacock, founder of 'Feral Thoughts'