'Pure stupidity': plan to introduce dingoes doesn't pass 'pub test'

Merino sheep breeders Rhonda and John Crawford, Victoria Valley, have fought to stop dingoes from being reintroduced to the Grampians, and now have a new battle on their hands.
Merino sheep breeders Rhonda and John Crawford, Victoria Valley, have fought to stop dingoes from being reintroduced to the Grampians, and now have a new battle on their hands.

Furious farmers up in arms over a plan to reintroduce dingoes as an apex predator into the Victorian bush have likened it to "putting a fox in a chook coop", labelling it as "pure stupidity".

The recommendation in the Inquiry into ecosystem decline in Victoriaproposes the trial reintroduction of dingoes into "suitable Victorian ecosystems" would assess ecological benefits and be designed with input from ecologists and dingo experts.

The report also urges the government to consider phasing out the use of 1080 baits to control invasive species, and instead promote wider use of "more effective and humane methods" for controlling pests such as wild dogs and foxes.

It comes a year after a joint proposal by Parks Victoria and the three Traditional Owner groups urged the government to reintroduce dingoes into the Grampians National Park to restore native ecological systems and control pest species.

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The plan has since been scrapped, largely due to community angst and the likes of Merino stud sheep breeders John and Rhonda Crawford, Victoria Valley, who gathered more than 4300 signatures from landowners and people who opposed the plan.

Mr Crawford, principal of Rock-Bank Merino and Poll Merino stud, said he was "shocked and in disbelief" when he found out about the latest proposal to introduce dingoes across Victoria.

"This plan is not well thought out or backed up by practical science and it doesn't take into account the history of stock, in particular cattle and sheep, and the role wild dogs have played," he said.

"There has been uproar in the community over this... it's like a war in the bush because people think it's a bloody stupid idea."

The Environment and Planning Committee which has proposed the trial states the plan should also be accompanied by the cessation of lethal control for pest species in the trial area during the test, along with the introduction of a compensation scheme for farmers whose livestock is killed or injured by dingoes.

The committee is made up of 10 MPs - three Labor members, including chair Sonja Terpstra and single members from the Sustainable Australia Party, Liberal Party, National Party, Derryn Hinch's Justice Party, Animal Justice Party, Australian Greens and an independent Catherine Cumming.

... when roo numbers decline in say a decade, these dingoes could move onto stock.

John Crawford

The report said the evidence to reintroduce dingoes to the bush was "compelling".

"As Australia's apex predator, dingoes play an important role in regulating large herbivore populations (for example, kangaroos which may be overabundant in some areas) and can help suppress invasive pest species such as feral goats, foxes and cats," the report read.

"The presence of dingoes in an ecosystem can be beneficial to small marsupials, reptiles, birds and plants.

"Dingoes are also culturally significant to Traditional Owners, some of whom are actively advocating for their return."

One of the two Upper House committee MPs who opposed the report, Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Melina Bath said the dingo proposal highlighted the "limited understanding that the city-based Labor and Labor-like independents have for regional Victoria".

"The crazy thing about this is that dingoes do not recognise boundary fences or trial plots... meaning that they migrate to a food source and certainly they are going to migrate onto adjoining farmland and injure sheep, calves, lambs, as well as any other native animals," she said.

Ms Bath said there was value in maintaining dingo populations from a historical and species sense, but said the government should be focusing its attention elsewhere.

"The overwhelming evidence in the report... was that the major threat to our native flora and fauna in Victoria is introduced species - pigs, foxes, wild cats and also mixed species wild dogs," she said.

"So if the government wants to save our native fauna, it should be focusing on methods that remove and control these introduced pest species."

However, Mr Crawford said the proposal did not "stack up financially".

"It hasn't passed the pub test," he said.

"Once you protect dingoes with limited control measures and you place them around Victoria, because there's so much food around with roos and other animals, they will do well for a decade.

"But when roo numbers decline in say a decade, these dingoes could move onto stock."

The Crawfords have since started a petition to oppose the report's recommendations, which has received more than 100 signatures since Saturday.

A Victorian government spokesperson said the damage caused by wild dogs was confronting and affected farmer wellbeing.

"In recognition of these issues, the Victorian government funds wild dog control programs including targeted aerial baiting - to run twice yearly in spring and autumn - and offering a bounty on wild dogs," they said.

"Further discussions with Traditional Owners, farmers and other land managers are needed before any proposal to reintroduce dingoes... could be considered."

This is despite the report questioning the validity of the bounty, with one of the experts quoted in the paper, Association for Conservation of Australian Dingoes secretary Ernest Healy, labeling the bounty as "seriously problematic" because of its harm to dingoes.

Dr Healy said between 2011-2018, 2000 dingo pelts were harvested under the scheme.

"It puts a bounty on the head of a listed threatened species," he said.

"So 2000-odd scalps handed in over just several years can potentially have a massive impact on the dingo population in Victoria."

He suggested trialling the reintroduction of dingoes into habitats where they once naturally occurred, for example, in the Murray Sunset National Park or in the Grampians National Park.

The report said most studies showed sheep do appear in the diet of dingoes, however, they were not the dominant prey item.

The government has six months to respond to the recommendations.

This story Plan to introduce dingoes doesn't pass 'pub test' first appeared on Stock & Land.