In a move which has alarmed conservationists and animal welfare groups, Tasmania’s state government has indicated it would lift the ban on the use of 1080 poison as a control method for browsing animals on agricultural land.
During 2006 and in response to growing public concern about the lingering deaths suffered by animals from 1080 poisoning, the previous state Labor government established the The Alternatives to 1080 Program. It was jointly funded by both federal and state governments and was designed to identify and research alternative strategies to control browsing wildlife from damaging private forest and agricultural land.
Details of a Strategic Plan were released in the Program’s 2011 report, whose purpose was to both understand the significance of wildlife browsing damage, and investigate a wide range of alternatives that had short to medium-term potential as ‘viable and competitive alternatives’ to the use of 1080 poison.
A result was the development of the Browsing Animal Management Program, a project that for the last three years has successfully delivered practical, cost-efficient and more humane alternatives to 1080, according to the Tasmanian Conservation Trust’s director, Peter McGlone.
“Alternatives clearly exist because the vast majority of farmers and the entire forestry industry aren’t using 1080 poison, and are coping with alternatives, in particular using wallaby fencing and professional shooters,” he said.
That few Tasmanian farmers are using 1080 is borne out by figures released in May by the state’s Agriculture Minister Jeremy Rockliff. These indicate only 20-40 farmers applied to use 1080 over the last few years, with just 14 farmers receiving the required Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment permit during 2012-2013. However Rockliff argues ‘unnecessary hurdles’ should not be placed in the way of the industry, and a decision that would have seen 1080 banned completely next year should now be considered ‘arbitrary’.
“Farmers face significant pasture and crop losses caused by wallabies and possums, and a 1080 ban would have severe consequences for some farmers. While we believe we should look at ways to reduce the use of 1080, this government will not phase out its use unless a viable, safe and cost-effective alternative becomes available,” he said.
The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers’ Association’s chief executive officer Jan Davis supports the government’s decision, describing it as ‘sensible and pragmatic’. She maintains 1080 should remain an option for land holders given the acknowledgment in the Alternatives to 1080 Program that no easy solution exists.
“Effective wildlife management on farm land can only be achieved through ensuring farmers have access to a comprehensive tool kit. This kit includes shooting, fencing and poisoning,” she said.
But it is the indiscriminate nature of 1080 that is of such concern to both McGlone, and Kim Booth, the Tasmanian Greens spokesperson for environmental issues. While he acknowledged the Greens provided qualified support for continued 1080 use in Tasmania’s controversial Fox Eradication Program, Booth is critical of the latest move to relax the rules for the poison.
“1080 is a harsh, inhumane poison that should have no place in a modern society. The Greens reluctantly accepted it was important in the eradication of foxes – if they were found to be here – but only with scientific assurance it was only the target species that was dying. We absolutely oppose the use of 1080 on native animals, so if it was reintroduced it would need to be targeted only at a feral species that proved to be a greater threat to the environment than it would be were 1080 not used,” he said.
Research has shown domestic dogs are the largest group to suffer from 1080 baits, and while the story remains unconfirmed, it has been reported the sheepdog made famous in the film Babe, whose trainer lived in Tasmania’s north-west, met his death near a forestry plantation through a secondary 1080 poisoning.
McGlone said the TCT would be doing all it could to encourage animal welfare groups to raise public awareness about the suffering to animals that results from continued use of 1080, and to consider exposing the practice through a national campaign as they did with live animal exports.