Coordinated targeted landscape control leads to stock losses at an all-time low

Teamwork and participation across coordinated wild dog management areas has resulted in stock losses at an all-time low and success for landholders and operational staff in the areas inside the Dog Fence on South Australia. 

SA Arid Lands Landscapes Board (SAAL) Biosecurity Officer Chris Havelberg and the SA Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) Biosecurity Operations Coordinator – Pest Animals Annette Scanlon gave an overview of their operational and strategic achievements in South Australia at the Wild Dog Management Symposium at Armidale, NSW, on March 14-16.

Mr Havelberg said inside the SA Dog Fence, land managers are encouraged to coordinate their control efforts with their neighbours to ensure targeted control is implemented at a landscape scale.

He said the land manager requirement of sourcing and supplying their own meat for baiting had encouraged teamwork and built long lasting relationships among group members.

Mr Havelberg said 1080 can only be sourced through programs like the SAAL wild dog program, Biteback®, which encourages attendance at the injection services.

“Manufactured baits are offered at subsidised prices and distributed at baiting locations, which is another incentive to attend. Injection services are used as a fantastic engagement tool with attendees supplied with information about new technologies, best practice control techniques and coordination strategies,” he said.

“Information about the previous six months of wild dog activity and impacts in the area are discussed to determine what worked and what didn’t.

“All attendees are encouraged to coordinate their baiting efforts and work as a team.

“These injection services are run in spring and autumn at locations when wild dog activity is expected to be at its highest. Feedback from attendees is captured and used to guide the future direction of the program to ensure the correct tools are being offered and used.”

Mr Havelberg said skill development was key to ensuring all land managers remained up to date with changing control techniques and practices.

Information is shared at community forums, field days and community events with 16 trapper training workshops run for land managers since 2015, with over 170 individuals from 91 properties participating. 

Seven WildDogScan® training sessions have been offered since 2018, with over 60 attendees being trained, and a session was added to recent trapper training workshops to increase uptake of the technology. 

Mr Havelberg said landholders had significantly increased their efforts with trapping, shooting and monitoring wild dog activity across the region, following a 2018 estimate of 20,000 sheep killed annually by predation.

Annette Scanlon, PIRSA, said the major drivers of reforms in wild dog management in the state included landholders identifying the need for a trapper program, a rebuild of the SA Dog Fence, subsequent legislative reforms and the expansion of aerial baiting into inaccessible areas and wild dog safe havens.

“This was a comprehensive list and gave us a road map of where to from there,” Dr Scanlon said. 

“The four-year trapper program is a free service for producers located inside the SA Dog Fence and who bait, and the trappers use WildDogScan and other tools to provide us with data. The trappers are ambassadors for our programs and they feed back information to us.”

The trapper program has removed over 730 wild dogs since 2018 from inside the Dog Fence. 

A $25 million rebuild project has completed over 750km of new Dog Fence; it has engaged 35 SA-based businesses and is forecast to generate net benefits of $113 million in productivity over a 20-year period to the SA economy. 

Further control efforts delivered through Biteback, the trapper program, and aerial baiting programs have seen over 18,000 square kilometres of area (almost 2 million ha) being restocked. One station went from no sheep to 20,000 head of sheep in 2023.

Dr Scanlon said structural reform to the income of the SA Dog Fence Board and legislated new baiting standards also contributed to the success of wild dog management in the state.

“The Dog Fence Board has now increased their stockpiles of equipment for replacing sections of fence and plan to rebuild all fence lines every 35 years.” 

Dr Scanlon said aerial baiting efforts had increased from one program per year to three programs per year over the next four years.

“We’ve had a lot of achievements in SA with wild dogs at an all-time low – we can aim for generational benefits from all these investments: the fear of a lot of the landholders is that people will take their foot off the pedal, we certainly do not want to lose momentum and get back to where we were.”

In March 2020, a PIRSA survey of 20 landholders representing 36 properties across 80,400 square kilometres or 37 per cent of wild dog affected areas revealed 43 per cent experienced mental health impacts from wild dogs, they also reported financial loss (31 per cent) and management implications (26 per cent) from wild dogs. 

PIRSA and Meat and Livestock Australia are launching a new $2.9 million program to deliver resources, support and monitoring to networks of SA producers to manage wild dogs and lift their productivity over the next four years. 

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