One of the nation’s biggest vermin cells well on the way  

Pastoralists in the Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia are steadily working on erecting one of the nation’s biggest vermin exclusion cells.

The Kalgoorlie Vermin Cell will be enclosed by a 980km fence costing around $8.4 million and once completed will encircle nine pastoral leases covering 2.4 million ha along with the mining economies of Kalgoorlie, Coolgardie and Kambalda.

Overseeing the massive project is Kalgoorlie Pastoral Alliance Pty Ltd (KPA) which has received $2.2 million in funding since 2018 from the WA State Government.

Work began in June 2019, and funding for materials received for a further 200km on pastoral leases with 50km of this on Aboriginal owned Pinjin Station.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia, provided technical advice to the KPA on the project plan, fence design, and logistics, as well as assisted with the establishment of the project.

The greater Kalgoorlie area comprises many former sheep pastoral leases that are destocked, leases owned by mining companies and kept unstocked or leases converted to cattle stations.

All properties within the Kalgoorlie area are now subject to high wild dog numbers and any property operating without exclusion fencing is prevented from returning to small stock. 

Kalgoorlie Pastoral Alliance co-ordinator Ross Wood said each pastoralist was building their own section of the fence along their boundary as they could afford it.

“They are not getting any tangible benefit from the fence other than a boundary fence until the entire cell is completed and the wild dogs are controlled,” Mr Wood said. 

“The pastoralists are building it when they can – obviously there are labour constraints making it difficult.

“It is costing them about $5000/km to build themselves for clearing and erection costs so if there is a 100km to do, it is effectively a $500,000 of investment they have to put up with no benefit until it’s complete.”

Mr Wood said causeways had been built to carry the fence across two salt lakes to avoid corrosion problems, with posts dipped in tar as a precaution against the salt. 

“We have the view where the fence crosses a salt lake occasionally it will need replacing,” he said.

“We are now using bigger MaxY posts which can be retrofitted with an electric wire on the eastern side as we expect pressure from camels.”

The 1350mm high fence has an Iowa barb on the top and prefabricated Griplock with apron below.

Mr Wood said it would be up to the individual pastoralists to maintain their own section of fence until the whole fence is completed.

“Each of those properties were running small stock in the past and were converted into cattle as a means of survival.

“We are working steadily at providing this fence which will be of benefit for them whether they are running large or small stock.

“We are keen to let the economics play it out – it is not generally regarded as great cattle country however the people are doing what they can to survive outside pastoralism by diversifying into earthmoving and transport.

“Time will determine how much they go back into small stock at the end of the day but we know wild dogs are no good for miners, pastoralists, tourism or the environment.

“The fence will also be a line in the sand where we defend the pastoral country against the ingression of camels.”

Looking forward to the completion is pastoralist Brendan Jones who had a 7km boundary of exclusion fencing completed on his boundary as a pilot project.

In the past Brendan had run up to 22,000 Merinos, depending on conditions, on his 291,374ha Mt Monger Station.

“Wild dogs completely took us out, they destroyed the sheep population with lambings down to 5-6 per cent,” Mr Jones said. 

“In five years, we went from 13,000 sheep to none – if you are in the sheep business and see a dog track my advice is to sell them, buy houses in the city and preserve your capital.

“The interference to the breeding flock was a quick trip out.”

Although Mr Jones employed a station hand full-time to bait, trap and shoot wild dogs, he made the decision to destock and transition into cattle and mining industry services.

The sheep infrastructure has been maintained on the station with a view to potentially restocking in the future once the cell is completed.

“Once the fence is finished I will wait for options when we get the time to buy back into breeding stock and slowly breed back up and out of cattle,” Mr Jones said.

“There will be a more stable agricultural economy – you cannot carry sufficient numbers of cattle in the goldfields to return the margins so you need an alternative income such as mining services.”

Once the cell is completed, Mr Jones will make a concerted effort to rid it of wild dogs followed by a maintenance regime of baiting and trapping to prevent incursions. 

Although there is no funding commitment for the balance of the cell, Ross Wood said once 400km was completed, the project would be more attractive to funding bodies. 

Goldfields Nullarbor Rangelands Biosecurity Group chief executive officer Amanda Day said the completion of the Kalgoorlie Vermin Cell and eradication of wild dogs from within would enable the re-establishment of a viable small stock industry.

“It will give an enormous shot in the arm to returns from private industry in the region, not to mention strengthening demand for goods and services in local regional towns,” Ms Day said.

The Rangelands Cell Fencing program is co-funded by the State Government and the Australian Government, and supports the Western Australian Wild Dog Action Plan.

The WA Government invested $18 million in the first round of funding for the Wild Dog Action Plan, while a further $16 million was committed for the second round taking the plan forward until 2025. 

For more information on exclusion fencing click here