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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by the European Red Fox

Biodiversity Group Environment Australia, 1999
0 642 2546320

Introduction

The European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) has a natural distribution across the continents of Europe, Asia and North America. In the southern hemisphere foxes occur only in Australia, where they were introduced by English settlers in the 19th century (Rolls, 1984). The fox is now one of at least 20 exotic mammals that have established a feral population (Strahan, 1995). An adaptable and elusive predator and scavenger, the fox has become well established over most of the southern half of mainland Australia (Strahan, 1995). It has not yet colonised the tropical north and is not established in Tasmania, on Kangaroo Island or on many other offshore islands. With our present knowledge of control methods and ecology, the fox must be viewed as a permanent addition to the fauna of the Australian mainland.

There is abundant anecdotal, circumstantial and experimental evidence that fox predation is a major threat to the survival of native Australian fauna (Saunders et al.et. al. 1995). Those terrestrial mammals that weigh between 35 and 5500 grams (sometimes referred to as critical weight range species) and ground-nesting birds, many of which are endangered or vulnerable, are at the greatest risk from foxes. For these reasons ‘predation by the European red fox’ is listed as a key threatening process under Schedule 3 of the Commonwealth Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 (the Act).

For each of the processes listed in Schedule 3 of the Act, a nationally coordinated threat abatement plan must be prepared and implemented. The Act prescribes the content of a threat abatement plan and the mechanisms by which plans are to be prepared, approved and published. The relevant sections of the Act are reproduced in the Appendix. Where a threatening process occurs in more than one jurisdiction, the Commonwealth must seek the cooperation of the relevant States and Territories in the joint preparation and implementation of a threat abatement plan.

Foxes occur on Commonwealth land such as Department of Defence properties. On a national scale, however, fox management on Commonwealth land is only a small part of the larger picture of conserving endangered or vulnerable species threatened by fox predation. State and Territory wildlife agencies and their counterparts responsible for agricultural pest control have a long history of practical on-ground fox management and it is largely through their efforts that major technical and strategic advances have been made.

In Western Australia the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) has taken advantage of the high tolerance of native animals in that State to 1080 poison to successfully implement broad-scale programs to control foxes. Under the Western Shield program fox baiting is being carried out on a scale never before attempted, to assist in the recovery of native animal populations. As foxes have been controlled, this has allowed native species populations to recover and return to their natural habitats. Projects such as this have provided valuable information about the level of fox control required to allow native fauna populations to increase and to become sustainable. By the end of the century, CALM hopes to return at least 13 native species to more than 40 areas that once formed part of their normal range (Western Shield Progress Report, 1997).

 

A review of recovery plans approved under the Act, and others currently in draft form, has identified the fox as a confirmed threat or a perceived threat to a large number of listed endangered and vulnerable (threatened) species (Table 1).

While key threatening processes are listed because of their impacts on listed threatened species, fox impacts are not restricted to these species. Best practice management of foxes must involve not only action to reduce the threat to targeted threatened species, but to all native species.

Fundamental to the approach taken in this plan is the recognition that foxes cannot be eradicated over most of their Australian range using current techniques and financial resources. Abatement of the threat they pose must initially be undertaken in discrete, manageable areas, selected according to national priorities. Fox control will have to be ongoing for the foreseeable future and therefore must make the best use of available resources.

The ongoing costs of fox control will in most cases be high. In Western Australia, where the circumstances are favourable for the use of 1080 poison, the cost attributable to broad-scale baiting is $0.25 per hectare per annum. In a fox baiting project funded by the Commonwealth in NSW costs were $0.38 per hectare for baiting once a year and $1.12 per hectare for baiting four times a year (Saunders et al.et. al. 1997). The construction and maintenance of exclusion fencing is also expensive; for example Coman and McCutchan (1994) report costs of $18,000 to $50,000 per kilometre have been incurred in constructing fox exclusion fences.

This plan delineates in broad terms the scope for national action and the apportionment of Commonwealth resources. It is intended that the plan will lead to a change in managing the impact of foxes on endangered species, producing a more focused and strategic broad-scale approach to reducing those impacts.

In accordance with the requirements of the Act this plan must be reviewed at intervals of no more than five years. At the end of the first five years, on-ground action will have increased protection for endangered species at high priority sites. The plan will also have assisted in documenting significant advances in knowledge, techniques and practice for abating the fox threat. Towards the end of the period, the review required by the legislation will examine the plan, the supporting technical documents and the success or otherwise of management actions undertaken. Recommendations from the review will then be used to prepare another threat abatement plan for the next five-year phase.

During each five-year phase, knowledge will grow, and efficiency and effectiveness of threat abatement actions should improve through information from well-monitored programs. The success of the plan will be dependent on the long-term commitment of resources by Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments, private landholders and community groups. The activities and priorities under the threat abatement plan will need to evolve with, and adapt to, changes as they occur.

Table 1. Species listed on Schedule 1 of the Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 for which foxes are a known or perceived threat.

 

 

Known Threat

Scientific Name

Common Name

Reference

Birds

Leipoa ocellata

Malleefowl

(Benshemesh, J., 1998)

Sterna albifrons

Little Tern

(Lane, B.A., et. al. 1998)

Mammals

Dasyurus geoffroii

Western Quoll

(Orell, P. & Morris, K., 1994)

Lagorchestes hirsutus

Rufous Hare-wallaby

(Lundie-Jenkins, G. & Moore, G., 1996)

Macrotis lagotis

Greater Bilby

(Southgate, R., 1997)

Myrmecobius fasciatus

Numbat

(Friend, J.A., 1994)

Perameles gunnii

Eastern Barred Bandicoot

(Driessen, M.M. & Hocking G.J., 1991)

Petrogale lateralis

Black-footed Rock-wallaby

Hall, G.P. & Kinnear, J. 1991)

Potorous longipes

Long-footed Potoroo

(Nunan, D., et. al. 1998)

Reptiles

Caretta caretta

Loggerhead Turtle

(Biodiversity Group, Env. Aus., 1998)

Chelonia mydas

Green Turtle

(Biodiversity Group, Env. Aus., 1998)

 

 

Amphibians

Perceived Threat

Philoria frosti

Baw Baw Frog

(Hollis, G.J. 1997)

Birds

Geopsittacus occidentalis

Night Parrot

(Blyth, J. 1996)

Neophema chrysogaster

Orange-bellied Parrot

(Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team,1998)

Pezoporus wallicus flaviventris

Western Ground Parrot

(Burbidge, A.H., et. al. 1996)

Stipiturus malachurus intermedius

Mount Lofty Southern Emu-wren

(Littely, T. & Cutten, J 1994)

Turnix melanogaster

Black-breasted Button-quail

(Smyth, A. 1995)

Mammals

Pseudomys fieldi

Djoongari

(Morris, K. , et. al. 1997)

Bettongia lesueur

Burrowing Bettong

(Short, J. & Turner, B. 1993)

Sminthopsis douglasi

Julia Creek Dunnart

(Woolley, P.A. 1998)

Bettongia tropica

Northern Bettong

(Dennis, A.J. 1998)

Burramys parvus

Mountain Pygmy-possum

(Broome, L.S. 1996)

Dasycercus cristicauda

Mulgara

(Masters, P. & Baker, L. 1996)

Dasyuroides byrnei

Kowari

(Lim, L. 1992)

Leporillus conditor

Greater Stick-nest Rat

(Copley, P.B. 1994)

Onychogalea fraenata

Bridled Nailtail Wallaby

(Clancy, T.F. 1994)

Parantechinus apicalis

Dibbler

(Start, A.N. 1996)

Petrogale penicillata

Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby

(Hill, F.A.R. 1991)

Potorous tridactylus gilberti

Gilbert's Potoroo

(Courtenay, J., et. al. 1998)

Pseudomys oralis

Hastings River Mouse

(Smith, A.P. 1997)

Zyzomys pedunculatus

Central Rock-rat

(Burbidge, A. 1996)

Reptiles

Delma impar

Striped Legless Lizard

(Smith, W.J.S. & Robertson, P. 1997)

Dermochelys coriacea

Leathery Turtle

(Biodiversity Group, Env. Aus., 1998)

Pseudemydura umbrina

Western Swamp Tortoise

(Burbidge, A. & Kuchling, G. 1997)

 

By taking this measured approach, recognising the realistic limitations and opportunities that exist, and ensuring that field experience and research are applied tofurther improve management of foxes, the threat abatement plan process will ensure a responsible use of public resources and give the best outcome for wildlife threatened by fox predation.

The success of this threat abatement plan will be dependent upon a high level of cooperation between all key stakeholders, including landholders, community groups, local government, State and Territory conservation and pest management agencies and the Commonwealth Government and its agencies. The programs of the Natural Heritage Trust, particularly the National Feral Animal Control Program and the Endangered Species Program, will make a significant contribution to implementing the plan. Success will only be achieved if all participants are prepared to allocate adequate resources to achieving effective on-ground control of foxes at critical sites and in critical regions, improving the effectiveness of control programs, and measuring and assessing outcomes.

Published June 1999 by Environment Australia under the Natural Heritage Trust.

Commonwealth of Australia