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Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by the European Red Fox

Biodiversity Group Environment Australia, 1999
0 642 2546320

Threat Abatement Objectives and Actions

The aims of this plan are to promote the recovery of endangered or vulnerable native species and communities and prevent further species from becoming endangered by reducing predation by foxes to non-threatening levels. These aims will be achieved by implementing currently available fox control techniques, providing for the development of new techniques and collecting information to improve our understanding of foxes and their impacts. The key performance indicator will be the degree of security achieved for species that are currently or potentially threatened by fox predation.

Key objectives for this plan are to:

Objective 1 : Promote the recovery of species and ecological communities that are endangered or vulnerable as a result of fox predation.

Objective 2 : Prevent foxes occupying new areas in Australia where they may threaten species or ecological communities with extinction.:

Objective 3: Improve the effectiveness and humaneness of fox control methods.

Objective 4 : Improve knowledge and understanding of fox impacts and interactions with other species.

Objective 5 : Communicate the results of the threat abatement plan actions to management agencies, landholders and the public.

Objective 6 : Effectively coordinate fox control activities.

Cost-effective and efficient control measures will, wherever possible, be applied through regionally coordinated management partnerships involving landholders, community groups and all levels of government. Management of foxes will be integrated with other natural resource management activities and, where relevant, with the management of other pest species identified as contributing to key threatening processes.

To achieve the aim of threat abatement, actions in four key areas are prescribed:

  • implementing fox control programs in specific areas of high conservation priority (Objectives 1 and 2);
  • encouraging the development and use of innovative and humane control methods for fox management (Objective 3);
  • collecting and disseminating information to improve understanding of the ecology of foxes in Australia, their impacts and methods to control them (Objective 4); and
  • educating land managers and relevant organisations to improve their knowledge of fox impacts and ensure skilled and effective participation in control activities (Objectives 5 and 6).

Specific objectives and actions in each of these areas are detailed below.

FOX MANAGEMENT

Objective 1 : Promote the recovery of species and ecological communities that are endangered or vulnerable as a result of fox predation.

Local Control Plans

Fox predation has been confirmed as a significant threat to a range of listed endangered and vulnerable species. Recovery plans for many of these species identify control of foxes as a necessary component of the recovery process. Implementation of local control plans in areas identified as critical habitat for these species must be a top priority of this threat abatement plan.

Predation by foxes has also been identified as a perceived threat for a number of listed endangered species (Table 1). For these species there is a need to test whether fox predation is a serious threat to recovery. Development and implementation of recovery plans for these species should determine the significance of fox predation as a threat and the level of control necessary to secure recovery of the species. Fox control activities promoted under these recovery plans must be designed to help quantify the significance of predation by foxes compared to other threats to the species concerned.

Translocation has been an important strategy for expanding existing populations of endangered species. Some of the most successful examples of conservation of endangered species have been on islands or within enclosures from which feral predators are excluded. Preparing areas to receive translocated populations is an important component of the recovery plans of a number of species known or perceived to be threatened by fox predation. Implementation of local control plans in areas designated as translocation sites for such species should be a high priority and be consistent with the recovery plans for these species.

Actions

Implement local fox control for species where fox predation is a known threat.

Implement local fox control programs in areas designated as translocation sites for species where fox predation is a known threat.

Implement experimental fox control programs in areas of critical habitat for species perceived to be threatened by fox predation, to determine the significance of the threat and the level of control necessary to secure recovery.

Identify incentives to promote and maintain on-ground fox control on private or leasehold lands that contain populations of endangered species or where control is necessary to provide a buffer zone around a population of a listed species.

The Commonwealth will make funds available, through the Endangered Species Program and other programs of the Natural Heritage Trust, to support projects involving local fox control. Commonwealth funding will assist the development of local partnerships, where appropriate, to integrate management of foxes on both public and private lands. Where local fox control confirms that fox predation is a significant threat to particular species, this plan will promote the expansion and integration of local site specific control plans into regional control plans for the species. It will also promote direct links with other relevant biodiversity conservation initiatives in the region.

Regional Control Plans

Regional control plans are designed to protect, or to provide a substantial expansion of suitable habitat for, a number of threatened species. They are also valuable in preparing areas for reintroductions of species to areas within their former range.

Control of foxes at a regional level requires a substantial investment of resources. There are also problems in developing and managing control programs which involve large areas of land under different tenure. Nevertheless regional programs to control foxes and other feral animals have been shown to dramatically reduce fox numbers, to allow populations of rare species to increase and to have minimal impact on non-target species. Such programs include the Western Shield and Project Eden programs in Western Australia and Operation Bounceback 2000 in South Australia., The continuation of these programs is considered vital to the successful recovery of a range of threatened species and must be a top priority of this threat abatement plan.

In eastern Australia no regional control programs have been initiated because suitable control methods are not available, due to problems with non-target impacts. There is an urgent need to develop a strategic approach to broad-scale fox control, building on the lessons from the successes in Western Australia, while taking into account the special problems associated with different constraints on management techniques. Particular problems are difficulties with aerial baiting and difference in tolerance to 1080 by native fauna in eastern Australia, and the more complex patterns of land ownership and fragmented landscapes in south-eastern Australia.

Authorities in New South Wales and Victoria, with support from the Commonwealth, have been conducting research which will lead to a better understanding of the impact of fox predation on the survival of forest mammals. This may be the first step in preparing a regional control program for managing foxes in the south-east.

Actions

Continue implementation of those successful regional fox control programs in Western Australia which have been shown to dramatically reduce fox numbers and to allow populations of endangered species to increase.

Continue implementation of Bounceback 2000 in South Australia to facilitate reintroductions of locally extinct species and to minimise predation on existing remnant populations of threatened species.

Support regional organisations, community groups and conservation agencies in collaboratively developing and implementing regional fox control programs in eastern and central Australia.

The Commonwealth will make funds available, through the programs of the Natural Heritage Trust, to support the further development of regional fox control programs. Where possible, management of foxes on both public and private lands will be integrated with other regional biodiversity conservation measures through the development of regional partnerships.

Objective 2: Prevent foxes occupying new areas in Australia where they may threaten species or ecological communities with extinction:.

Fox Free Islands Fox Free Islands

Tasmania, Kangaroo Island and a number of small islands off the coasts of South Australia and Western Australia are the primary refuges of a range of mammal species that are extinct or very rare on the mainland. The recent incident in which a fox was transported by ship from Victoria to Tasmania highlights the risk of fox incursion. It is essential that foxes continue to be excluded from those significant islands where they do not occur.

Preventing the introduction of foxes to islands of high conservation value requires identification of potential routes of invasion, a risk analysis to determine the probability of such an event and procedures to manage and minimise the risk. There must also be the ability to detect incursions before fox populations have a chance to become established. Once detected there must be and contingency plans which identify the most appropriate control measures and funding sources to implement the required control.

Actions

Identify islands of high conservation value and rank the level of risk of foxes being introduced and establishing populations on these islands.

Identify measures to ensure that islands known to be of high conservation value remain free of foxes.

Develop and implement contingency plans to contain and exterminate any incursion by foxes onto islands with high conservation values.

Environment Australia will provide funds from its operating budget to enable staff to work with relevant State authorities to implement these actions. Identification of islands of high conservation value will be based on existing data. Additional costs of these actions will be determined by the results of the risk analysis.

 

INNOVATIVE AND HUMANE CONTROL METHODS

Objective 3: Improve the effectiveness and humaneness of fox control methods.

Humane Poisoning

Currently the control of foxes is primarily based on the use of 1080 poison baits. However, concern about the humaneness of this poison has been expressed by animal welfare groups. It is possible that these concerns could be satisfactorily addressed by the inclusion of an analgesic with the poison bait. Detailed studies of the appropriate type and concentration of analgesic to be used are required to enable a new formulation to be nationally registered as an approved method for the control of foxes. Alternative, more humane, poisons for the control of foxes should also be investigated.

Actions

Support studies to improve the effectiveness and humaneness of existing poison baiting methods.

Support studies to develop, test and register poisons that are more humane.

Funds will be made available through the National Feral Animal Control Program of the Natural Heritage Trust. The costs of these actions cannot be accurately determined as they will depend upon the identification of potential drugs and the nature of the tests required to evaluate and register a new poison bait.

Fertility Control

Foxes have a high rate of reproduction but breed only once a year over a period of two or three weeks in early winter. This aspect of their biology provides an opportunity for suppressing fox populations through the application of fertility control over a short period of time each year. Targeting their fertility may yield an effective long-term method of reducing their numbers, hence lessening the need to use poison baits.

The development of a non-lethal method of fox control will be particularly important for use in urban and peri-urban areas where the risk to domestic animals may prevent or severely restrict the use of poison. However, fertility control is still at an experimental stage of development and has yet to be successfully applied to a free ranging population of wild mammals over a large area.

Research has indicated that the use of Cabergoline, a synthetic compound which has been shown to cause abortion in foxes, may have the potential to control fox fertility in areas where poison baiting cannot be undertaken.

Fertility control based on developing sterility through an auto-immune response to reproductive proteins or hormones (immunocontraception) has the potential to provide a target specific form of fertility control suitable for use on wild populations. Some scientists and wildlife managers remain sceptical about the likely success and effectiveness of this approach and the obstacles to achieving a workable method are considerable. Despite the acknowledged difficulties, the need to develop flexibility in the available range of fox control methods justifies continuing investigations into immunocontraception.

Actions

Determine the circumstances under which Cabergoline can provide effective local control of foxes, test its application in the field and collate the information necessary to ensure registration by the National Registration Authority as an approved control method for foxes.

Continue to support studies which aim to develop a safe, effective immunocontraceptive agent that may be delivered in a bait.

Funding support for these actions will be made available through the National Feral Animal Control Program of the Natural Heritage Trust. Responsibility for the development of a safe, effective immunocontraceptive agent will remain with the Cooperative Research Centre for Biological Control of Vertebrate Pest Populations.

Delivery Systems

Whether the intention is to control foxes through poison or fertility control agents, a suitable delivery system, or bait, is required. Tradition and convenience have usually determined the selection of bait materials, although a wide range of products have been employed.

It is important to ensure that the most cost-effective delivery systems are used and the risk of bait shyness developing in foxes is minimised. Any decline in the effectiveness of fox control methods could compromise the benefits to be gained from this plan. It is also important to ensure that the risks of non-target poisoning are minimised.

Actions

Evaluate the existing range of bait materials and delivery systems for their attractiveness and effectiveness in delivering control substances to foxes, the conditions under which different baits will be most effective and which will minimise the risk of non-target poisoning.

Funding support will be made available through the National Feral Animal Control Program of the Natural Heritage Trust.

Fencing

There has been considerable investment in fox resistant fences as a method of protecting endangered species from predation. A large range of fence designs have been used to exclude foxes but there is little information on the effectiveness of specific designs and there are no accepted standard designs for particular habitats or terrain. A 1994 review of fence designs highlighted the need for a comprehensive evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of different designs, to ensure that future investment is directed towards the most effective designs.

Actions

Evaluate and disseminate information on existing fence designs for their suitability to particular habitats or topography and determine the relative cost-effectiveness of individual fence designs as a means of excluding foxes and protecting local populations of endangered species.

Investigate the behaviour of predators at electrified and non-electrified fences to determine potential weak points in fence designs which may compromise their effectiveness.

Implementation of these actions may be supported with funding made available through the National Feral Animal Control Program of the Natural Heritage Trust.

INFORMATION

Objective 4 : Improve knowledge and understanding of fox impacts and interactions with other species.

Documenting Fox Impacts

Ensuring that field experience and research are applied to further improve fox control programs is an important element of this plan. Despite the fact that foxes have been in Australia since the last century, our knowledge of their ecology and behaviour is still inadequate. There is a recognised need to improve our understanding of the impact of foxes on a range of native species, particularly those currently listed as endangered or vulnerable, and to determine whether this is compatible with the long-term conservation of these species.

Adaptive management approaches which experimentally test different control techniques will be encouraged. By measuring the effectiveness of different control strategies in achieving recovery of threatened species, our ability to effectively abate the threat posed by foxes will be improved.

Actions

Develop simple and cost-effective methods of monitoring the impacts of foxes on threatened species as a means of evaluating control activities.

Investigate interactions between foxes and native carnivores to identify relative significance of competition and predation by foxes to these native species.

Environment Australia will provide funds from its operating budget to enable staff to work with relevant State authorities to ensure the necessary data are made available.

Understanding Interactions with other Feral Pests

Rabbits are one of the preferred foods for foxes and the occurrence and abundance of rabbits has been shown to influence fox numbers. Rabbit control is therefore of critical importance to any operation aiming to achieve long-term suppression of fox numbers.

Recent studies suggest that cats may be excluded or their numbers suppressed where foxes are common, and reducing fox numbers may lead to increased cat numbers. Should these suggestions be confirmed it will have implications for the way in which fox control is applied and integrated with the management of cats.

Given the high level of interaction between foxes, cats and rabbits, activities identified in this plan must wherever possible be integrated with those planned for the threat abatement plans for the cat and rabbit.

Actions

Identify the importance of rabbits for maintaining high fox numbers in order that control of both species can be integrated to minimise risks to native species.

Determine the nature of interactions between foxes and cats (competition and/or predation) in order to integrate fox control activities with cat control activities more effectively.

Funding support may be made available through the National Feral Animal Control Program of the Natural Heritage Trust. Implementation of these actions will be integrated with any similar actions prescribed in the threat abatement plans for the cat and rabbit.

Refining Priority Setting Mechanisms

Identification of species and regions which will benefit most from coordinated fox control activities is vital. Recovery plans identify those species at risk and areas of habitat critical for their survival. Implementation of these plans must be accorded the highest priority in national action to abate the threat posed by foxes. Available resources will seldom, if ever, be sufficient to fully implement all the fox control measures recommended in recovery plans. Increasingly, areas will need to be ranked on a nationally consistent basis to ensure that decisions about funding for control activities can maximise the conservation benefits to be derived. An agreed national methodology for ranking areas should be developed to cover protecting and facilitating the expansion of existing populations of endangered species, and preparing areas for translocation.

Actions

Prioritise areas for investment in fox control to more effectively take account of the degree of threat that foxes pose to the survival of an endangered or vulnerable species or ecological community; the potential that species or ecological community has to recover; and the cost-efficiency and likely effectiveness of fox control.

Develop decision support systems to assist land managers to identify locally appropriate control method(s) and the circumstances and times in which to apply them in controlling foxes.

Map the distribution of susceptible species, high risk habitats and foxes to produce a national overview of priority regions.

The fox threat abatement team, specified in the actions relating to Objective 6, will take responsibility for implementation of these actions. Environment Australia will provide funds from its operating budget to enable staff to work with relevant State authorities to ensure the available data is are collated and analysed.

EDUCATION

Objective 5 : Communicate the results of the threat abatement plan actions to management agencies, landholders and the public.

Education and Extension

The success of this threat abatement plan will depend on 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. Educating land managers and community organisations to ensure their skilled and effective participation in fox control activities and to improve their knowledge of fox impacts is an essential component of the plan. The plan is also intended to assist in documenting significant advances in knowledge, techniques and practice for abating the fox threat. A number of actions identified require an extension/education effort to ensure effective implementation.

Actions

Prepare and distribute extension material to promote understanding of the actions to be undertaken under this plan; the use of humane and cost-effective fox control methods; a wider knowledge of species recovery plans; and the importance of predation by foxes as a key threatening process.

The fox threat abatement team, specified in the actions relating to Objective 6, will guide the development and implementation of an education, extension and information transfer program. Environment Australia will provide funds from its operating budget for the initial development of a communications strategy. This strategy will include detailed budgets for future years of the five-year life of this plan.

ADMINISTRATION

Objective 6 : Effectively coordinate fox control activities.Effective coordination of fox control activities

National coordination

The activities and priorities under this plan will need to evolve with, and adapt to, changes as they occur and thus ensure that field experience and research are applied to further improve management of foxes. Success will only be achieved if all key stakeholders are involved in its further development and cooperate in its implementation. The Threat Abatement Plan Advisory Group was of considerable assistance in the development of this plan and a similar body will be needed to direct its implementation.

Implementation of this plan will require the establishment of national priorities for local control plans based on individual species recovery plans and an evaluation of the evidence that predation by foxes is a significant threat for species where this has not previously been established. It will also require the identification of opportunities for integrating individual local control plans to enhance efficiency of control and recommending regional priorities for funding. As identified above, the development of material to assist in extension and information transfer would be materially assisted by input from an advisory group comprising persons with relevant technical and practical experience in fox control. Similarly, the potential broader application of control methods or approaches developed through local control plans could be assessed by a group with both technical and practical experience to draw upon.

Actions

A fox threat abatement team composed of people with relevant technical and practical experience, and convened by Environment Australia, will be established to advise the Minister on implementation of the plan.

An independent expert will be commissioned before the end of the five-year life of the plan to conduct a comprehensive review of the progress made in its implementation.

Environment Australia will provide funds from its operating budget to enable staff to convene the threat abatement team and provide secretariat support. Costs of a comprehensive review of progress with implementation of this plan will be met from the National Feral Animal Control Program of the Natural Heritage Trust.

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

Commonwealth of Australia