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Publications archive - Biodiversity

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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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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 Competition and Land Degradation by Feral Goats

Biodiversity Group Environment Australia, 1999
ISBN 0 642 54634 7

Developing a National Approach to Feral Goat Management

Planning for nationally coordinated action

It has not been possible to develop a reasonable estimate of current annual expenditure on feral goat control activities in Australia. Undoubtedly, State and Territory agencies make a major investment in feral goat control, but details of the scale of this investment are not available. Commercial harvesters also invest in, and presumably profit from, goat control activities. Landholders and land managers, local government agencies and community groups are also actively involved in feral goat control activities but there is little reliable data on the costs of these efforts.

In recent years, in addition to funding feral goat control programs on its own lands, the Commonwealth has provided funding to State, Territory and national organisations for feral goat control activities. Projects have included:

Strategies

Resources will never be sufficient to deal with all feral goat management problems so the threat abatement plan must ensure the strategic allocation of resources to give the best outcome for threatened species conservation.

Localised feral goat control in specific areas of high conservation concern, particularly around populations of threatened species, will be continued as a significant component of this plan. Recovery plans for a number of species identify the feral goat as a perceived threat (Table 1). It is likely that the number of species perceived to be at risk from feral goats will increase as recovery plans are developed for more threatened plants.

Local eradication is an option for areas which meet strict criteria: the chances of reinvasion must be nil or very close to it, all animals must be accessible and at risk during the control operation and animals must be killed at a rate higher than their ability to replace losses through breeding. Maintaining an area free from feral goats requires a sustained control operation to prevent reinvasion from surrounding feral goat infested areas or the use of exclusion fences. As a strategy, local eradication is applicable to small islands, isolated small populations on the mainland or small mainland sites which are surrounded by feral goat exclusion fences.

Where local eradication is not possible, there are two broad strategies which can be used for localised management of feral goats. These are sustained management where control is implemented on a continuing regular basis and intermittent management which seeks to apply control at critical periods of the year when damage is greatest and short term control will reduce impacts to acceptable levels. Intermittent control may be useful as a temporary seasonal measure at sites where competition is a seasonal threat (for example with annual plants) or where the threat is most pronounced during adverse seasonal conditions such as drought.

To ensure efficient and effective use of resources, an experimental approach will be used to determine the significance of competition and land degradation by feral goats in the decline of endangered and vulnerable species and to identify the level of control necessary for their recovery. By approaching local control this way, the true significance of competition and land degradation by feral goats can be determined. If the hypothesis that feral goats are a significant threat is confirmed, this will justify expanding control activities to other sites. Alternatively, if feral goat control is shown to be of little relevance to recovery of the species, efforts can be re-directed to those activities that are effective in promoting its recovery.

Buffer zones may be a necessary component of managing small areas, to reduce the threat from continual reinvasion from surrounding areas replacing feral goats removed during control operations. Development of such lower density buffer zones will require the active participation of surrounding landholders and a clear identification of the benefits to be obtained by all participants.

Regional management focuses on key areas where maximum benefits can be derived from reducing the impacts of feral goats on a range of species. This is a central element of this plan. Regional control programs are designed to provide protection to a number of at-risk species and to provide a substantial expansion of available habitat. Broad scale control of feral goats at this level requires a substantial investment of resources.

Regional management is well suited to an adaptive management approach as it can accommodate different experimental control techniques within a broadly comparable area. Regional management will also provide a means of integrating feral goat control with other biodiversity conservation programs such as Bushcare and other programs funded through the Natural Heritage Trust.

High priority must be given to monitoring the outcomes of feral goat control in terms of conservation benefits derived. Ineffective control may result in high harvest rates but little reduction in competition and land degradation due to feral goats maintaining a sustainably high reproductive rate.

Ranking areas for priority action

Identification of those species and regions that will most benefit from coordinated feral goat control activities is clearly important. Recovery plans will identify species that are known or perceived to be threatened by competition and land degradation by feral goats and those areas of habitat critical for the survival of these species. In terms of national action to abate the threat posed by feral goats, implementation of recovery plans for these species must be accorded the highest priority. Local community groups and landowners will be encouraged to become involved in coordinated feral goat control plans for their region.

As recovery plans for more threatened species are finalised and adopted it may be that available resources are not sufficient to fully implement all the feral goat control measures identified as required. Areas will then 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 cover protecting and facilitating the expansion of existing populations of threatened species, and preparing areas for translocation.

A system to weight areas regarding the risk and the possibility of reducing that risk will be developed in order to allocate resources to areas where feral goat management is most needed. Parkes et. al. (1996) describe a system developed in New Zealand to decide priority areas for investment in feral goat control. This is a complex process that involves scoring native species in an area according to their conservation value and then weighting these scores for the threat posed to the species. Using the New Zealand system as a guide, procedures for prioritising areas for feral goat management in Australia will be refined. Priorities for investment of Commonwealth resources will be selected using the following criteria: