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Threat Abatement Plan for Competition and Land Degradation by Feral Goats

Biodiversity Group Environment Australia, 1999
ISBN 0 642 54634 7

Threat Abatement Objectives and Actions

The aims of this plan are to promote the recovery of endangered or vulnerable native species and communities, and to prevent further species and communities becoming endangered by reducing competition and land degradation caused by feral goats to non-threatening levels. These aims will be achieved by implementing currently available feral goat control techniques, providing for improvements to existing control techniques or the development of new techniques, and collecting information to improve understanding of the impacts of feral goats on endangered or vulnerable native species and communities. The key performance indicator will be the degree of security achieved for species or communities that are currently or potentially threatened by competition or land degradation caused by feral goats.

Key objectives for this plan are to:

Objective 1: Promote the recovery of species and ecological communities that are endangered or vulnerable due to competition by feral goats.

Objective 2: Arrest land degradation caused by feral goats and promote recovery of degraded areas to a state which maximises the chances of long term survival of endangered and vulnerable native species and ecological communities affected by such degradation.

Objective 3: Eradicate feral goats from islands or isolated areas where they are a threat to endangered or vulnerable native species or ecological communities.

Objective 5: Ensure that development of a commercial goat industry does not compromise conservation of native species or ecological communities.

Objective 6: Improve the effectiveness and humaneness of feral goat control methods.

Objective 7: Improve knowledge and understanding of feral goat impacts and interactions with other species.

Objective 8: Improve knowledge and understanding of the role of feral goats as a contributor to land degradation.

Objective 9: Communicate the results of the threat abatement plan actions to management agencies, landholders and the public.

Objective 10: Effectively coordinate feral goat control activities.

Although feral goats are identified under the Endangered Species Protection Act 1992 as threatening native species and ecological communities, they are also a threat to primary production. 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 feral goats 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. While the focus of this threat abatement plan will be upon controlling the impacts of feral goats on native species and communities, the responsible development and management of the emerging goat industry will also be a major contributor to improved conservation outcomes.

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

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

Feral goat management

Objective 1: Promote the recovery of species and ecological communities that are endangered or vulnerable due to competition by feral goats.

Objective 2: Arrest land degradation caused by feral goats and promote recovery of degraded areas to a state which maximises the chances of long term survival of endangered and vulnerable native species and ecological communities affected by such degradation.

Local Control Plans

A number of listed endangered and vulnerable species have been identified as being under significant threat from the impacts of feral goats. Recovery plans for these species identify control of feral goats as a necessary component of the recovery process. Implementation of local control plans in areas identified as critical habitat for these species is a top priority of this threat abatement plan.

In contrast to foxes and feral cats where the threatening process (predation) affects native animals only, goats can adversely affect both animals (through competition for scarce resources such as food or water) and plants (by direct consumption). Direct competition by goats has been identified as a known threat for the mallee fowl only, and a perceived threat for a small number of other listed native animals (Table 1). For those species where competition and land degradation by feral goats have been identified as a perceived threat, there is a need to test whether the perception is valid. Development and implementation of recovery plans for these species should determine the significance of feral goats as a threat to these species and the level of control necessary to secure their recovery. Feral goat control activities promoted under these recovery plans must be designed to help quantify the significance of the threat posed by feral goats compared to other threats to the species concerned.

Translocation has been an important strategy for expanding existing populations of endangered species. Implementation of local feral goat 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 feral goat control for species where competition by feral goats is a known threat (currently only the mallee fowl).

Implement local feral goat control programs in areas designated as translocation sites for species where competition by feral goats is a known threat.

Implement experimental feral goat control programs, including exclusion fencing for threatened plants, in areas of critical habitat for species perceived to be threatened by competition from feral goats, to determine the significance of the threat and the level of control necessary to secure recovery.

Identify incentives to promote and maintain on-ground feral goat 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.

Implement experimental feral goat control programs in ecological communities perceived to be threatened by land degradation caused by feral goats, to determine the significance of the threat and the level of control necessary to ameliorate the degradation.

The Commonwealth will make funds available, through the Endangered Species Program and other programs of the Natural Heritage Trust, to support projects involving local feral goat control. Commonwealth funding will assist the development of local partnerships, where appropriate, to integrate management of feral goats on both public and private lands. Where local feral goat control confirms that competition or land degradation caused by feral goats is a significant threat to particular endangered or vulnerable native species or ecological communities, this plan will promote the expansion and integration of local site specific control plans into regional control plans, as well as promote direct links with other relevant biodiversity conservation initiatives in the region.

Regional Control Plans

Regional control plans are designed to provide protection to, or to provide a substantial expansion of suitable habitat for, a number of native species threatened by the same process or to address broad scale threats such as land degradation attributable to a particular species. In the case of a species such as the feral goat that impacts on both conservation of biological diversity and on primary production, regional control plans provide a means of defining agreed outcomes across land tenures and coordinating action to achieve these outcomes. Regional control plans are also valuable in preparing sites for reintroductions of native species to areas within their former range.

Control of feral goats at a regional level requires a substantial investment of resources. Western Australia has been conducting a broad scale feral goat control program since 1991. This program initially sought to eradicate feral goats from the State and to eliminate the wild harvest industry. Lack of resolve by some members of the rural community involved in goat control was identified as a major impediment to effective control and potential eradication. Agriculture Western Australia noted that successful control of the impacts of feral goats on conservation of biological diversity will not occur without a coordinated effort involving both pastoral leaseholds and conservation areas.

South Australia is attempting to control feral goats at a regional level under Bounceback 2000 which is developing an integrated approach to the control of foxes, feral cats, goats and rabbits. This involves national parks, neighbouring landholders and community groups. Implementation of this regional control plan will identify the potential effectiveness of broad-scale control of feral goats using existing technology. It will also substantially enhance the ability of land managers to develop and apply an integrated approach to feral animal control, which must be a priority of this threat abatement plan.

Actions

Continue implementation of the broad scale coordinated feral goat control program in Western Australia to promote both conservation and primary production benefits.

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

Support regional organisations, community groups and government agencies in collaboratively developing and implementing regional feral goat control programs to address problems attributable to competition or land degradation caused by feral goats.

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

Objective 3: Eradicate feral goats from islands or isolated areas where they are a threat to endangered or vulnerable native species or ecological communities.

Objective 4: Prevent feral goats occupying new areas in Australia where they may threaten species or ecological communities with extinction.

Feral Goat Free Areas

Feral goats are known to be present on a number of islands of which Tasmania and Kangaroo Island are the largest (Parkes et. al. 1996). The threat posed by feral goats to conservation of species on these islands should be reviewed to determine priorities for eradication. There are also a number of isolated populations of goats on mainland Australia where eradication may be a feasible option. Conservation values to be protected in these latter areas should be identified and priorities established for control. Every effort should be taken to contain and eradicate goats from these isolated populations.

Preventing the introduction of feral goats to islands or new mainland sites 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. It is essential that feral goats continue to be excluded from those areas where they do not occur. The risk of goats naturally dispersing to islands is considered very low, as goats are reluctant to swim except under duress. Deliberate introductions to continental islands are now also an unlikely event. Dispersal or introduction of feral goats to new areas of the mainland is, however, a more significant risk that needs to be fully assessed and appropriate management strategies developed to respond to such events. There must also be the ability to detect incursions before populations have a chance to become established. Contingency plans should identify the most appropriate control measures and funding sources to implement the required control.

Actions

Review the species and conservation values at risk from goats on those islands where they occur and identify priorities for eradication.

Identify isolated feral goat populations and determine whether there are any endangered or threatened species present in these areas that would justify eradication of the feral goats.

Develop and implement contingency plans to contain and exterminate any incursion by feral goats into isolated areas 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.

Objective 5: Ensure that development of a commercial goat industry does not compromise conservation of native species or ecological communities.

The presence of feral goats in Australia is a direct result of human actions in the past, either releasing goats onto islands as potential food for mariners or from domestic animals accidentally or deliberately being released into the wild. The presence of a domestic goat industry presents a continuing risk that further escapes could occur leading to expansion of the range of feral goats or reinfestation of areas where control may have been effective. The risk that domestic goats could escape, and the potential consequences of such an escape, are amenable to analysis. Based upon the level of risk identified, management measures could be required to minimise the threat of new feral populations being established.

Actions

Develop methods for evaluating the risks of establishing feral goat populations through escapees from new and existing goat enterprises.

Identify management options to minimise the threat to the environment and to other primary production activities posed by new and existing domestic goat enterprises.

In addition to the domestic goat industry, there is a wild harvest industry based on either field shot animals or capture of wild animals. The presence of a wild harvest industry based on feral goats presents risks to efforts to manage feral populations. Intermittent and uncoordinated control activities by individual landholders to supply the wild harvest industry will not result in effective management of feral goats nor ameliorate the goats' impacts on endangered or vulnerable native species or ecological communities. The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Resource Management at its meeting in October 1994 supported the commercial use of feral animals with the objective of eliminating them from the wild.

Current State and Territory legislation defines feral goats as either livestock or as pest animals. The consequences for effective management of the differing legal classifications of feral goats should be assessed. Agreement should be sought through the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Resource Management and the Standing Committee on Conservation on a nationally consistent status for all feral goats.

Actions

Assess the relative merits of the differing legal status currently ascribed to feral goats and review the implications for management actions.

Review the economics of the wild harvest industry and identify those areas and circumstances under which it would be an economically viable supplement to control options.

Encourage the development and implementation of a national policy on the commercial use of feral goats.

Assessment of the legal status of feral goats is a matter that could be considered by the Feral Goat Threat Abatement Team proposed to be established as an action relating to Objective 10. Development of a national policy on commercial use of feral goats is an activity that should be considered jointly by the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Resource Management and the Standing Committee on Conservation.

Innovative and humane control methods

Objective 6: Improve the effectiveness and humaneness of feral goat control methods.

Trapping Systems

The majority of feral goats in Australia are within the arid and semi-arid rangelands. Distribution and survival of goats in the rangelands is determined by the availability of either natural or artificial water sources. While goats in temperate or wetter climates may obtain all of their water requirements from their food, goats in the rangelands need to drink during dry times. This reliance on water during dry times is a critical weakness in the resilience of goats to other control measures. Current moves to cap the bores and regulate water supply in large areas of the rangelands provide an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of goat control at water points. Permanent traps may be placed around water sources and left open except for short periods when they are made operational to capture goats.

Actions

Evaluate and disseminate information on the effectiveness of permanent traps placed on water sources as a means of capturing feral goats, and assess the effects of their use on domestic livestock.

Identify the most effective trap designs and determine the relative cost effectiveness of individual trap designs as a means of capturing feral goats and protecting local populations of endangered species.

Investigate feral goat behaviour at traps to determine potential weak points in designs that may compromise their effectiveness.

Investigate goat behaviour at traps on water sources to develop guidelines on their usage that will ensure that animal welfare is not compromised.

Evaluate and disseminate information on management options for humane disposal of feral goats that are trapped.

Fencing

A large range of fence designs has been used to contain domestic goats and several designs for conventional and electric fences have been recommended for normal Australian conditions (Lund and May 1990). However there is little information on the effectiveness of specific designs for use on feral goats and there are no nationally accepted standard designs for particular habitats or terrain. A recent (1994) review of predator proof fence designs highlighted the need for a comprehensive evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of different fence designs, to ensure that future investment in fox resistant fences is directed towards the most effective designs. A similar review is warranted to assess the effectiveness of stock proof fencing for containing domestic goats on farms and excluding feral goats from areas of high conservation value. Exclusion fencing is seen as a particularly useful means of providing interim protection to plants and other species that cannot move. Longer term protection may involve broad scale reduction in goat numbers to restore normal ecosystem functioning.

Actions

Evaluate existing fence designs for containing domestic goats, and their suitability for excluding feral goats from areas of high conservation value, and disseminate this information to land managers.

Identify the most effective fence designs for particular habitats or topographies and determine the relative cost effectiveness of individual fence designs as a means of enclosing or excluding feral goats and protecting local populations of endangered species.

Investigate the behaviour of both domestic and feral goats at electrified and non-electrified fences to determine potential weak points in fence designs that may compromise their effectiveness.

Fertility Control

Feral goats have a high rate of reproduction, and can breed twice a year under good conditions. The average litter size is 1.59 and litters are produced, on average, 1.57 times a year (Henzell quoted in Parkes et. al. 1996). In the absence of human control efforts goats have the ability to double their population every 1.6 years (Parkes et. al. 1996). In these circumstances, control methods that result in only temporary sterility would be unlikely to provide any effective level of population control.

Given the high cost of research on fertility control agents and the existing research on other species, this plan recommends that progress in the development of fertility controls for foxes, rabbits and mice be monitored, but that no additional funds be invested in similar work on feral goats until the benefits of current research have been demonstrated.

Action

Monitor progress with the development of fertility control methods for foxes, rabbits and mice. Should these studies demonstrate the effectiveness of fertility control methods for any of these species, review the potential applicability to feral goat control and identify the research necessary to develop and apply the methodology to feral goats.

Humane Poisoning

The use of 1080 poison on hoofed animals appears to be relatively humane. However, poisons have not been extensively used as a control method for feral goats. Western Australia has experimented with the use of 1080 in water but this method appears to be more suited to higher densities of goats (Norbury 1993). Problems with potential non-target impacts have limited the wide use of 1080 as a control method for feral goats.

The use of poisons is not considered a priority for control of feral goats but there may be a need to examine their potential use in temperate or wet climate areas where feral goats can survive without free water. The identification, testing and registration of new control substances for use on feral animals is an expensive exercise. Such studies would only be considered if existing control methods proved inadequate to control feral goats in these areas.

Actions

Identify existing usage of poisons as a control method for feral goats and evaluate the effectiveness and humaneness of existing poison methods.

Review and evaluate the range of poisons that could be used to control feral goats.

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 7: Improve knowledge and understanding of feral goat impacts and interactions with other species.

Objective 8: Improve knowledge and understanding of the role of feral goats as a contributor to land degradation.

Documenting Feral Goat Impacts

Ensuring that field experience and research are applied to improve feral goat control programs is an important element of this plan. Despite the fact that feral goats have been in Australia since the last century, knowledge of their interactions with other species, ecology and behaviour is still inadequate. There is a recognised need to improve understanding of the impact of feral goats on a range of native species, especially those native plants currently listed as endangered or vulnerable, and to determine whether this is compatible with the long term conservation of these species. In addition, the relative contribution to land degradation that is directly attributable to feral goats has not been determined.

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

Actions

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

Develop improved methods for estimating feral goat numbers to assist in determining broad scale control priorities and assist in strategic planning.

Investigate interactions between feral goats and other herbivores to identify the relative contribution of feral goats to total competition and land degradation, particularly in rangeland areas.

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

Understanding Interactions with Other Feral Pests

Rabbits have also been identified as contributing to competition and land degradation which is threatening native species and ecological communities. In areas where goats and rabbits are present control activities should be planned to identify the relative contribution of each species to the threatening process. Where resources for control activities are limited, such information will be important in determining the most effective strategy to be employed.

Dingoes and feral dogs have been identified as the main predators of feral goats, although foxes, feral pigs and wedge-tailed eagles are also known to prey upon them. Feral goats are rarely present unless dingoes or feral dogs are absent or controlled to low densities (Parkes et. al. 1996).

Actions

Identify the relative contributions of feral goats and rabbits to land degradation affecting endangered and vulnerable native species and ecological communities so that control of both species can be integrated to maximise recovery of native species.

Determine the level of competition between feral goats and rabbits for plant material to integrate feral goat control activities with rabbit control activities more effectively.

Determine the significance of predation by dingoes as a control of feral goat populations and assess the relative costs and benefits of controlling either one species alone or both species together.

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 plan for the rabbit.

Refining Priority Setting Mechanisms

Identification of species and regions that will benefit most from coordinated feral goat 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 feral goats. Available resources will seldom, if ever, be sufficient to fully implement all the 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 result in maximum conservation benefits. An agreed national methodology for ranking areas should be developed to cover protecting existing populations of endangered species, facilitating their expansion, and preparing areas for translocation.

Actions

Prioritise areas for investment in feral goat control to take account more effectively of the degree of threat that feral goats 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 feral goat control.

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

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

The Feral Goat Threat Abatement Team, specified in the actions relating to Objective 10, 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 are collated and analysed.

Education

Objective 9: 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 be dependent upon a high level of cooperation between all key stakeholders. These include landholders, community groups, feral goat harvesters, local government, State and Territory conservation and pest management agencies and the Commonwealth Government and its agencies. While the focus of this threat abatement plan is upon minimising the impacts of feral goats on endangered and vulnerable species and communities, it must take account of the fact that feral goat populations were founded by domestic goats which escaped. It is important that development of the domestic goat industry occurs in an ecologically sustainable manner and that adequate provisions exist to minimise the risk of future escapes, especially in environmentally sensitive areas. Educating land managers and community organisations to ensure their skilled and effective participation in feral goat control activities, and to improve their knowledge of the impacts that feral goats have upon native species and communities, is an essential component of the plan. Landowners involved in development of the domestic goat industry should be aware of the threats posed by uncontrolled feral goat populations and the necessary management actions to minimise the risk of domestic livestock escaping.

The plan is also intended to assist in documenting significant advances in knowledge, techniques and practice for abating the threat to endangered and vulnerable species and ecological communities posed by feral goats. 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 feral goat control methods, a wider knowledge of species recovery plans and the importance of competition and land degradation caused by feral goats as a key threatening process.

The Feral Goat Threat Abatement Team, specified in the actions relating to Objective 10, 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 10: Effectively coordinate feral goat control activities.

National coordination

The presence of both a domestic livestock industry based on goats and the wild harvest of feral goat populations highlights the importance of national coordination in managing the impacts of goats on endangered and vulnerable species and communities. Inadequate management and containment of domestic goats could compromise any benefits that may be gained by improved control of feral goats. Similarly, actions to control feral goats will need to take account of potential implications for managed domestic goats. The activities and priorities under this plan will need to ensure that field experience and research are applied to further improve management of feral goats. 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:

As identified above, the development of material to assist in extension and information transfer would be assisted by input from an advisory group comprising persons with relevant technical and practical experience in feral goat control and/or management of domestic goats. This group, with both technical and practical experience to draw upon, could assess the potential broader application of control methods or approaches developed through local control plans.

Actions

A Feral Goat 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 it with 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.