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Driven to distraction: Bird life and death in Victoria

Life in the air

“The Victorian Government has announced the 2024 duck season will open at 8:00am on Wednesday, 10 April 2024 and close 30 minutes after sunset on Wednesday, 5 June 2024. The hunting start time is 8:00am until 30 minutes after sunset for the entire season”.

Peter and Andrea Hylands

June 8, 2024

As one grim crime against nature, Victoria’s duck shooting season, drew to a close, another one opens, this time in the form of Canberra’s mass Kangaroo cull. For the record, here we look at what people said, before, during and after the 2024 duck shooting season in Victoria.

The mass killing of birdlife that nobody wanted

A total ban on recreational duck and quail shooting is the very first recommendation from the Parliamentary Inquiry into Victoria’s Native Bird Hunting Arrangements.

"The Committee’s rationale is driven by the considerable environmental evidence of long-term decline in native bird populations, and a worsening outlook as our climate continues to change". Mr Batchelor said.
"The Committee was also acutely aware of the animal welfare issues associated with native bird hunting, as well as the amenity loss of large areas of public land to the overwhelming majority of the Victorian public during the hunting season".

Declining or booming bird populations and conflicting job descriptions?

“The Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey, an independent survey conducted annually by experts at the University of New South Wales, shows waterbird populations have declined as much as 90 per cent over the last forty years in eastern Australia. Despite this, in the last ten years, an average of 320,000 ducks were shot and killed each hunting season in Victoria alone”. BirdLife Australia
“After record-high native bird breeding in recent years due to the significant rainfall Victoria has received, the Victorian game duck population increased by almost three-fold. Minister for Outdoor Recreation, Steve Dimopoulos has announced the 2024 duck season will commence on Wednesday 10 April 2024 and end on Wednesday 5 June 2024, inclusive”. Jacinta Allan, Premier of Victoria
“Our position has not changed and we’re supporting recreational duck and quail hunting to continue in a safe, sustainable and responsible way with minimal harm to our environment". Steve Dimopoulos, Victorian Environment Minister

Big spending

“This week, the Victorian government outlined $11 million more in funding for duck/quail hunting, while it threatened to cut funding for critical cancer research (Herald Sun) and failed to assist Wildlife Victoria with their modest request for a relatively small amount”. Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting, 10 May 2024

International travel expense:

“For ducks' sake, state bureaucrats go on $31,000 wild goose chase It's not every day we can bring you a tale of state bureaucrats spending tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money to literally go on a wild goose chase, but here we go”. Melbourne Age, 4 June 2024

Home office

“There is a whole other side to the duck hunting debate that is neither science nor ideology that seems to have been totally disregarded in the government's recent announcement (to continue duck shooting). This relates to the serious issues, that regional residents and landholders are forced to live with as a result of the shooting. Some of these include trespass by armed offenders whose acts cannot be prosecuted as they are not able to be identified, theft of firewood (often habitat timber), littering and contamination, to what is often food producing land, plastic shotgun shells and wads, lead, human excrement), dead and injured birds washing up that have to be managed by land owners and the very loud disturbing gunfire noise at all times of day and night that scares animals and children, not to mention if you are working from home. Regardless of many invitations no MP has bothered to visit these people to experience it for themselves. If they did while they are there, they can see the wonderful work these land holders are doing regenerating the natural environment on their properties using their own money”. (Extract) Elizabeth McCann, Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting, Bendigo Advertiser, 2 March 2024

Going going gone

VICTORIA: BirdLife Australia still has concerns for Endangered Brolgas, Australasian Bitterns and other protected species at wetlands that will remain open to hunters this season despite being recommended for closure during the 2024 duck hunting season in Victoria. Thirty-two wetlands will be closed or partially closed — more than ever before — following extensive monitoring by multiple environmental organisations, including BirdLife Australia, which found the sites to support significant populations of birds recognised in state, federal and international threatened species listings. However, a number of sensitive sites will remain open despite being recommended for closure by BirdLife Australia, including Lake Elingamite where Endangered Australasian Bitterns have been seen, and Gaynor Swamp, where Endangered Brolgas are present. BirdLife Australia is also concerned that hunters will be able to request that wetlands be reopened if they report an absence of threatened species at a site. Given the daily movement of birds, re-opening sites based on such reports is risky”. BirdLife Australia, 8 April 2024

“Dear Peter Hylands, thank you for your email of 6 March 2024 to the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, Nina Taylor MP, regarding 1080 poison at Victoria's Ramsar sites. Your email has been referred…… Specific actions that 1080 users must take to manage risks associated with 1080 use include notifying neighbours, placing warning signage, adhering to restrictions surrounding the placement of baits and keeping accurate bait use records. Ground baits for fox and wild dog control must be buried to limit non-target uptake and baits must not be placed within 20 metres of permanent or flowing bodies of water”. The Hon. Ros Spence MP, Minister for Agriculture, 26 March 2024

It is not only the ducks that get assaulted

“At the opening of recent duck seasons, around 20 compliance officers monitored the wetlands. This year, however, 130 were present, mostly brought to Victoria at great cost to Victorians from other states. This army of officers wasn’t to monitor the shooters. It was to put pressure on the volunteer rescue team to protect the interests of the government’s dwindling number of duck shooting clients, who make up only 0.2 per cent of Victoria’s population. Most rescuers were hit with banning notices and slapped with fines of over a thousand dollars each, simply for wanting to help protect Victoria’s sentient native waterbirds. … And heavy-handed compliance officers forced a 65-year-old female rescuer to the ground, which caused injuries to her arm and leg. She sought help at the Boort medical centre before going to the Kerang police station to lay charges of assault against the GMA officers”. Laurie Levy, Coalition against Duck Shooting, 6 June 2024

Last word

EXTRACT “The shock announcement flies in the face of these recommendations and ignores extensive scientific evidence revealing the heavy toll of recreational hunting on waterbirds. It also dismisses public sentiment and is an insult to the overwhelming majority of Victorians who support an end to this brutal and unnecessary practice. Instead, the Victorian Government –the same government that claims to be committed to stopping extinctions and protecting our most vulnerable species – has caved to the pressure of a small but vocal minority.
We know that waterbird populations are continuing to decline across eastern Australia. The Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey (EAWS) – one of the longest-running annual waterbird surveys in Australia – shows waterbird populations have declined, some by as much as 90 per cent, over the last forty years in eastern Australia. The study identifies long and medium-term declines in over 50 per cent of Australian waterbird species –including significant long-term population declines in five of Victoria’s eight game duck species. Not one of these species has shown population recovery – but despite this, over the past ten years, an average of 320,000 ducks are shot and killed each hunting season in Victoria alone.
Meanwhile, birds that aren’t directly shot or injured are still ‘caught in the crossfire’ – including the non-target and threatened species that call these wetlands home. Human disturbance poses a serious threat to waterbirds and can cause nesting failure, and reduced feeding opportunities and habitat availability. The real toll of recreational hunting on our birds is far greater than the staggering seasonal harvest estimates we see reported……
Australia is in a climate and biodiversity crisis, and wetlands are under pressure across the country. With recent climate change modelling projecting more extreme weather events, declining waterbird populations continue to face mounting challenges – exacerbated by the unnecessary and significant threat posed by recreational hunting. Instead of directing their efforts to reducing these threats and protecting biodiversity, it’s disappointing to see the Victorian Government support the continuation of this brutal, unsustainable activity”. Mandy Bamford, BirdLife Australia President, 30 January 2024

“We have come to the conclusion that at least some in the Victorian Government can’t count”. Peter Hylands