Field & Game Australia

Hunt with pride

Duck and quail hunting seasons have been confirmed for 2017 across south-eastern Australia, and anticipation is building.

The months leading to hunting seasons brings an incredible sense of optimism for hunters around Australia preparing to harvest wild duck and quail for family and friends. It’s an experience shared by everyone who invests effort into gathering some form of seasonal harvest: the chef working with suppliers of the freshest seasonal produce, farmers monitoring their crop before harvest, and fisherfolk waiting to cast a line when their favourite stretch of water opens.

I grew up experiencing first-hand the privilege of seasonal harvest. My family would butcher livestock for our consumption, and chickens that stopped laying eggs provided another source of protein. ‘Privilege’ is a carefully used term in this context; as hunters we understand the choices and responsibility that comes with harvesting incredible wild food from nature’s supermarket.

Ensuring the decisions on hunting made by governments are based on facts and data is by no means a given. As a result, the unrelenting pace of advocacy on hunting and related issues continues unabated.

The wet conditions and breeding event will undoubtedly provide great hunting opportunities, however, it has effectively ‘wallpapered’ over the gaps from the absence of an effective, science-led approach to game management in Australia.

The use of data not designed for game management, and the absence of effective adaptive harvest management, results in a continued focus on varying bag limits and excluding species as the solution to varying conditions. These impose restrictions on hunters without addressing the underlying issues.

Let’s hope we avoid a repeat of the emergency closures and management practices that imposed restrictions on hunting in 2016 without basis in science or facts.

Anti-hunting activists continue to play on the perception of ‘disturbance’ of rare or threatened species from hunting; the Bittern at Johnson Swamp State Game Reserve and the forced closure of Lake Elizabeth State Game Reserve at the last minute because of blue bill ducks demonstrates this. This avoids the practical reality that hunting is the reason State Game Reserves exist. Concentrations of rare or threatened species should be celebrated as an indicator of the success of this important initiative between hunters and government. Across Victoria and South Australia today we enjoy 100 000 ha of game reserves, an incredible investment in practical conservation that also allows for highly regulated hunting.

Game management practices have been widely used overseas for a long time, and can be readily adapted to provide an effective framework for hunting in Australia.

The recent announcement of the Victorian State Government’s Sustainable Hunting Action Plan is welcomed, after funding in the 2015 State Budget. Along with our Australian Deer Association colleagues, we look forward to the details that will emerge ahead of implementing this important strategy for hunting in Victoria.

The latest research by FGA on behalf of hunters around Australia is the assessment of conditions for healthy habitat and waterfowl for 2017 and beyond. This assessment has been shared with members, politicians and bureaucrats around Australia. I encourage all members to read our paper, share it with everyone you hunt with, or who is curious about why you hunt.

I also pass on sincere thanks to the members who volunteered their time to assess wetland health and waterfowl populations. These assessments provide indicators of local conditions. Collected over time, this data has allowed research at University of New England that identifies key regions, and key wetlands within those regions, that have provided important habitat for ducks. The annual summer assessment of wetlands and waterfowl populations will be underway as you read this edition of Field & Game magazine. While these provide a source of information and conditions, the dynamic nature of wild ducks means there’s no substitute to getting out and inspecting wetlands ahead of the season. With no guarantees in hunting, you can be sure the adage that ‘success comes with overalls’ will pay dividends. Those hunters who invest time surveying wetlands will be rewarded; we’re already seeing ducks on the move and scouting will be crucial to identify prospects for opening.

The FGA paper builds on our assessment made in 2015 that highlighted healthy habitat as the critical need for sustainable waterfowl populations. While this has also emerged as a common theme with anti-hunting activists, it is usually served up with convenient headlines while avoiding presenting all the facts in attempts to stimulate an emotive response to hunting. These claims quickly fall apart under scrutiny. A recent example is the news article claiming a lack of Wood ducks as evidence of the dire straits for our duck populations. It would help to assess Wood duck populations in their preferred habitat and gather real data, and the article highlights the gaps in relevant research applied to hunting and game management. FGA continues to lead the call for change. It also highlights the challenges we face; how many in our communities will read that same article and take the alleged lack of Wood ducks as a fact?

These are the reasons why FGA continues to invest heavily in advocacy, as well as seeking effective game management that is based on facts and data designed for managing dynamic populations of wildlife in conservation projects like the Heart Morass and the exciting new Connewarre Wetland Centre near Geelong.

We’ve also invested heavily in communications to tell your stories. It’s remarkable to think that as this edition of Field & Game magazine goes to print we are entering the second year of our communications strategy, implementing our publishing platform integrating magazine, website, and social and digital media. My sincere thanks to everyone for the fantastic support to make this possible.

Our commitment to practical conservation continues with yet another milestone. World Wetland Day 2017 provides the reason to celebrate the opening of the Connewarre Wetland Centre, another WET Trust project. Thanks to FGA members of the Geelong branch and all their supporters for the hard work and commitment that made this project possible. This building and the surrounding feature wetland is another exciting WET Trust project to share with the local community and stakeholders, and showcase the practical conservation credentials of hunters.

Good projects are the result of careful planning and skilled, passionate people. FGA understands the value of planning, and we are developing an exciting strategic direction to achieve success in 2020 and beyond. This will ensure the careful commitment of our resources, allowing us to address the priorities as well as the challenges we will face. This continues the important process of planning that commenced in 2010.

Every member is an ambassador for hunting and as we prepare hunting and camping equipment I urge every hunter to reflect on the RESPECT program. RESPECT is an important reminder to consider how we go about hunting: picking up empty cartridges, having the best ammunition/choke combination, a realistic decoy spread, positively identifying the birds flying towards decoys before raising the gun. And one of the most important parts of hunting for me is to ensure my dog is in good shape with consistent training throughout the year.

You can be sure anti-hunting activists will seek out every opportunity to raise the perception that hunting is not socially acceptable but the facts are on our side.

The growth in membership achieved by hard-working committees continues around Australia. On behalf of everyone at FGA I’m delighted to welcome the members and committee of our newest branch at Waikerie. Located in the South Australian Riverland, Waikerie has keen hunters and recreational shooters amongst its members, and hosts monthly events at their shooting ground.

This continues our focus on supporting the growth of conservation, hunting and recreational shooting in South Australia, and my thanks to the Waikerie committee and members for entrusting FGA with the privilege of supporting their branch with a new phase in its history.

FGA membership is an investment in the future of hunting in Australia. Please make sure your hunting companions understand the benefits of FGA membership and invite them to sign up before the 2017 seasons open.

I hope you have a successful opening on duck and quail, enjoying time in the great Australian outdoors with a gun in hand and a good dog at your side.

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