Field & Game Australia

Accountability is critical

What a hunting season it’s been across south eastern Australia, I trust you’ve made the most of conditions and exploring new places to hunt, and you were able to hunt more than last year.

Increased participation is one of the best ways to demonstrate the importance of hunting to our communities.

While we reflect on an incredible hunting season, it has not been without its challenges. To address the issues means we must allocate precious resources and time, diverting us from our primary focus on improving conservation, hunting and recreational shooting opportunities that we should be maximising.

In this column we also reflect on the practical issues when government states there is no change to the arrangements for duck hunting; how impatience creates the stimulus for action; our thirst for knowledge and answers; and why accountability is critical. We also consider ‘stakeholders’, an overused term that leaves little to be desired when critically assessed against value created.

This needs to be set in the context of what we are privileged to access as hunters, and sometimes it takes a different set of eyes to remind us of this. We’ve spent time with a number of international visitors, experienced waterfowl hunters, and they are astounded by our incredible game bird hunting opportunities in Australia — a variety of truly wild, native game species, set in an amazing landscape with public land access. Our hunting is truly world class.

Thanks must go to the amazing foresight of the hunter/conservationists for the practical conservation efforts that have been essential to preserve our rapidly diminishing wetlands. The original private/public partnership established with government of the day has evolved and today includes invaluable private partnerships and the WET Trust. Conservation efforts continue to be underpinned by dedicated volunteers improving wetlands for all species. It is another story about the links between practical conservation and sustainable use of wildlife by hunting. This story is the FGA story and is 59 years in the making.

Yet all the reports told us we shouldn’t have experienced any hunting this season. Well, someone got it wrong.

Hunters know from time spent in the field that nature will produce when habitat plus water is available, stimulating breeding events, creating new hunting opportunities, and an abundance of game birds in fantastic condition. The result is the sustainable harvest of a viable natural resource within the highly regulated framework of the hunting season.

The reality is that there is very little science or research dedicated to game and game management in Australia.

Yes, we’re impatient at the lack of research and game management, and we can’t wait for others to eventually prioritise funding and resources to research. We are forging ahead with ongoing and new research projects, ensuring decisions about game species are based on facts and data. Modifications to hunting seasons and exclusions of species from hunting, examples include the shoveler in both Victoria and South Australia, where the hardhead was also excluded, must be based on sound science, not perceptions or attempts to appease socio-political agendas.

These modifications and exclusions from hunting made in the bubble of extreme aversion to risk have the practical effect of reducing hunting opportunities and devaluing our natural resources. When you critically assess the results of these decisions the only conclusion is that they produce the same outcomes sought by the anti hunting animal rights activists, the groups who actively campaign to stop hunting.

It is why we promote the need for scientific rigour in decisions made about habitat, wildlife and hunting and why we talk with scientists who have long experience in sustainable use of wildlife and the links with positive conservation outcomes. It’s why we ask questions and hold people and agencies accountable, we don’t always have the answers but we have an insatiable appetite to know “why” and it makes for some challenging conversations.

We welcome the statements by the Victorian State Government that arrangements for duck hunting will continue unchanged. However, we can never take this for granted, and the statement there is “no change” highlights another of the issues we face each season. The practical result of “no change” is that the current management actions applied to hunting will continue. These management actions are the same as season modifications, do nothing to create new habitat or acquire new knowledge of our game species, and in fact only serve to effectively restrict and exclude hunting opportunities.

This is where the collection of data and monitoring supports decisions based on facts, avoiding rhetoric and short-term knee jerk reactionary management actions that usually have little effect other than being seen to act.

We also welcome announcements and the funding allocated to the Sustainable Hunting Action Plan (SHAP) by the Victorian Government. This is such an important initiative that we joined our colleagues at the Australia Deer Association to put steps in place to create accountability, ensuring hunters and the tax paying community receive the best value from the funding that has been allocated.

We’ve had constructive discussions that resulted in Ministerial commitment to quarterly reporting of the progress with the SHAP. We’ve also been active to ensure we have input at the early stages of designing the projects. These commitments by the Minister are welcomed; it’s now up to the project teams and agencies to deliver. At the time of writing we’ve seen some information published on SHAP, but it’s a long way from the robust reporting that clearly demonstrates the projects are on time, on budget, and are designed in a way that will fulfil the objectives.

We continue to monitor progress against the benchmarks agreed by the Minister in the Key Performance Indicators developed by ADA and FGA, as of today we have concerns at what has been reported and we feel this is letting the Minister and her Cabinet colleagues down.

As we seek accountability from others who make decisions that affect what we do, we hold ourselves accountable. Similarly, we expect accountability from within the hunting community.

Working with leaders and representatives throughout the hunting community we’re continuing to address the issues created by the minority at the Victorian opening weekend. The behaviours of a few resulted in restrictions on hunting imposed on the majority of hunters who are ethical and responsible. The real impact is the irresponsible and unethical minority have done as much, or more, than the anti-hunting activists to restrict hunting opportunities. Why should we tolerate these people in the field with us?

Our report into the opening weekend has been circulated to key stakeholders, and addresses the areas for focus; communications and education, compliance, enforcement, deterrents and consequences, and culture. This work is ongoing and builds on the focus on enforcement efforts started by FGA in 2015. We’ll continue to provide updates.

The leadership demonstrated throughout FGA when addressing these issues has earned the opportunity for continuing constructive discussion with Government. That’s been valuable as we navigated the bureaucratic processes that sought to close even more wetlands during the season. We were successful in keeping significant wetlands open because we are consistent with insisting decisions are based on facts and data, and we hold people accountable.

Memories are still raw at the memory from last year of the exclusion of hunters from Johnson Swamp State Game Reserve due to the reported presence of Bittern. What a contrast this season, Bittern were at Cullens Lake State Game Reserve but hunting went on without issue.

This brings us to “stakeholder,” widely used when engaging and consulting yet often questionable when assessing the value of the contribution. How can people claim to be a stakeholder and represent hunting issues when they aren’t present in wetlands. It stands to reason they can only speak from a theoretical or ideological basis. On the other hand we are privileged to have the benefit of speaking with 59 years of practical, hands on experience. We speak and ask questions with a national view, and increasingly we bring a global perspective to issues. This knowledge is irreplaceable. It’s also incredibly important as more and more decisions affecting hunting and game management are made in the city, by people without practical knowledge or experience in hunting or conservation through sustainable use of wildlife.

We must also question how a stakeholder earns a seat on committees advising government on animal welfare issues when they or their organisation have an overt animal rights ideology?

As ethical hunters we know the incredible responsibility of deciding when to pull the trigger or not to pull the trigger in the field. This brings an intimate knowledge of the need for animal welfare, and a unique perspective on this important issue. Yet where is our seat as a stakeholder, how do we get our voice heard above the ideological noise?

“Stakeholders” provide a convenient tool for bureaucratic attempts to corral our input behind convenient processes. This is rife with firearms and particularly recent attempts to revise the National Firearms Agreement, and the interstate amendments to firearms legislation and regulation such as the recent changes forced through in South Australia. In that state FGA’s request to participate in what was a closed consultation process was declined by the State Government, preventing the opportunity to represent our members yet politicians and bureaucrats still describe a robust processes to engage and consult widely. On paper that may be the case. The practical result is changes are made without basis on facts and data, avoiding the uncomfortable questions and accountability that must be a part of decisions that affect the pursuit of our passions.

It’s why we invest heavily in advocacy and communications on your behalf. It’s why we endure constant diversion of or precious resources to face the issues presented almost daily. It’s why your membership is so valuable. On behalf of the association, I extend our sincere thanks for your membership.

Now that the south eastern Australian game seasons are done I hope you’re busy planning other activities, whether it’s picking up your sporting gun for Simulated Field events, wetland conservation work, fox drives that are so crucial to assist the breeding season or even planning a visit to the NT for their waterfowl season, magpie goose meat is sensational.

Enjoy time with a gun or a shovel in hand as hunter/conservationists, continuing the rich legacy of 59 years of leadership in wetland conservation, sustainable hunting, and recreational shooting.

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