Feral deer: This menace needs to be dealt with like the pest species it is

A busk photographed at West Wollongong
A busk photographed at West Wollongong

There aren’t many issues that see the Greens clamouring for more shooting in the bush, while the hunting lobby says arrangements should stay more restricted.

But that wouldn’t be the first time the feral deer problem came as a surprise.

In the Illawarra, people who live near the escarpment, some commuters who have come across the Rusa deer on the M1, and people who frequent the Royal National Park are probably the most likely to know the extent of the problem.

Others may never have seen a wild deer or the problems they cause. 

These range from yards, gardens and trees being ripped up, to endangering drivers, to people being gored, and even illegal hunters drawn by deer to residential areas.

The NSW Government’s own Natural Resources Commission was tasked with reviewing the situation and in August last year it recommended unequivocally that deer should be classified as a pest species.

The fact they are now classified as “game” is an anomaly. For Illawarra residents whose yards or trees are ripped up by the feral Rusa deer, it’s an insult. While game restrictions apply to culling deer, their numbers grow and the damage they do increases.

Deer were introduced to Australia in the 19th Century as game. Most would agree our ecological thinking has moved on a fair way since then. Foxes were also introduced so they could be hunted, but the damage they caused led to them being classed as a pest, and they are now hunted and poisoned. 

Some shooters say the answer is to give them more access to national parks to control deer. The Berejiklian Government would dishonour itself if it even considered such a move. It would be elevating base politics (currying favour with the Shooters and Fishers) over a real environmental problem.

The Greens have championed this cause in recent years, calling it the biggest environmental issue for the Illawarra. Whether you agree would probably depend on how close to the escarpment you live. 

But out of sight – to some – must not mean out of mind. Most people who encounter deer in the Illawarra agree they are a pest. Those who don’t are probably game hunters.

Introducing exotic animals for hunting was a mistake, one that has had consequences. Finally governments must take their own advice. Bite the bullet: implement the best policies to allow a species which has become a pest to be properly, and more easily, controlled.


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