Pest control is expensive
Anyone who has owned land can tell you that one of the most expensive issues they face is that of weed and pest animal control. It is also one of the most complex and difficult management issues we face in the Australian landscape today. Pest animal control alone costs the Australian economy around $740 million annually and that figure does not include expenditure on weed management. Not only that, but pest animals and weeds also contribute highly to stock losses and control measures pose a significant input cost to farm production.
Managing the problem in an integrated way
One of the dilemmas faced by land mangers is in determining at what point we have been successful in managing the problem? What benchmarks do we use? Many managers may aim to eradicate the pest, others simply to control its spread across the landscape. My view is that each pest issue must be considered independently and in the context of what is happening across your land. For instance at Jingeri we have a major problem with Lantana infestations. Lantana is a major issue because it alters the way fire behaves (makes them more intense and travel further), out competes native grasses and ground covers and is toxic to cattle and other livestock. On the other hand though, it provides useful refuge for small animals and birds, is a food source for small seed eating birds and is very useful in stabilizing erosion prone areas, because of the way its root systems intertwine. Similarly we have cats, foxes and wild dogs on the farm and in the adjacent National Park. These animals can potentially threaten our cattle – particularly young calves and are a major threat to our native wildlife.
Therein lies the dilemma for us, what should we do, how do we decide we have had success and at what point do we balance the cost of management against the perceived benefits? At Jingeri we take a very strategic and pragmatic approach to dealing with these issues. For instance – where the benefits of lantana in a particular area (in terms of native wildlife and erosion) outweigh the threat that it presents we tend to adopt a wait and see approach. We monitor the infestation and if we can achieve appropriate re-vegetation with native species then we will take measures to stage a control project. Staging is the key to success as it is important that treated areas have a chance to mature into alternative habitat or feed sources, before attempting a new project area.
In the case of dogs and foxes, we closely monitor populations and kill rates. If native wildlife (such as the Long nosed potaroo) numbers are abundant and a diversity of small mammal species persists, then it is likely that predator numbers are actually balanced within those ecosystems. For example, if we were to remove alpha (dominant) dogs then we open up the territory to subordinate dog packs and you can end up with a bigger problem that you started with, as new dogs move in. Another consideration for us are cat and hare populations that occur on the farm. These pests (particularly cats) are a significant threat to the native ecology of the farm and hares if unchecked would create erosion issues by stripping our pastures through overgrazing. What is quite interesting is that our cat and hare populations never seem to reach proportions where they create a management headache for us and the likely reason for this is that the foxes and dogs are preying on them and keeping their numbers in check. If we didn’t have these top end predators the situation would likely be different.
Coordination and consistency
Another really important aspect of pest animal management is that it is a huge waste of money to go it alone. Baiting and control programs are only effective if they are conducted across multiple neighboring properties in a coordinated way using a variety of methods such as baits, traps, spotting and shooting. The other thing to consider when using baits, is that there will always be collateral damage – whether that be to domestic dogs in the vicinity or to carnivorous native wildlife.
For my mind I like to take a cautious approach to pest management – that is – if it ain't broke, don’t try to fix it!!!