Case study: Declaring the fox a pest in New South Wales

Effective long-term fox management requires the cooperation of a critical mass of land managers in any one area. Land managers can be reluctant to participate because they:

  • do not view foxes as a widespread pest
  • do not recognise foxes’ economic, environmental and social impacts
  • receive no direct benefits from fox control
  • distrust or are limited in their choice of control options.

In New South Wales the declaration of an animal as a pest under the Rural Lands Protection Act 1998 places a legal obligation on land managers to implement pest management programs. Currently, the fox is not a declared pest in this state, so participation in fox management programs is voluntary. Foxes are declared pests in most other states and territories in Australia.

At their annual meeting in 2005, the NSW Rural Lands Protection Board (now Livestock Health and Pest Authority; LHPA) State Council proposed that the official declaration of foxes should be explored. In a 2007 survey of land managers, three quarters of 400 respondents supported the idea that the fox should be a declared pest in New South Wales.

Aim

This study investigated the impact of a fox pest declaration on land managers and the government enforcement agency in a small area of rural New South Wales.

Partners and management

The study was a joint research project between the NSW Department of Primary Industries and the LHPA, with cooperation from Southern New England Landcare. Funding was provided by the National Feral Animal Control Program and the Australian Pest Animal Management Program.

Process

In December 2007, the fox was declared a pest in a small region of northern New South Wales. Fox management activities were then monitored at this site and two neighbouring sites for the next two years. Lamb production data was collected from land managers who volunteered to be part of the project. All land managers were invited to express their perspectives, knowledge and experiences of fox control activities through postal surveys and several focus groups. Historical records of management practices and lamb production back to 2004 were also collected.

Results

Two years after the declaration there was an increase in awareness of the fox problem. However, there was no overall increase in land manager participation in fox control activities. Some new land managers had become involved in fox programs, but others had discontinued their control, mainly due to new regulations for using 1080-poison baits.

The legislation requirements (regarding mandatory fox control) were not enforced by the LHPA over this time (see ‘What didn’t work and why’). Without the threat of punishment, the legislation had little impact on land managers and compliance rates were low.

What worked and why

  • There was an increased awareness of the fox problem, from education and promotion campaigns that ran together with the introduction of the pest declaration.
  • These campaigns also increased landholders’ interest in running group programs for fox control.

What didn’t work and why

  • It was hard to assess whether a particular area of land had a fox ‘problem’, because foxes are cryptic animals and extremely difficult to count. Also, at what population or damage level are foxes officially a problem?
  • There were problems in determining who had ownership of the pest problem, because foxes are highly mobile and can rapidly move into new areas.
  • There is a limited choice of control techniques available for broadscale use. Baiting with 1080 is the most practical technique, but is restricted in its use and appeal. Shooting has been shown to be less effective at a landscape scale, and trapping is limited to small areas.
  • The enforcement agency could not cover their additional workload and expenses because there was no additional funding or support.
  • The problem of urban and peri-urban fox populations was not addressed because the legislation only applied to rural areas.
  • The education program may not have been appropriate to all land holders. The structure of rural Australia has diversified significantly in recent years in terms of landholders and land uses.

Alternatives to legislation

An alternative solution to using a heavy-handed regulatory approach is to provide economic incentives to improve fox management.

Partnerships between stakeholders and government agencies, guiding operations through local social networks, have been shown to effectively promote best-practice fox management. Including positive incentives that are meaningful and equitable (such as bait, business and rate subsidies) encourages cooperation and participation.

Education has a key role in fox management programs and should be appropriately targeted to all stakeholders. Increasing public awareness of the detrimental impacts of foxes and benefits of control can influence attitudes, resulting in shifts in people’s priorities and actions.

Conclusion

Because of their elusive nature, foxes are difficult animals to detect and control, so enforcing any fox legislation is challenging. In this study, because there was little or no enforcement of legislative changes, not all landholders felt compelled to participate in fox management. The main obstructions to the success of this legislation were the costs and challenges of its enforcement. To have a better chance of succeeding, this legislation change would require that the regulatory body receive adequate funding and resources for administration, enforcement and education. Legislation may need to be combined with positive incentives for a better outcome.

Author Invasive Animals CRC
Year 2012
Publisher Invasive Animals CRC
Pages 2 pp
ISBN/ISSN PestSmart code: FXCS4
Region NSW
Documents

PestSmart Case Study: Declaring the fox a pest in New South Wales [340kb PDF]

Links

PestSmart toolkit: Foxes