Case study: Coordinated fox shooting program

This program began in September 2004 in the Milton/Ulladulla region of New South Wales when concerns were raised about the number of foxes in the area.

A community meeting of all stakeholders was held to discuss the best approach to managing the fox problem.

The main issues identified were predation of native animals and livestock (particularly shorebirds, poultry and children’s pets), nuisance value in local caravan parks and public parks (raiding of garbage bins), and disease transmission.

The program area consisted mainly of small rural, peri-urban and urban holdings with ocean on the eastern side and forested escarpment (national parks and state forests) on the western side.
In the rural areas, agriculture mainly involved dairy and cattle production. Other enterprises included horse studs, horticulture or plantations, hobby farms and commercial enterprises such as bed-and-breakfasts.

The program was designed to reflect New South Wales’ fox threat abatement plan and to provide integrated pest management through interagency support and landholder cooperation. It ran until March 2009, when funding ran out and further support was not available.

Aims

The project aimed to:

  • educate landholders about the impact of foxes on their enterprises and the environment, and on control techniques available
  • reduce the impact of foxes on agricultural production and the biodiversity of the region (by reducing fox numbers)
  • establish a fox management system, procedures and protocols to promote sustainable local control of pest animals.

Partners and management

Partners in this program were the South East Livestock Health and Pest Authority (LHPA), the Shoalhaven and Milton Rural Landcare groups, Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority (SRCMA), the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), Shoalhaven Council, the RSPCA and individual landholders.

A management committee with representatives from the Landcare groups, SRCMA, OEH, Shoalhaven Council, the RSPCA and community members met several times a year to oversee the program.

The LHPA coordinated and ran the program’s day-to-day business. Responsibilities included contacting landholders and collecting their consent forms, employing the professional shooter, collating monitoring data and reporting to the management committee and funding bodies.

Funding for the program was sourced from the National Landcare Program and the SRCMA. Some funding for the landholder questionnaires was received from the Natural Heritage Trust through the Department of Primary Industries NSW.

Process

Shooting was the main method used for culling —  a group 1080-baiting program was not feasible because of the small nature of many holdings, the proximity of dwellings in the area, and the anti-baiting sentiment of many of the locals. Traps were laid for evasive foxes and in areas where it would be inappropriate to shoot.

A professional shooter was hired for the entire program, which was divided into two main areas. The first area covered about 2500 ha around Lake Conjola / Croogyar Creek, north of Milton, and was focused on during the spring of each year.

The second area covered about 6000 ha south of the first area down to Burrill Lake (just south of Ulladulla) and was focused on during the autumn of each year. Each control effort ran for about six weeks.

The LHPA ranger initially sent a letter to all landholders in the area to explain the program and obtain their consent to participate. The program was also publicised in local media.

Landholders who were interested in participating returned the appropriate documents to the LHPA office. Those who chose not to participate were encouraged to conduct their own fox control at the same time as the group program.

An induction day was held before the program began so landholders could meet the people involved and discuss any queries or concerns.

The shooter notified each landholder directly when he would be working on their property. When the program was over, the results were reported back to the participating landholders.

Fox abundance was monitored before and after the program using spotlight counts. Foxes were counted over three consecutive nights along the same route by the LHPA ranger using a white spotlight and 4WD vehicle.

Data on changes in fox impact (eg livestock data and observations on native animal abundance) were collated via a landholder questionnaire in 2005 and 2006.

Features of the program

This program used shooting as the main control technique, coordinating with surrounding baiting programs conducted by Forests NSW and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Training in the use of leg-hold traps and the hire of trapping kits were offered to interested landholders as part of the program. Landholders were able to meet the people involved in the program and discuss any queries and concerns.

Results

  • There was a reduction in fox numbers counted and destroyed over the five-year period of the program (see Figure 2, graphs of results).
  • 73% of landholders reported a reduction in sightings and signs of foxes for at least three to six months after the program.
  • The Pest Advisory Committee was established and communication developed between agencies for future programs.

What worked

  • Community ownership of the program led to increased support from the full range of landholders in the area. Communication between the various agencies and community groups involved was also improved.
  • Potential tension within the community was avoided by choosing a control method (shooting) that was acceptable to both rural and urban landholders. This method also allowed more landholders to be involved in the program than if 1080 baiting had been used. This in turn meant that a larger, more continuous area could be controlled.
  • There is potential for the land manager group established for this project to continue to work together on other common issues.

What didn’t work

  • The program was only run once a year in each half of the control area — this meant benefits were only short term, since foxes quickly re-established. Research has shown that control programs are more effective when run twice a year.
  • There was regular monitoring of the fox population but predation impacts, which are important in determining the program’s effectiveness, were only monitored during the first two years.
  • There was no integration with other pest animal control programs and some landholders reported an increase in rabbit numbers after the fox program.

Conclusion

Group fox shooting programs can be effective if correctly done. This program demonstrates the importance of collaborative fox control programs and community ownership of the fox damage issue.

The choice of shooting rather than 1080 baiting resulted in many more landholders participating and a larger, more continuous area being controlled.

Documents

PestSmart Case Study: Coordinated fox shooting program (1 Mb PDF)

Links

PestSmart: Foxes

Author Invasive Animals CRC
Year 2011
Publisher Invasive Animals CRC
Pages 4
ISBN/ISSN PestSmart code: FXCS2
Control method Shooting
Region NSW