This case study tells the story of a successful community-driven landscape-scale approach to managing wild dogs in the Northern Flinders region of South Australia. Ultimately the success of Biteback will be measured in the long term. It is anticipated that over the next three to four years landholders will be able to clearly see the results of their collective efforts through reduced wild dog numbers and stock losses.
The Northern Flinders Ranges/Marree district covers an area of 43,500 square kilometres and is bounded by the Dog Fence to the north, Lake Frome in the east and Lake Torrens to the west. It is one of four districts south of the Dog Fence within the South Australian Arid Lands (SAAL) Natural Resource Management (NRM) region. Historically widespread baiting and trapping, as well as doggers were used extensively to manage wild dogs in this area. Over the last 20 years these efforts have dropped off and control measures became intermittent, despite it being required under South Australian legislation. The reduction in wild dog control efforts can partly be attributed to changes in land use, with some pastoral properties being sold to conservation groups, Aboriginal groups, mining companies and tourism operators. As a result sheep grazing enterprises have become dispersed and fragmented across the landscape.
Subsequently, wild dog numbers and predation increased dramatically, with some producers reporting losses of up to 700 sheep per annum. In 2008 less that 12% of landholders took part in baiting activities.
In August 2008, the Northern Flinders NRM Group (NF Group) sought advice from the National Wild Dog Facilitator (NWDF) regarding possible strategies that could be adopted to assist with mitigating the current wild dog problem. The NF Group realised that responsibility for developing a solution and implementing it had to lie with the land managers if they were going to see long-term success. However, the sheer scale of the problem meant that they would need the support of industry and government to get a sustainable program up and running.
The NF Group was supported by the South Australian Sheep Industry Fund and SAAL NRM Board, to set up the Biteback Program.
The success of the project depended on landholder involvement and the challenge was to maximise landholder participation in Biteback. To make this achievable, a Biteback coordinator was appointed who worked with the stakeholders in the region to split the four NRM districts into smaller community-driven sub-areas managed by working groups.
A series of planning meetings was conducted with the working groups in each district to explain the nil-tenure planning process, and collect information on wild dog movements, current control and stock losses. These were overlaid on maps of the region to assist with developing a cooperative and coordinated wild dog control program. The NWDF attended each meeting to share the experiences of producers involved in nil-tenure wild dog management programs in other states. The facilitator also disseminated information on best practice management techniques and discussed the benefit of community-driven wild dog management programs across the region.
As may be seen in the figure at right, in 2008 there were 19 property owners participating in wild dog control. Following the introduction of the Biteback Program in 2009 a total of 119 property owners participated in wild dog management in 2012/2013 and lambing rates rose demonstrably. The cooperation and organisation demonstrated by 100 plus stakeholders actively taking part in Biteback generated changes in state government policy to assist with the delivery of landscape-scale approaches to wild dog management, particularly the introduction of aerial baiting.
The long-term goal is to provide landholders with the tools needed to be self-sufficient in managing wild dogs.
What makes Biteback so valuable is that it provides a model for community-driven action for wild dog management and the approach has the potential to be applied widely elsewhere.
The National Wild Dog Action Plan is an industry initiative endorsed by Government.