This case study on the Carnarvon Rangelands Biosecurity Association was commissioned by the National Wild Dog Action Plan to demonstrate the impact of the role of an administrator on wild dog management characteristics.
The study focusses on three interviews with key stakeholders and detailed transcripts.
Analysis and interpretation of the administrative intervention is provided in the full report.
Description of the group
The Carnarvon Rangelands Biosecurity Association (CRBA) formed in 2010 and covers five Shires in the Murchison and Gascoyne regions of north west Western Australia (see above map). The area to be managed is vast in scale and very remote, with a small population and limited services. Of the total land area 15 per cent is inaccessible and requires aerial baiting to manage wild dogs. These rangelands traditionally supported sheep production, but with the decline of the wool industry and the impact of prolonged drought and wild dogs, many properties have either de-stocked or transitioned to cattle production. Some stations have been purchased for nature conservation purposes.
Approximately 100 rated landholders are members of the CRBA. The organisation is funded by rates contributed by landholders which are matched by funds from the WA State Government’s Declared Pest Account, and other external funding as available. The Association has responsibility to manage weeds and feral animals, but wild dogs are the primary focus due to their economic, environmental and social impacts.
The CRBA consists of a Committee of 11 volunteers with a Chairman, Vice Chairman, a Secretary/Treasurer and up to eight Committee members. The aim is to have geographic representation on the Committee to match the vast size of the region. Agency staff (Department of Parks and Wildlife(DPaW), Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA)) may attend meetings as observers. The Committee has oversight of the volunteer Coordinators identified for each area: there are seven Licensed Pest Management Technician (LPMT) coordinators and seven Rack Coordinators.
From 2010 to 2015 the group did not employ an Executive Officer. The group received some support from DAFWA staff member, Jim Miller, who performed some executive functions for the group.
From 2014 the CRBA went through a difficult transition period as government sought to transfer responsibility for biosecurity to regional biosecurity groups, and that DAFWA services were being withdrawn.
Gascoyne pastoralist Justin Steadman became the CRBA Chair from March 2015 and by late July there was a realisation that the group needed an Executive Officer and Bill Currans of Currans Environmental Consulting was contracted to provide part time executive support services. Bill is based in Geraldton and brings over 20 years’ experience in natural resource management roles to the position. Bill has considerable experience with funding processes, project planning and management, contract management, group process, facilitation, and providing secretariat and financial management services.
Wild dog management in the Carnarvon Rangelands Biosecurity Association’s vast area of responsibility is extremely challenging due to the geographical spread across five Shires, the escalation of the wild dog population and its impact, the small number of landholders (100), and the limited funding to support on ground action.
Community engagement is impacted by the vast distances, the limited communications and other services, and the sheer lack of numbers able to participate in events. If a pastoralist is attending a CRBA activity, there is limited or no pastoral labour available to fill in behind them to continue station work and enable their contribution of voluntary effort.
Wild dogs have an economic, environmental, emotional and social cost and the escalating numbers in the southern rangelands have been a contributing factor to the reduction in small stock (sheep and goat) numbers and the decline in pastoral profitability.
There is no accurate measure of the population of wild dogs across the region, and no baseline data to measure management performance against. Planning has to be based on judgement, relying on the landholder and LPMT’s local knowledge of landscapes and observations of wild dog tracks and stock attacks.
There is still a lot to be learned about how wild dogs behave and interact in this remote landscape; how they breed and adapt, how they learn to avoid baits and traps, how mobile they are across the landscape, how they interact and depend on other species for food that supports further breeding.
In the absence of hard scientific data, the CRBA builds its regional wild dog management plan by engaging landholders to contribute their local knowledge to map regional priorities, employs LPMTs to strategically trap and monitor dogs in priority areas, then marshals volunteers and other resources to participate in broader community baiting programs to address the wild dog problem at the landscape scale. This is in addition to the individual efforts pastoralists carry out continuously on their own properties.
This case study has identified the impacts of a very difficult transfer of responsibility for wild dog management from government to private landholders in 2014, and this context must be acknowledged and the impacts on volunteers recognised. There was a prolonged period of dysfunction and disengagement as political battles were fought and lost, and many volunteers were burnt out in the process.
There was a strong feeling amongst pastoralists that they had been abandoned by government at a critical time in the battle to control wild dogs, and they were living with the consequences daily and having to deal with distressing attacks on their stock. Strong emotions came to the fore and behaviours and intentions became destructive.
The CRBA itself was very challenged by the withdrawal of state services and the expectation by government that landholders would fill the void in invasive species control and management. An expectation had been created in the transition that DAFWA would support the regional biosecurity groups with administrative resources, but this did not eventuate. Volunteers were now trying to perform roles they were not skilled in (governance, reporting, funding applications and acquittals, communications, volunteer and contractor management) and were having to balance all this with the daily demands of their pastoral business to remain profitable.
The management style during this period was authoritarian, autocratic and ‘top down’. The governance was impacted, and key best practice functions were also impacted. Volunteers did not know what was expected of them, there was little communication happening, and there was no broader plan for them to identify how they could continue to contribute. The CRBA was on the verge of closing down, and major institutional changes had to be made if it was to continue.
The two critical changes that occurred in mid-2015 were the succession of CRBA office bearers and appointment of a new Chair, and the employment of a professional part time administrative resource to support the business management of the CRBA.
The National Wild Dog Action Plan is an industry initiative endorsed by Government.