Habitat and Hunting

“The wildlife of today is not ours to dispose of as we please. We have it in trust. We must account for it to those who come after.”

King George VI

Extracted from Modern Hunting and Conservation by Field and Game Federation of Australia

Hunting in Society

It is human nature to hunt. Throughout history hunting has played a significant role in the development of societies all over the world. In Australian society today the practice of modern hunting continues a tradition extending back through many centuries. Despite the fact that hunting is no longer essential to human survival, the hunting tradition is kept alive by popular desire to maintain certain cultural values, just like the traditional aboriginal hunting and bush craft and the use of indigenous foods or ‘bush tucker’ which also generates enormous interest.

Europe too has a historic hunting tradition. After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, hunting was such a common practice it was considered a threat to the King’s sport and in order to preserve his own hunting areas William the Conqueror practiced a rudimentary conservation ethic by restricting hunting rights.

In our own history hunting became an essential survival tool for many Europeans who settled in Australia, as they struggled to impose foreign values of this very different land. As late as the 1930’s some rural communities still relied on hunting for food and income from the sale of skins and meat. The place of hunting in today’s society is sometimes questioned. We hunt for the same reasons that we catch fish, grow our own vegetables, or choose to make our own clothes. Besides companionship and general outdoor experience, hunting these days involves a range of other activities including conservation, bush craft and the preparation of special game meals for the family at home.

Legislation ensures that hunting is conducted in a manner that respects property and conserves wildlife. And important role of modern hunting organizations is to see that hunting is practiced with intelligence and care.

In 1990, the 18th General Assembly of the IUCN, the World Conservation Union, formally recognized wildlife utilization as a legitimate and potentially powerful conservation tool, recognizing that wildlife utilsation programs could create economic and other incentives for the retention, rehabilitation and management of natural habitats. The conservation ethic is integral to modern hunting.

Field and Game Federation of Australia

The Field and Game Federation was formed in 1973, in recognition of the advantages of having a national body to coordinate the activities of the State associations which, apart from waterfowl hunting, consists of wetland conservation, education and training and competitive clay target shooting.

Wetland Conservation a primary objective of the Field and Game Federation is to preserve, restore, develop and maintain waterfowl habitat in Australia. Waterfowl hunters are aware of the importance of our wetlands and the wildlife they hold and have traditionally been the forefront of wetland conservation, often being the first to notice changes in waterfowl population and seek reasons for them.

Wildlife scientists agree that the loss of suitable habitat is the greatest threat to waterfowl, far greater than recreational hunting. Populations of several species including the Hardhead, Blue-winged Shoveler, Blue-billed Duck and the Musk Duck have been affected by the loss of habitat, reflecting the continuing need for the Field and Game Federation’s wetland conservation and restoration programs.

Wetland Changes Before European settlement in Australia, aboriginals hunted waterfowl for food but had generally left waterfowl habitats unchanged. The early European Explorer, Charles Sturt, during his first journey along the River Murray, discovered huge areas of undisturbed wetlands and recorded ‘clouds of duck’, which lifted off the swamps along the river.

European settlement resulted in the regulation of river flows to provide reliable water supplies. Today, many of our floodplain wetlands are part of river systems that have been manipulated for navigation and irrigation supplies, permanently changing important wetting and drying cycles. This has affected waterfowl populations, which depend on the re-flooding of dry wetlands in winter and spring to produce the amount of food required for breeding. Large areas of coastal wetlands have also been lost due to the agricultural drainage activities.

Continuing Threats the value of wetlands as waterfowl habitat has further declined where wetlands are now kept permanently full as evaporation basins or water supply sources. Increasing amounts of water are taken from the rivers for a range of needs, the combination of grazing and feral animals has reduced cover along the shorelines, deforestation has lead to a rising groundwater and salinity problems, and effluent from towns and agricultural land has led to pollution leading to problems such as blooms of toxic algae. The introduction of species such as European Carp has further disturbed wetland ecology.

Conservation Strategies the Field and Game Federation has dedicated itself to the conservation of wetland environments and waterfowl species throughout Australia by:

  • Raising funds for wetland conservation,
  • Instigating wetland enhancement and research programs and
  • Raising government and community awareness

Fund Raising a major fund raising initiative involved lobbying State Governments for the introduction of a game licence fee levied on all hunters. This raises more that $1.5 million dollars every year across Australia, much of which is channeled into wetland conservation projects and wetland purchase and lease agreements. In addition to firearms owners contribute more than $5 million annually to the economy through license fees, much of which is available for wildlife management purposes. Field and Game also generates funds for wetland conservation from the proceeds of its clay target shooting events and the marketing of products.

Wetland Projects Field and Game wetland management projects have included erection of duck nesting boxes, tree planting and revegetation works, civil engineering projects for water management, improving grazing management agencies. Some of these projects are described in detail in the Achievements section of this book.

Research Field and Game has initiated many research projects including the effects of grazing on wetlands, waterfowl population counts, banding to ascertain distribution and abundance patterns, bag surveys to monitor number of waterfowl being taken by hunters and lead shot studies to determine the availability of spent lead pellets to waterfowl.

Promoting Wetlands and Waterfowl Long term success in the preservation of our natural heritage depends on Government and Community awareness of environmental issues. Field and Game associations generate awareness and stimulate discussion of waterfowl and wetland issues through submissions and deputations to politicians and resource management agencies, by organizing conferences and by distributing information to the media. These efforts have resulted in:

o Legislation for environmental water allocation to wetlands,

o Recognition of the importance of wetlands in the development of salinity management strategies,

o Extension of the wildlife reserve system as a part of land re-classification,

o Conservation of wetlands as part of water law, and

o Development of comprehensive government wetland policies.

Field and Game associations have a record of inspiring community action by raising awareness of environmental issues. In Victoria a film was specially produced about Cullens Lake to save it from becoming a groundwater evaporation basin. Field and Game associations have also focused community attention on salinity problems by opposing irrigation projects adjacent to major wetlands.

Education and Training Two important roles of Field and Game are to inform hunters about all aspects of hunting and to encourage a responsible attitude to the environment. The Federation produces a national quarterly magazine, and branches in each state also produce their own newsletters and conduct intensive education campaigns prior to hunting seasons.

Waterfowl Identification An example of the Field and Game’s commitment to developing long-term hunter strategies is its waterfowl identification program. The misidentification and resultant shooting of a large number of Freckled Duck at Bool Lagoon in South Australia in 1980 spurred the development of a waterfowl identification course based on 16mm film and slides. This South Australian Field and Game project was later developed by the Victorian Government into the Ducks in Sight video.

Using the video, instructors run classes in waterfowl identification highlighting key features of each species such as wing patterns, silhouettes, markings, and behaviour. The classes culminate in a formal examination for the Waterfowl Identification Certificate, which is a pre-requisite for obtaining a game licence in some states. From 1990 all hunters in Victoria had to pass the exam before being allowed to hunt waterfowl. Over 30 000 hunters took part in the program in its first year. This education campaign has markedly reduced shooting of protected species.

Online Waterfowl Identification Test – Thanks to Andrew Hulley Email: ahulley@fud.com.au
Marksmanship As an extension to its general education programs, Field and Game associations provide practical marksmanship and safety training for hunters. Branches operate simulated field/sporting clays shooting ranges all around Australia which present clay targets in conditions as close to true field hunting conditions as possible. With practice and coaching, hunters quickly learn to shoot a moving target and learn the effectiveness and limitations of their firearms and ammunition.

Junior Training Field and Game associations conduct training camps for young hunters to provide a basis from which to develop their hunting skills. Experienced hunters demonstrate basic hunting techniques in field situations and cover bird identification, firearm safety, bush craft, map reading and first aid.

Hunting Issues

In recent years waterfowl hunting has come under much public scrutiny. Some people have campaigned very actively, and at times dangerously, to try and have duck hunting banned. Many hunting issues are raised during these campaigns. This section provides information on which to conduct a balanced debate.

What species of waterfowl can be hunted? Australian waterfowl include ducks, geese and swans. There are 19 species of native Australian Waterfowl, the most common being the Grey Teal, Pacific Black Duck and Wood Duck. Less common species include the Freckled Duck, Blue-billed Duck and Musk Duck. All species are protected by the State and Territory Wildlife Acts throughout Australia and only those species with high abundance and widespread distribution are declared as game species during a declared hunting season. These species vary from state to state. In the Northern Territory the abundant Magpie Goose is declared game species, but in southern states where it is less common it is protected. The most common game species include Black Duck, Grey Teal, Chestnut Teal, Wood Duck, Hardhead, Pink eared Duck and Mountain Duck.

When is hunting allowed? Hunting seasons are timed to coincide this the period after breeding when populations are at their peak. As wetlands begin to dry up in late summer and autumn, suitable habitat becomes harder to find and large numbers of surplus waterfowl die off. Hunting is restricted to this period of highest natural mortality and the number of ducks that can be taken per person each day is set to ensure that no more than the surplus population is removed. The offtake of game birds by hunters each season in Australia is less than 1% of the population, compared to a Northern Hemisphere figure of more than 20%.

What does hunting involve? People from all walks of life enjoy the outdoors experience of waterfowl hunting as a form of recreation. Modern waterfowl hunters always use a shotgun because it fires short range velocity pellets with an effective range of about 40 meters as opposed to the single long range projectile of a rifle, which would be very dangerous on wetlands.

Successful hunting often depends on the use of natural cover including carefully constructed hides made from natural materials to enable the hunter to get to within the effective range of a shotgun. For this reason hunters must wear clothing that blends in with the surroundings. Hunters often paint their boats in camouflage colors too. Floating ‘decoy’ ducks are also used to entice waterfowl closer.

After the hunt, game is either plucked or skinned and then prepared for eating in as many different ways as a chicken might be prepared. Like most game meats, waterfowl is low in cholesterol.

Is hunting cruel to animals? Government enquiries in several states have recently looked at the animal welfare aspects of duck hunting. In Victoria, senior government veterinarians monitoring duck hunting found no evidence of cruelty. Their findings contributed to the development of a Code of Practice for hunting, which is now gazetted under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

The Code encourages considerate to treatment of hunted animals and defines hunting techniques, which will result in a quick and painless death. It also encourages hunters to become members of hunting organizations, which foster a responsible attitude to hunting and wildlife management. All states have either adopted or are moving towards the establishment of a similar code of practice for the welfare of animals in hunting.

How ethical is modern hunting? The Field and Game Federation encourage all hunters to follow common ethics when hunting. These ethics emphasize that permission to hunt must be obtained from landowners, that property must be respected and always left as it is found, that guns are handled safely in the home and in the field, and the hunter respects another hunter’s position in the field and obeys the hunting laws and the Code of Practice. At all times the hunter must respect the environment and in particular, the game being hunted. Field and Game and the other shooting organizations discipline members who disregard hunting ethics.

Is lead shot a problem? Lead pellets fall into wetlands during hunting. This can cause poisoning if waterfowl ingest the pellets. Scientific studies have shown that waterfowl do not discriminate between lead pellets and grit, which they ingest to grind their food. Research in South Australia found that lead ingestion occurs in heavily hunted areas of wetlands with hard shallow bottoms. Three species, Black Swan, Magpie Geese and Black Duck were commonly found with lead pellets in their gizzards in these areas, however, only a small percentage of Black Swan and Magpie Geese have been found to be poisoned.

The South Australian Field and Game Association in consultation with National Parks and Wildlife Service has identified the areas at greatest risk in South Australia and has supported the State Government’s schedule to ban lead shot and phase in the use of non-toxic shot by 1993.

The Field and Game Federation is currently evaluating the evidence of lead poisoning in all states and implementing surveys to determine the amount of lead shot available in wetlands for water birds to ingest. The change over to non-toxic shot may not be necessary all over Australia.

What about wounded birds? During the hunting season, ducks are occasionally shot but not retrieved by a hunter. CSIRO surveys conducted regularly since the 1960’s have indicated that this fate meets less than 10% of birds shot. These ducks are either retrieved by other hunters in the area, eaten by predators, or they survive. Research in Victoria in the 1970’s showed clearly that surviving ducks with pellets embedded in their tissue had the same life span and traveled the same distance as ducks without, indicating that the survivors are relatively unaffected.

The Field and Game Federation’s ethics and the Code of Practice encourage hunters to make every effort to retrieve and dispatch wounded birds. All hunters are also encouraged to undertake training at simulated field shooting ranges to improve their shooting skills and reduce chances of wounding.

The use of gundogs greatly increases the effectiveness in retrieving downed birds. The Field and Game Federation also promotes the ownership and training of gundogs and holds regular training course and field trials. The breeding of gundogs is a significant industry and competitive dog trailing is a popular activity.

Are waterfowl pests? Whilst many species of waterfowl have been disadvantaged because of the destruction of their habitat by agricultural and other development, some species have actually been favored because of their ability to feed on pasture and crops. Wood Duck and Mountain Duck are two species that have reached pest proportions in some areas.

In the rice growing districts of New South Wales, grazing of rice bays by waterfowl (usually Wood Duck, Black Duck and Grey Teal) results in significant crop losses. Also in Victoria, Mountain Duck flock in large numbers to pea crops where their feeding causes considerable damage and economic losses to farmers. Permits are issued by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to allow shooting of ducks on rice bays at critical times of the year. Similarly, along the coast of South Australia, Gippsland in Victoria and on Flinders Island, improved pastures are frequently grazed by Cape Barren Geese, reducing the carrying capacity for livestock. Farmers in these areas are issued with permits to cull the geese at certain times of the year. All species, when present in abundance, also have the potential to carry avian botulism and to contaminate rural dams and urban water supplies.

Does hunting interfere with other wetland recreation? Our ability in modern times to travel into remote areas, including wetlands, has increased the potential for conflict between different wetland users. This problem can be contained with sensitive management. Waterfowl hunting in wetlands occurs in the autumn for about 2 to 3 months during early morning and evenings. Most hunting occurs on the opening day of the hunting season. In some wetland reserves there are only 4 declared days when hunting can occur. This allows wetlands to be used for canoeing, fishing, bird watching, yabbying, camping and other recreational pursuits for most of the year.

There are also many wetlands, which are permantly closed to hunting, located, adjacent to wetlands where hunting occurs. These areas provide refuge for both game and non-game species during the hunting season.

Until recently, hunters were the main guardians of Australian swamps and they are largely responsible for the recent wider recognition of the importance of the wetlands. In the 1960’s, Bool Lagoon in South Australia was to be drained for agriculture, however lobbying by hunters preserved the wetland for the benefit of future generations. It has since been listed as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, demonstrating the foresight of the pioneers of Field and Game.

Bool Lagoon Game Reserve is managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to cater for multiple forms of recreation including guided walks, bird watching and hunting.

Achievements

The Field and Game Federation is an active organization, achieving a great deal of progress throughout Australia on a wide range of issues and activities. It is the most effective and committed wetland conservation organization ever to be formed in Australia. Ironically, recreational hunters are sometimes accused of disregard to the very conservation theme, which they have worked so hard to promote, that of the need for wider recognition of the importance of wetlands. In 1990, at a meeting of over a thousand delegates representing all aspects of the conservation debate, the World Conservation Union formally recognized wildlife utilsation as a legitimate and potentially powerful conservation tool.

The achievements described in the following pages demonstrate how recreational hunting is a powerful conservation tool. They show the breadth and extent of work that member volunteers perform in order to maintain and improve wetland environments for all wildlife. It is a list which gives anyone and understanding of the commitment and expertise which is being devoted by hunters to the conservation theme.