The Northern Biosecurity Group (NBG) is one of 14 Recognised Biosecurity Groups (RBGs) established in Western Australia that help landholders manage declared pests on their properties.
The group operates in the mid-west of WA, within the shires of Northampton, Chapman Valley and the City of Greater Geraldton, and covers an area of close to 30,000 km2.
Property sizes and tenure range from large pastoral blocks inside the State Barrier Fence (the Fence) to smaller sheep and lifestyle blocks towards the coast.
RBGs were originally developed as a tool for the pastoral industry with a focus on wild dog control but are now established across the state and provide a bottom-up approach for managing local biosecurity issues.
The group is focused on assisting landholders to control declared pests in a broadscale, coordinated approach. Current focus pests are wild dogs, feral pigs, red fox, European rabbit and cactus.
Local Dorper producer Kim Batten said the community-based approach to declared pests is having positive impacts on restricting lamb losses within the area.
“Wild dog control is particularly important to us,” Mr Batten said.
“While our area has quite low numbers of dogs, we have seen the devastating impacts on the bordering pastoral areas which has almost eliminated sheep farming in what would otherwise be excellent Dorper production country.
“Having a collaborative approach has been affective thus far on keeping the dogs out of our region and hopefully reducing numbers further out.”
The NBG is a not-for-profit organisation, managed by a volunteer committee who are all local farmers within the community. It was formally recognised under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 (BAM Act) in June 2018. This provided the NBG with a level of financial stability through a Declared Pest Rate that is paid by all landholders who owns >100ha within the NBG region.
The money raised is to be spent within the NBG region and is matched dollar-for-dollar by the Western Australian Government, a model unique to the state.
“The model works really well to spread the costs evenly while ensuring a blanket approach,” Mr Batten said.
“Those without livestock pick up the benefit from rabbit and pig control while those with stock benefit from dog and fox control.
“We see rabbit control is important as we can get some fox control as a secondary benefit.
“We also find that by baiting rabbits around lambing it can help as a food source for wedge tailed eagles and reduce their impacts. Eagles are a protected species and we have found that if we can supply them with a feed source at lambing, they tend not to put so much pressure on the Dorper lambs.”
The group provides a basis to build partnerships and networks, enabling communities and industry to work together on the shared responsibility of managing pests.
The work of the NBG adds value to individual efforts – but does not replace it. Landholders are ultimately responsible for controlling all declared pests that may occur on their property, but the NBG does provide guidance and assistance to increase effort and effectiveness to address biosecurity threats on their properties.
The NBG supports landholders to access the latest information on wild dog control and assists with applications for Restricted Pesticide Permits.
Landholders with this permit can pick up free baits at community baiting days organised across the region.
Mr Batten said producers had access to baits year-round supplied by a pest controller who will often use the opportunity while set up in the area and make the baits up while doing trapping and surveillance.
“Farmers within our local group will generally organise a day each year to meet up mix the baits on a local farm,” Mr Batten said.
“This reduces costs in travel, set up time and generally makes light work of it.”
Wild dogs (and foxes) don’t stop at fences. Success relies on well-timed and coordinated control activities over the whole landscape. Everyone needs to be involved.
Mr Batten said it was important to get as many baits out as possible.
“The new approach has seen a dramatic reduction in fox numbers which is a real win for lamb survival and allows more baits to be available for dog control,” Mr Batten said.
Baiting days are being held in Autumn and Spring when wild dogs are commonly active locating a mate and emergence of pups. Currently, an aerial baiting program is rolled out, covering a 600km stretch inside the Fence. The three groups drop baits by helicopter as it enables more targeted bait placement than by plane.
In 2022, 15,000 meat baits were laid at a range of locations identified as inaccessible by vehicle with most of the aerial baiting dropped on the pastoral properties and (Crown) land that is being managed by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.
The NBG contracts three Licensed Pest Management Technicians to address the increase of wild dog attacks in the northern part of the region. They are responsible for baiting and trapping in wild dog hotspots and are available to land managers who have wild dog (suspected) sightings/tracks, report stock attacks or would like some on-ground advice on how to protect their property from wild dog attacks.
They are also reactive – and are on-site relatively quickly after a reported stock attack to liaise with the landholder and neighbouring properties about options to protect stock and keep a firm eye on change in stock behaviour, confirm the dog attack, record stock losses, and implement tools to control wild dogs.
Mr Batten has adjusted his lambing program to allow for ease of management in pest control.
“It’s important to get as shorter mating cycle as possible to allow us to protect the flock,” Mr Batten said.
“We have started to use teasers to help with this but still see value in multiple matings, so it’s nice to know we have the support behind us.
“We learnt early that summer mating for us was costing lamb percentage.
“While the Dorper lamb is great at hitting the ground running and Mum is super protective, asking them to walk long distances to water in the heat was counterproductive.”
Reported stock attacks by wild dogs have decreased in the southwest of WA over the past four years and farmers have indicated that thanks to the NBG’s efforts they have continued with their small stock enterprises.
Wild dogs’ cost $89.3 million on average, per year in lost agricultural productivity. Not only do wild dogs directly predate on livestock, causing losses through death and bite marks, the stress and mismothering from potential predation impacts on livestock also causes significant losses.
National surveys on livestock producers have demonstrated that the emotional impact of wild dog predation events cannot be underestimated for producers.
Although the community might not see a wild dog very often, they are still present in our landscape.
A total of 56 dogs were destroyed as part of NBGs investment into wild dog control in 2021/22. This year a three-month gap in wild dog control saw a direct increase in dog sightings and stock attacks. This means that continued control is needed to protect sheep producers in our region.
The Northern Biosecurity will be continuing their wild dog control activities into the next financial year by committing $237,500 into their wild dog management program.
2023 DSSA Journal, Page 34 – 35.