Ten years after wild dogs ended his family’s 95-year association with breeding sheep, Winton grazier, Peter White is still fighting a state government national parks policy he says is continually over-riding his pest control efforts.
Peter, together with his wife Cathy, owns and manages Athelstane, south of Winton on a south western boundary of the 85,000ha Bladensburg National Park, one of Winton’s original grazing properties.
He stopped running sheep on the property in 2008, motivated by his inability to prevent wild dogs coming from the park onto his property and attacking his stock.
“Bladensburg drove us out of sheep,” he said. “Dogs were coming out and ripping the throats out of our lambs every night. If we didn’t have the park, we’d go back into sheep tomorrow.”
After losing many thousands of dollars in potential revenue from sheep killed over the years, Peter said he was still suffering the effects of dog bites through having sales of cattle discounted.
“It’s just so wrong for the state government to say on the one hand they’re helping graziers with wild dogs and yet on their own land they’re breeding wild dogs and writing that into their policy,” he said. “How can the Premier come and stand up in Longreach and announce $5m for wild dog control and just 150km away dogs are knowingly being bred.”
Peter, a former chairman of Winton’s Wild Dog Control Group, has been advocating for a shire council wild dog policy that includes a position on how national parks should manage wild dogs within the shire, and for that policy to be used to lobby the state government.
Winton mayor, Gavin Baskett, said he understood the difficulties faced by graziers surrounding Bladensburg NP, saying park management had indicated they would never consider exclusion fencing.
While not committing himself to a position, saying that nothing had gone through council as yet, he said landholders had ridden through the tough times and should now be able to receive the benefit of good wool and sheep prices.
National wild dog management coordinator, Greg Mifsud, said it may be a matter of reviewing bait lines as part of an adaptive management framework.
“Parks have a Good Neighbour policy and where good communications are in place, public land managers are often doing as much or more than private landholders. Bladensburg is a massive park and control may be at a level where the impact being felt is not reasonable enough.”
Greg said national park managers should be reviewing their plan yearly, based on the impacts they were causing.
“Two creek lines may not be sufficient – they need to use local knowledge and have good communications.”
Responding to concerns, a Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service spokesman said they were committed to working cooperatively with neighbours and local councils and, in conjunction with AgForce, had developed wild dog control programs in accordance with QPWS policy for the management of wild dogs.
He said QPWS officers participated in Winton’s wild dog control group, which coordinated a collaborative approach to wild dog management in the region.
“As part of this, QPWS conducts and supports aerial and ground baiting on Bladensburg National Park,” he said. “The existing approval to bait includes park boundary baiting and internal baiting along Mistake and Surprise Creeks.”
Peter said this was all true but that it was a very small part of the park and as water in the creeks dried up, they were not likely to be attracting many wild dogs.
“And they’ve done away with their man-made watering points so when everything dries up, dogs have got to come out to their neighbours for a drink.”
While the QPWS spokesman said wild dog activity on the boundaries and along the creeks in Bladensburg National Park was routinely assessed to better inform the baiting program, Peter said the council’s trapper had caught 34 wild dogs on the park’s boundary in a three week period, 18 of them on Athelstane.
“A month later he caught another 16 on another boundary,” he said. “He tracks them back into the park – you can see where they’re coming from.”
Peter said he ground baited himself and participated in shire aerial baiting programs as well as trapping along the 45km boundary he shares with the park, and had reduced wild dog numbers, only to see them moving back in.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if they were way down on the shire boundary in rough country but they’re not; they’re slap bang in the middle of sheep country.”
In relation to the construction of an exclusion fence around Bladensburg National Park, one of Peter’s requests, the QPWS spokesman said they had “adopted a precautionary principle in relation to proposals to establish high integrity exclusion fencing enclosing QPWS-managed estate”.