Department of the Environment

About us | Contact us | Publications

Header imagesHeader imagesHeader images

Publications archive - Biodiversity

Disclaimer

Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by the European Red Fox

Biodiversity Group Environment Australia, 1999
0 642 2546320

Developing a National Approach to Fox Management

Planning for Nationally Coordinated Action

In designing a national approach to managing the impact of foxes on threatened species and broader conservation values, a range of issues and constraints must be considered. In September 1994, Environment Australia organised a workshop to discuss fox management. A wide cross-section of wildlife experts and public interest groups attended. The workshop provided advice on principles of fox management, community and regional approaches, management of endangered species, research and animal welfare issues (Carter, 1995).

It has not been possible to develop a reasonable estimate of current annual expenditure on fox control activities in Australia. Undoubtedly, State and Territory agencies make a major investment in fox control, but details of the scale of this investment are not available. Landholders and land managers, local government agencies and community groups are also actively involved in fox control activities but there is little reliable data on the costs of these efforts.

In recent years, in addition to funding fox control programs on its own lands, the Commonwealth has provided funding to State, Territory and national organisations for fox control activities (Table 2). Activities have included:

Table 2. Commonwealth expenditure on fox management for nature conservation 1992-1998.

Category

1992-93 $’000 1993-94 $’000 1994-95 $’000 1995-96 $’000 1996-97 $’000 1997-98 $’000

Ecology and control methods

165.9 306.7 236..3 226.2 356.2 402.5

Impact and endangered species protection

228.0 216..3 201.2 142.5 41.9 132.0

Immunocontraception

340.0 386.5 363.1 423.1 216.9 296.4

Total

733.9 909.5 800.6 791.8 615.0 830.9

The results of the workshop and of the research and management programs funded by the Commonwealth have provided a valuable information base from which this threat abatement plan has been developed. Comments provided in response to the publication of the draft plan, and the active involvement in an advisory group of representatives from State agencies actively involved in fox control, have also contributed significantly to the plan’s development. These processes have resulted in a large measure of consensus on the approach prescribed to reduce the impact of fox predation on native wildlife.

Strategies

Resources will never be sufficient to deal with all fox management problems so the threat abatement plan must ensure the strategic allocation of resources to give the best outcome for threatened species conservation. The CSIRO, in comments on the draft fox threat abatement plan, summarised the views of many organisations in describing the preferred fox management approach in Australia:

Experience and research have shown that fox management must be coordinated at a regional scale and must focus on the objective of effective protection of native fauna rather than simply reducing the abundance of foxes. While it is important to increase the level of fox control around populations of threatened species, it is equally important to be able to measure the benefit of that control. In eastern Australia there is an urgent need to develop a strategic approach to broad-scale fox control. This should be built on the lessons from the Western Shield program in Western Australia while taking into account the special problems associated with different constraints on management techniques (e.g. aerial versus ground baiting and difference in tolerance to 1080 by native fauna in eastern Australia) and the more complex patterns of land ownership and fragmented landscapes in south eastern Australia.

Regional management is a central element of this plan. This management focuses on key areas where maximum benefits can be derived from reducing the impacts of fox predation on a range of species. Regional control programs are designed to provide protection to a number of at-risk species and to provide a substantial expansion of available habitat. Broad-scale control of foxes at this level of resolution requires a substantial investment of resources and can only be justified for species which are known to benefit from fox control.

Regional management is well suited to an adaptive management approach as it can accommodate different experimental control techniques within a broadly comparable area. The controls applied in the jarrah forests near Perth provide a particularly good example of a broad-scale control program which included an experimental approach. By measuring the effectiveness of different control strategies in achieving recovery of threatened species populations, this program improved the ability of wildlife managers to successfully prepare sites for experimental reintroductions of threatened species. A focus on regional management will also provide a mechanism for integrating fox control with other biodiversity conservation actions such as Bushcare and other programs funded through the Natural Heritage Trust.

Localised fox control in specific areas of high conservation concern, such as around populations of threatened species, will be continued as an integral component of this plan.

Recovery plans for a number of species identify the fox as a perceived threat (Table 1). To ensure efficient and effective use of resources, an experimental approach will be used to determine the significance of fox predation in the decline of these species and to identify the level of control necessary for their recovery. By approaching local control on an experimental basis, the true significance of predation by foxes as a threat to these species can be made clear. If the hypothesis that foxes are a significant threat is confirmed, this will justify expanding fox control activities to other sites where the at-risk species occurs. Alternatively, if fox control is shown to be irrelevant to recovery of the species, efforts can be re-directed to more effective activities.

Local eradication is an option available only for areas which meet strict criteria: the chances of reinvasion must be nil or very close to it; all animals must be accessible and at risk during the control operation; and animals must be killed at a rate higher than their ability to replace losses through breeding. Maintaining an area free from foxes requires a sustained control operation to prevent reinvasion from surrounding fox infested areas. As a strategy, local eradication is applicable to small islands or small mainland sites which are surrounded by predator exclusion fences.

Where local eradication is not possible there are two broad strategies which can be used for localised management of foxes. These are sustained management, where control is implemented on a continuing regular basis, and intermittent management, which seeks to apply control at critical periods of the year when damage is greatest and short term control will reduce impacts to acceptable levels. Sustained control is generally necessary for protecting habitats of endangered species or reintroduction sites. Intermittent control may be useful as a temporary seasonal measure at sites where predation is a seasonal threat, such as turtle nesting areas or resting sites of migratory bird species.

Buffer zones may be a necessary component of managing small areas, to reduce the threat from continual reinvasion from surrounding areas replacing foxes killed during control operations. Development of such low density buffer zones will require the active participation of surrounding landholders and a clear identification of the benefits to be obtained by all participants.

High priority must be given to monitoring the outcomes of fox control in terms of conservation benefits derived and not simply a body count of dead foxes. Ineffective control may result in high body counts but little reduction in predation due to foxes maintaining a sustainably high reproductive rate, bait shy foxes maintaining predation pressure or immigration.

Ranking areas for priority action

Identification of those species and regions which will most benefit from coordinated fox control activities is clearly important. The development of recovery plans will identify species which are known or perceived to be threatened by fox predation and areas of habitat critical for the survival of these species. In terms of national action to abate the threat posed by foxes, implementation of recovery plans for these species must be accorded the highest priority. Local community groups and landowners should be encouraged to become involved in coordinated fox control plans for their region.

As recovery plans for more threatened species are finalised and adopted it may transpire that available resources are not sufficient to fully implement all the fox control measures identified as required. Areas will then need to be ranked on a nationally consistent basis to ensure that decisions about funding for control activities maximise the conservation benefits to be derived. An agreed national methodology for ranking areas should cover protecting and facilitating the expansion of existing populations of threatened species, and preparing areas for translocation.

A system to weight areas according to the risk and the possibility of reducing that risk will be developed in order to allocate resources to areas where fox management is most needed. Parkes et al.et. al. (1996) describe a system developed in New Zealand to decide priority areas for investment in possum and feral goat control. This is a complex process that involves scoring native species in an area according to their conservation value and then weighting these scores for the threat posed to the species. Another system for identifying priority areas for work on feral cats was developed by Dickman (1996). Using the New Zealand system and that developed by Dickman as guides, procedures for prioritising areas for fox management in Australia will be refined. Priorities for investment of Commonwealth resources will be selected using the following criteria:

Published June 1999 by Environment Australia under the Natural Heritage Trust.

Commonwealth of Australia