Report 18

Managing the Impact of Plant and Animal Pests: A State-wide Challenge

DAFWA could make more effective use of control mechanisms to manage established pests

DAFWA is implementing a model of shared responsibility with industry and community to control established pests

A range of mechanisms and funding sources are available to help control established pests in Western Australia. These include the principal government agencies as well as a range of industry and community groups and landholders that can fund, co-fund or implement a program to control pests.

A key factor in deciding the extent that these options should be called upon is an assessment of who is impacted and who would benefit most from their management. The BAM Act provides for shared and industry funding arrangements through RBGs or Industry Funding Schemes. DAFWA also provides grants to Declared Species Groups in the agricultural region.

DAFWA conducts operational programs to control some pests

There are occasions where landholders do not have the capability and capacity to control pests and where controlling established pests is in the public interest.

The State Barrier Fence is an example of a government funded control mechanism. In 2012-13 DAFWA spent $401 000 maintaining the fence. The fence stretches from just north of Kalbarri to Jerdacuttup east of Ravensthorpe, a distance of approximately 1 170 kilometres.

The purpose of the fence is to minimise the risk and impact of emus migrating from the rangelands into the high value grain growing areas of the south west land division. In the last 20 years there have been three major migrations of emus. These were in 1994, 1998 and in 2002 which saw an estimated 50 000 birds spread along the fence.

The fence also acts as a deterrent to wild dogs. DAFWA has spent $683 000 upgrading parts of the fence to dog proof standard and the employment of additional ‘doggers’ contracted to control dogs ($518 000 was funded from Royalties for Regions). An extension project has been proposed to close the Yilgarn and Esperance gaps. A total of $14.3 million has been committed through the Royalties for Regions funding.

Based on the relative benefits to private landholders or the public, some of the programs currently wholly funded by government agencies could be considered for shared or industry funding. For instance, the State Barrier Fence has a public benefit as it acts as insurance against a potential emu migration. The fence also benefits those landholders in immediate proximity to it, which would suggest at least a shared funding arrangement could be considered. Three other states (Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales) also have barrier fences. Shared funding schemes are used to maintain these fences with between 50 and 80 per cent of costs funded by landholders.

We note that DAFWA has evaluated the long term funding options for the barrier fence.

DAFWA is collaborating with Recognised Biosecurity Groups to manage pests

RBGs are community groups authorised under the BAM Act to carry out programs to control established animal and plant pests that impact on public as well as private interests. There are currently five RBGs established in the pastoral areas of Western Australia (Figure 2).These
groups raise funds through compulsory rates levied on landholders in their specified area to carry out pest control programs. The funds raised by rates are matched dollar-for-dollar by the State Government. In 2012-13 the matching contribution was $1.2 million.

Figure 2: Recognised Biosecurity Groups in Western Australia

These groups target local pest priorities, but there are risks to their longer term effectiveness and sustainability:

  • the majority of funds are spent on one declared pest. Sixty-four per cent ($1.7 million) of co-investment funding from the Declared Pest Account is spent on wild dog control. This focus on a single pest means there is limited attention given to other pests, such as control of emerging and established weeds which have been identified by DAFWA as requiring a higher priority
  • some pastoralists and other landholders are not paying their rates and there is ongoing discussion between DAFWA, RBGs and the Department of Treasury to determine who should follow up unpaid amounts. The balance outstanding at 30 June 2013 was $391 719
  • RBGs also reported that they faced difficulty in encouraging members to remain engaged especially when members belong to an industry sector that is financially struggling
  • RBGs complete annual plans for their activities and to identify funding required but longer term strategic plans envisaged under DAFWA’s draft policy for RBGs have not generally been completed. There is a risk that RBGs focus on reactive issues at the expense of longer term big picture pest control
  • RBGs may lack sufficient administrative capacity. Administrative support was provided by the Agriculture Protection Board until it was dissolved in 2008. RBG representatives advised us that they rely on their executive support officers to carry out the administrative functions but that many have struggled to fill the positions while others are filled with part-time staff that have competing priorities. This lack of capacity can also impact the levels of governance in the RBGs. DAFWA has identified the need for governance training for RBGs in its draft strategic plan.

The management of declared pests in the agricultural region is supported by 15 Declared Species Groups. Funding arrangements for these groups are not legislated under the BAM Act. They receive government grants and often are established to target one pest species. DAFWA is seeking to transition these groups into RBGs and some groups are proactive in making this happen. Establishing RBGs in the agricultural region will be a challenge as there are more differences in land use, land tenure and pest impact.

Potential exists to make more use of Industry Funding Schemes

The BAM Act provides for the establishment of Industry Funding Schemes to address biosecurity threats relevant to a sector of agricultural activity. The schemes use funding arrangements authorised under the BAM Act to raise industry funds to tackle priority pests and diseases.

An Industry Management Committee oversees each scheme and determines which pest and disease threats require action, how best to deal with the threats, and what contributions will be needed from industry to tackle the problem. This allows producers to self-manage serious pests and diseases that may threaten the viability and sustainability of their industries.

Since July 2010, three schemes have commenced to address biosecurity threats relevant to the grains/seed/hay; sheep/goat; and cattle industries. In 2012-13 these schemes raised $4.5 million.

For example, the Grains, Seeds and Hay Industry Funding Scheme funds a program to control Skeleton Weed and an eradication program for Three-horned Bedstraw. The funds to run these programs are collected from producers at a rate of 30 cents for every tonne of grain and seed grown in the agricultural area of Western Australia and sold to a registered receiver. DAFWA has been contracted to administer the two programs and provide the support to ensure proper governance including secretariat, communications, policy and technical support, in addition to financial management.

In our view, completion by DAFWA of its impact assessments and a cost benefit analysis for priority pests will place it in a good position to identify other pests which could be managed by Industry Funding Schemes.

There is limited evaluation of the effectiveness of the mechanisms used to control pests

Monitoring of the various pest control mechanisms is necessary to evaluate their effectiveness and to inform DAFWA’s understanding of the spread, abundance and impact of pests.

DAFWA’s current monitoring does not give it a good understanding of these issues. Although DAFWA collects a significant amount of data, it tends to be workload/activity based such as the dollars spent, the number of baits laid, geographical area covered and pests destroyed. Examples are programs to control starlings, European Wasps and wild dogs.

With the exception of Industry Funding Scheme annual reports, there is limited reporting on the change in adverse economic, environmental and social impacts.

DAFWA advised that at times it is not feasible to derive outcome measures and that activity data is an acceptable surrogate. Although this may be reasonable in the early stages of a control program the number of pests trapped/shot does not measure how effectively adverse impacts are mitigated. DAFWA also advised that it plans to develop a monitoring and evaluation framework to provide better information on outcomes.

DAFWA has reduced its property inspections significantly and compliance notices are now rarely issued

A landholder has a responsibility to control declared pests on their land. Monitoring and enforcement is a valuable tool in regulating activities and obtaining compliance with statutory requirements. If a landholder fails to control a pest they may be issued with a pest exclusion notice or a pest control notice.

Private landholders may be issued with a fine if they fail to comply with the notices. If a government agency fails to comply with a notice the Minister for Agriculture is required to table a statement in both houses of Parliament to that effect.

We note that DAFWA has not issued any pest control or exclusion notices to government agencies even though DPaW advised that it does not have the capacity to effectively control all pests on land that they manage.

Between 2002-03 and 2011-12 there was a 55 per cent fall in the number of property
inspections and a 99 per cent fall in the number of compliance notices issued to private
landholders. In 2002-03 a compliance notice was issued for every 71 inspections but by 2011-12 a compliance notice was issued every 2 260 inspections. This means that a landholder was 30 times less likely to be issued with a compliance notice in 2011-12 than a decade earlier (Figure 3). In the same period, the number of times DAFWA hired a contractor to conduct pest control on a landholder’s property and recovered the costs from the landholder went from nine to zero.

Figure 3 Inspections and pest control notices issued 2002-03 to 2011-12

We asked why the number of inspection and control notices had gone down. DAFWA informed us that reductions in its overall resourcing meant that it has not had staff on the ground to conduct enforcement. However, it also advised that it intends to enforce compliance as a part of a community coordinated approach for widespread and established pests where it is feasible and effective to do so.

One of DAFWA’s key roles in managing pests is to be the regulator. Effective regulation relies, in part, on a credible and equal risk or threat of getting caught and sanctioned for non-compliance. Not enforcing compliance within this regulatory framework increases the risk that landholders will not take effective control measures. It also increases a perception of inequality of treatment between landholders. This can result in some landholders who have been controlling pests reducing their activities or giving up.

According to 301 respondents to our survey, repeat incursions from neighbouring properties limited the effectiveness of their actions to manage pests. The respondents frequently expressed the view that compliance and enforcement activities were needed to ensure landholders control pests on their properties.

Survey Response - repeat incursions from neighbouring properties limited the effectiveness of their actions to manage pests

Cotton bush was one of the established pests that survey respondents highlighted as having an increasing impact. DAFWA advised that cotton bush is not a priority agricultural weed and that effective control is based on a community coordinated approach and that enforcement is the last resort.

Case Study – Narrow Leaf Cotton Bush

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