Last week I announced the 2017 Waterfowl Hunting Season dates and conditions to protect seriously depleted magpie goose numbers.
Underpinning this decision is the fact that the NT’s magpie goose population is the lowest on record at 725,000 – a 45 per cent reduction on 2016 numbers and only a quarter of the 2012 population.
This significant drop in population over the past few years is linked to very poor nesting in 2013 and 2016 after unfavourable wet seasons.
We know that magpie geese are an important part of our environment and culture, that’s why we are determined to protect and rebuild their numbers in the NT, which is the stronghold of the species.
One immediate way we can help our remaining magpie geese population to recover is by putting some temporary limits on waterfowl hunting this year, including shortening the season and reducing bag limits.
The reduced season only relates to this year and the situation will be revisited next year, and will be again based on science. I knew our decision to limit the season would be unpopular among some hunters but the scientific research and analysis is clear – action must be taken now to allow the magpie goose population to recover.
We simply don’t want to get to a point where a complete cancellation of a season has to be considered. The previous CLP government was advised of declining magpie geese numbers and poor nesting as far back as 2013 and was encouraged to do something about it. Rather than act responsibly, they either ignored the advice or put in measures that did not go far enough.
Had the CLP listened to the expert scientific evidence it is possible we would not be taking the steps we have this year.
The NT Labor government promised that our environmental decisions would be based on science, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
My Department of Environment and Natural Resources conducted a comprehensive and systematic aerial survey across the Top End’s floodplains in April and May this year and has estimated the 2017 magpie goose population as 725,000, just over half of what it was last year. Department wildlife scientists have advised me that the decline in the goose population from the high levels in 2011-13 is largely due to a series of Wet seasons that have been unfavourable for nesting, either with well below average total rainfall, or with unusually long periods with minimal rainfall, especially in 2012/13 and 2015/16.
The levels of nesting in 2013 and 2016 have been the two lowest totals recorded since surveys began in the 1980s. I am confident that the science behind these population estimates is sound, and this is evidenced in the annual aerial survey technical reports that are publicly available on the department website.
The annual harvest of magpie geese – by Aboriginal hunters on their traditional lands, recreational hunters and mango farmers under crop protection permits – is estimated to have been about 110,000 birds per year for the past six years. The advice from my department is that this level of harvest is too high and above sustainable levels while population numbers are as low as currently observed.
As well as a reduced recreational hunting season, crop protection permits to farmers have also been reduced this year – to a maximum of 5000 birds. Parks and Wildlife staff have visited mango farmers across the Top End to talk through their requirements, the timing and types of crop damage caused by waterfowls and to discuss other nonlethal management options in response to current evidence.
Traditional owners will not be affected as they do not require a waterfowl hunting permit to take geese on their own traditional lands – but of course we encourage all Territorians to do their bit to ensure magpie geese numbers remain at a sustainable level.
The systematic aerial surveys will be repeated in 2018 and hunting season conditions and crop protection permits will be reassessed on the basis of the population estimates and nesting levels. I also encourage all hunters to submit returns under their permit, so that accurate data about annual hunting levels can be incorporated into this decision.
The NT Government took a strong environmental protection platform to the election because we know that our natural environment is one of our greatest assets – it plays a critical role in supporting our community, our lifestyle and our economy. We will continue to make decisions that ensure our natural assets are preserved and protected and we’ll do that based on the best available science. We recognise that limiting the waterfowl hunting season isn’t and shouldn’t be the only answer – that’s why we have embarked on more significant and long-term protection measures, including ongoing support for weed management and a major new funding program to assist Aboriginal Rangers to manage environmental threats.
This will help ensure better protection of precious habitats such as floodplains so they and the wildlife they support are able to thrive for this and future generations of Territorians.
• Lauren Moss is the Northern Territory Minister for Environment and Natural Resources.