The spotlight is about to be on deer hunting in North East Victoria, pun intended.
There are over one million feral deer in Victoria and deer hunters dispatch around 10 per cent of the population every year. The exponential increase is causing considerable alarm to landholders with concerns growing about the environmental and biosecurity risks of such large numbers.
And deer are increasingly responsible for serious car accidents, fast replacing kangaroos as the number one road kill.
The polemics of deer management are complicated with opposing interests now preparing to influence a coming state government consultative process on how the hunting industry is to be shaped.
Deer hunting is big business and the government is bending to lobby pressures from around 35,000 registered hunters. There are groups wanting more powerful weaponry and silencers, others wanting a sustainable herd to maintain their hobby.
Towong Shire has done a back-flip on its thought-bubble to promote deer tourism following a concerted backlash from the community. Whilst there is money to be made from an influx of hunters, the overwhelming concern was the effect on community safety and amenity. The Shire was wise to reverse this naive idea.
Examples of rogue poachers trespassing, damaging property and shooting near to residences have angered the community with calls for more effective policing. Responsible deer hunters also abhor this behaviour and are pushing for the Game Management Authority and police to dramatically increase their surveillance.
Many landholders have working arrangements with responsible deer hunters to cull on their properties. This works well but has no real effect on the growing endemic population.
The government has no appetite to declare deer a pest as would be expected with an overrun of feral animals causing so much damage to the bush and waterways. The hunting and shooting lobbies ensure that deer will be treated as 'game' so that an industry can be maintained and promoted.
How many deer constitute a sustainable herd and what professional culling would be required is yet to be debated.
But regardless, the community needs to be protected from hunters with buffer no-go zones around towns and tourist precincts. Penalties for breaches of the law need to be increased and enforced and tourists visiting a promoted pure-green experience not scared away.
Towong Shire's primary focus must be on the protection and security of the community and the maintenance of existing tourist infrastructure.
Unmanaged, there is the potential for serious collateral damage if north-east Victoria is to become the samba capital of Australia.