FOI documents reveal ACT told futility of culling at Googong (and elsewhere) back in 2004
This year the ACT government plans to slaughter kangaroos in the Googong reserve in NSW for the first time since 2004. Googong reserve and neighbouring Googong and Burra residential areas are part of Queanbeyan – Palerang local government area. The ACT has some administrative control over the foreshores and public land around the reservoir which is also ACT water storage.
Documents, obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI), about the first Googong killing in 2004 open the door on the lack of evidence and dishonesty to the public that have pervaded the ACT government’s kangaroo policy ever since. They also indicate that the ACT parks bureaucracy and rangers were well advised that culling was unnecessary on ecological grounds.
A media release signed by then Chief Minister John Stanhope, in July 2004 claimed the proposed cull of 1000 kangaroos was “essential and humane”. Sound familiar? The official reasons in government documents were high densities of kangaroos, retaining groundcover and avoiding erosion runoff into the dam. Algal blooms were even advanced as a reason.
However material obtained by Animal Liberation ACT under Freedom of Information in August 2004 told a much more conflicted story. The material also highlights the ACT method that has continued – ‘shoot first and try to cover with reasons later’.
Email correspondence between rangers, environment staff and the then consultant on kangaroo matters, Don Fletcher, indicate that evidence, baseline data, and monitoring were not part of the plan despite arguments for them. It becomes clear that something other than evidence-based reserve management was going on.
The internal correspondence acknowledged that kangaroo numbers at Googong had actually crashed by 65% by 2004, due to the ongoing drought and also that the land had suffered storm damage. However the advice to the minister was to stress high numbers of kangaroos as necessitating a cull, which he did.
Other motives emerge from the correspondence which also discussed ACT joining the neighbours in the commercial killing of kangaroos.
“Groundcover recovers with the first rain”
An email from an ACT government senior bureaucrat to Don Fletcher on 4 September 2003 noted: “There is an interest from some rural lessees in undertaking culling now to save spring grass for stock.” He notes that there is a perception of a large number of kangaroos, and suggests the matter should referred to the territory’s Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (AWAC), which others say did not happen.
Fletcher’s reply to the bureaucrat: “Parks and Conservation seem to have departed from the previous policy so many times in the last few years in response to requests from rural producers and apparently without preparing any policy documents that I suspect it could reasonably be said that Environment ACT no longer has a policy in this area.” He also advises thoroughly documenting any licences issued. No reply is recorded.
In the email correspondence Fletcher advises the rangers about their stated goal of retaining 70 per cent groundcover (also described as biomass) most of the time. He points to weather being the main determinant of groundcover mass and says research showed that “at Tidbinbilla, after 10 years of shooting stopped, the cycle of groundcover continued with very little change”.
He advises them: “where herbivores are regulated by nature the pasture biomass is higher than where they are managed as pests”. Elsewhere, “The groundcover is consistently lower where roos are freely shot and sheep are grazed on neighboring properties than on Googong.
“Often kangaroos are managed to protect groundcover but groundcover recovers with the first rain, regardless of kangaroo density.”
In an email from 22 March 2004 Fletcher even notes the bushfire angle. “You also need to think about bushfire too – less roos equals more bushfire potential. At the moment, the Googong roos might be a water supply insurance asset for Canberra and Queanbeyan.”
It appears that others on the ecologist side agreed at the time. An email dated 29 June 2004 from Nicole Webb (Environment ACT’s wildlife ecologist at the time) to a ranger says: “I am unconvinced that you will be able to ascribe any changes you do see to a change in the kangaroo grazing pressure.”
Fletcher continues the correspondence with rangers implying they have no interest in following a scientific regime. An email of 1 June 2004 charges that the parks staff appear to have no interest in whether the culling is likely to have the allegedly intended effect…He later notes “everything is easy if you have no goals”.
On 6 July 2004 the environment department confirmed that the Minister had approved the cull that eventually killed 600 animals and yielded images of bashed joeys.
Paradoxically, Dr Don Fletcher, having completed a PhD, thereafter took up a position as the ACT government’s chief ecologist and became the main spokesperson for the 2010 Kangaroo Management Plan and the ongoing ACT culling experiment.
Compiled from archived sources of FOI information.