Questions are being asked about the scientific basis for the Queensland Government’s decision to axe a controversial goat eradication program.
Environment Minister Steven Miles last week issued an interim conservation order which prevents Hinchinbrook Shire Council from using wild dogs or dingoes to kill feral goats on Pelorus Island, north of Townsville.
The council last month released two wild dogs on to Pelorus in a bid to eradicate 300 goats which are destroying the island’s endangered littoral rainforest and its native flora and fauna.
But last week, Dr Miles said the wild dogs posed a threat to a population of beach stone-curlew, a shore-dwelling bird which is a vulnerable species in Queensland.
Information from the minister’s own department, however, shows there is only a “suggestion” of a resident beach stone-curlew population on Pelorus Island.
The last recorded sighting of a beach stone-curlew on the island was 14 years ago, when two of the birds were spotted during a Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service survey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environment and Heritage told the ABC.
“As it is a non-migratory species this suggests at least one pair at that time sited permanently on the island,” she said.
“The Beach Stone-curlew does not form colonies so there are no aggregations of large numbers of birds, even without pressures on their habitat.
“There is no reason to suppose that a population of beach stone-curlews are not still present on the island or that the birds do not breed there.”
Decision not ‘based on science’: MP
Hinchinbrook MP Andrew Cripps has questioned the government’s motivation in shutting down the Pelorus project, calling it a “political stunt”.
He said he “didn’t believe the decision was based on science or environmental grounds”.
Dr Miles said his office and those of other MPs had been inundated with messages from Queenslanders concerned about the so-called “death-row dingo” trial.
The plan was to leave the dogs on the island for two years to eradicate the goats. The dogs would then be shot, but had been implanted with a time-release poison capsule as a back-up.
Dr Miles denied public opposition was the reason for shutting down the project.
“Certainly we’ve had another look at this because of the level of community concern but the concern for this species is real,” he said.
“The advice I’ve been provided is that this could be a real risk to the curlew and that’s why I’ve taken action to stop the wild dogs on Pelorus Island.”
Agriculture Minister Leanne Donaldson said she fully supported the action by Dr Miles to end the “inhumane” project, despite the fact her department was involved in the approval, planning and execution of the programme.
Dr Miles said the Environment Department had not considered the project until now.
However, the ABC can reveal that the Environment Department knew of the plan to put dingoes on Pelorus Island in November last year.
The department then issued a Scientific Purposes Permit which allowed a biodiversity survey to be conducted on Pelorus “with the aim of monitoring the responses of flora and fauna to the temporary addition of dingoes and the removal of goats”.
Hinchinbrook Shire Council has said it would comply with the order to remove the wild dogs from the island by Thursday next week.
But Mayor Ramon Jayo said the council had taken an unfair “bucketing” over the issue.
“It was the minister’s own government that issued approvals for the trials in the first instance,” he said.
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