A little more than a week ago 40 Black Swans were shot adjacent to a wetland near Bairnsdale, Victoria. The permit for the shooting was issued by the local office of the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) to “protect” farm crops from damage.
Swans can damage crops and make pasture unpalatable to stock — but these events are rare and swans are not hard to deter. A researcher from the Werribee Sewerage farm, now working for the DSE in Melbourne, found some years ago that playing recorded alarm calls and using “flapping wing” scarers worked well. Dogs tied up in the affected paddock is said by locals to have the same deterrent affect — Black Swans are cumbersome and vulnerable on land.
The scene of the authorised cull was a wetland fed by the Mitchell River, a stream that in turn feeds into the complex Lakes Entrance system, a lakes system suffering from water diversions to top up Melbourne’s supply and the ongoing discharge of ash and silt from the rivers that feed it after the 2007 fires. The seagrasses and other species that Black Swans relied on for food are now in short supply and swans have begun appearing in farmers paddocks, feeding on Lucerne crops and the like.
The East Gippsland Region of DSE is the principle land and wildlife manager for the region. Conservation minded people living in the bush surrounded by land managed by the department can feel vulnerable. However, when locals found out that the swan shoot had happened and confirmed that permits had been issued by the local DSE they contacted the Melbourne-based ABC program Stateline.
The journalist they spoke to wanted the bodies of the shot swans to make a story — a hard ask at best. In an effort to get the story up the locals provided the program with a contact who knew of the shooters employed by the landowner.
To their shock and surprise Stateline then asked the local if a Stateline crew could get involved in the next shoot, and find out where and when it was so they could film it.
The DSE managers obviously do not care about the wildlife they are charged to protect and made no effort to find an alternative to shooting the swans — they did not even speak to people in their own department. Similarly for Stateline, the fate of the Black Swans and mismanagement by DSE is of no concern compared to the opportunity to film yet more Black Swans being shot.
Any story appearing on the ABC would likely end the issuing of permits to farmers to shoot swans, but in the meantime Stateline producers are in the extraordinary position of having an apparent vested interest in the continuation of the Black Swan shoot.
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