Image for The fox plea to Premier Lara

Andrew Cox of the invasive species council has placed a plea on his invasives blog to Premier Lara Giddings to restart the dumped fox eradication program. June 30th 2013.

Mr Cox continues to site the unsubstantiated and unproven allegation of a “deliberate release of numerous foxes in up to three locations (1999)” as the founding event of fox introduction into Tasmania.

A police inquiry consisting of six senior detectives found no evidence to substantiate this allegation, that it was based on gossip, innuendo and rumour. That leaves the remaining fact Mr. Cox mentions of a single fox that arrived in May 1998 at Burnie Port, believed to have been short lived, and if it did happen to be a vixen it would not have been pregnant in May. So where then did the founding foxes come from?

Mr. Cox points to Stephen Sarre’s summary of widespread distribution of foxes in Tasmania and suggested massive upscaling of effort in eradication in his plea to persuade the Premier to reconsider the program.

The Invasive Species Council is a non-profit independent organization that works with other groups on policy and legal reform to protect the Australian environment against weeds, feral animals and exotic pathogens. According to their website they have a strong commitment to using the best science available and have excellent access to weed and pest expertise to inform their work.

That being the case, why would Mr Cox accept the IA-CRC line without investigating why a 12-year fox eradication program has been totally foxless?

Mr Sarre has received a total to date of $12,165,521 for research projects, several of those have been Tasmanian funded programs.

On June 15 on ABC radio 936 Mornings with Leon Compton, Leon discussed the recent decision to scale down the baiting program to a monitoring phase. Leon asked Mr Alistair Scott the General Manager of Resource Management and Conservation at the Environment Department what ‘no evidence’ meant. Mr Scott claimed the program had not had any confirmed Fox evidence for around 18 months, no firm evidence, “we are looking at hard evidence…that is the best evidence to look at.”

Mr Scott explained that the Commonwealth had been supporting the field operations and at this stage there was no Commonwealth funding.

Leon comments: “… in part you are out of money?”

Mr Scott answers “…in part. The State funding has…been maintained. So…it’s a smaller operation.

Mr Scott feels it is an impressive achievement that in the last few years the program has baited over 400,000 hectares and in the last decade around a million hectares of Tasmania.

Leon asked a question he had put to Craig Elliott earlier in the year: “ I never could quite understand why you couldn’t get video footage of a fox taking a bait. We talked about this with somebody [Craig Elliott] from your Department last year when the most recent example of urban baiting was happening. One in ten baits - as many as one in ten baits - was being taken when laid, they said. But you only need to put up one camera ten times in order to see a fox by that measure. Why couldn’t you find video footage of a fox?”

Mr Scott’s reply:

“Well it’s a fair question, I guess the best answer is to point to the fact that we believe there has been a very low fox population…to actually catch a fox on a camera is pretty difficult… we’ve got cameras out there… with the devil program and other work… we haven’t managed to get one on camera… the best evidence comes from fox scats and also the carcasses that we had up until 2006.”

Sarre’s report only confirms 56 scats as being definite and 47 as ‘fox like’ whatever that means, so what then of the other five scats listed on DIPIPWE’s site of Fox positive scats = 61?

On the one hand we have Sarre’s scat publication suggesting that foxes could be on the verge of becoming established irreversibly in Tasmania. Sarre concludes foxes are now ‘widespread’ in Tasmania and may have already passed the point of feasible eradication and yet we have on the other Minister Wightman declaring the fox eradication has been a success on the basis no evidence of fox scats has been found in the last 18 months.

But what does the science actually tell us? Mr. Cox on his blog makes a rather simplistic and dismissive comment that to challenge the evidence that DIPIPWE are holding up on their website “critics either have to persuade us that all the evidence has been planted or that there is a giant conspiracy by multiple scientists and government officers and members of the public.”

While many comments are still awaiting moderation on this blog Tasmanian Times has well and truly discussed the lack of credibility in using unsubstantiated and uncorroborated information as evidence of a Tasmanian Fox population. Critics in their bid to maintain transparency and accountability to the fox program have been asked to do the research when clearly the onus of proof is with the Tasmanian government. It was not the critics who received in excess of 50 million of taxpayer dollars with nothing to show for it.