Rampaging dogs in bounty trial crosshairs

BRAD THOMPSON
Challa Station's Ashley Dowden. Picture: Danella Bevis/Countryman

Agriculture Minister Ken Baston has defended a controversial move to introduce a wild dog bounty trial, saying it was justified on economic, animal welfare and public safety grounds.

Mr Baston revealed he overturned initial advice from his own department on the merits of a bounty system, which he believed could provide another weapon for pastoralists already engaged in major baiting and trapping campaigns.

The trial covers about 90,000sqkm and more than 50 stations in the Murchison where dog attacks on sheep and goats have caused widespread horrific injuries and big financial losses.

Under the $75,000, 12-month trial, pastoralists will be able to claim $100 per wild dog scalp, subject to strict conditions.

"Whether the dog is trapped, the dog is poisoned, caught with a lasso or shot, there is that $100 bounty there as a reward," Mr Baston said. "There won't be cowboys running around the bush firing weapons. Only pastoralists will be allowed to claim bounty payments, but they can provide permission to external shooters to kill wild dogs on their properties and pay them privately."

The stations covered by the trial are part of the proposed Murchison Region Vermin Cell. The cell would be enclosed by a 1400km fence as part of a long-term plan to eradicate wild dogs.

Challa Station owner and Mt Magnet Shire president Ashley Dowden said the pastoralists needed "every tool in the shed" in the fight against wild dogs, including bounties.

Mr Dowden, who chairman of the Meekatharra Rangelands Biosecurity Association which will run the trial under contract with the Department of Agriculture and Food WA, warned that wild dogs were moving south at an alarming rate and could be in the Perth Hills within five years if more was not done to halt their advance.

They were also growing bolder, with reports of cross-breed dogs approaching homesteads and stalking people in remote areas.

"It could be only a matter of time before someone gets pulled down, whether it is a tourist or prospector," Mr Dowden said.

The Pastoral Lands Board reported 42,258 stock, mostly sheep, were lost to wild dogs in the Rangelands last year. The cost of dog attacks was estimated at $6.3 million last year. Mr Baston said that if stations became unviable the State Government faced major land management costs.

Seven former pastoral leases in the trial zone are already controlled by the Department of Parks and Wildlife.

"The reality is there aren't the numbers of people out here that there used to be. Everyone has had to tighten their belts," Mr Baston said.

"They are basically husband and wife operations playing a major role for Government in being guardians of the Rangelands."

The Department of Parks and Wildlife manages 60 former pastoral leases or parts of former leases covering more than six million hectares.

The management bill for 2012-13 was $2.86 million.