Struggling farmers look across the border for solution to fox problem: '$10 per scalp'

Updated: Victoria's government has doubled downed on its controversial fox bounty scheme saying 'it works'. Now farmers in NSW want one too.

Background image shows an aerial view of sheep in yards. The inset shows a drawing from Victoria's fox bounty scheme.
Farmers are calling for a fox scalp bounty to be reintroduced in NSW. Source: Agriculture Victoria/Getty

As red fox numbers boom, frustrated Aussie farmers wanting to protect their chickens and lambs are calling for a radical solution.

While it might seem like something out of Wild West America, many want a bounty to be put on the invasive predator’s scalp.

However, the solution is a controversial one. The idea has been described by one animal advocate as both “barbaric and archaic”, and a leading expert in invasive pest control thinks it would be a “waste of money” as there are more modern control methods available.

Related: Extraordinary moment wallaby turns tables on invasive fox

Fox bounties are already used in Victoria, where the state government pays out $10 for each decapitated fox scalp presented by shooters. Now there are calls for it to be introduced to NSW.

On Wednesday, Dugald Saunders, the leader of the NSW Nationals and Shadow Minister for Agriculture, said the Victorian bounty system was “proving to be successful” and he wanted his state to follow suit.

But a spokesperson from the office of Tara Moriarty, the NSW Minister for Agriculture, responded telling the Daily Telegraph programs have “consistently failed” since they were first trialled in the 1800s. Moriarty's office has been contacted for further comment.

Leader of The Nationals Dugald Saunders during his response to the NSW Budget.
Leader of The Nationals Dugald Saunders (pictured) doesn't want the NSW Government to rule out fox bounties. Source: AAP

Responding to Moriarty's claim, Saunders told Yahoo the bounties shouldn’t be ruled out.

“Regional communities are struggling with a dramatic increase in fox numbers and residents are demanding for more to be done,” he said in a statement.

“It doesn’t make sense to rule out getting more people involved in fox control, as well as baiting programs, to bring numbers down. The minister shouldn’t be looking at this as one or the other but as a coordinated approach with landholders in which every control method is used.”

NSW Farmers, the country’s largest state farming organisation, also supports introducing a bounty. Board member Alan Brown said “every possible tool” is needed to help control the problem, calling them an “environmental disaster”.

While he doesn’t believe the species will ever be wiped out from mainland Australia, he argues it's an “extra incentive and encouragement for people to destroy the things.”

While the NSW Labor government appears opposed to fox bounties, in Victoria its a different story.

“The bounty enables us to partner with the Victorian farmers and landholders by offering an incentive to participate in fox management,” a Victorian government spokesperson told Yahoo.

“The Fox Bounty has been running in Victoria since 2011, and in that time Agriculture Victoria has collected more than 1.15 million fox scalps — proving the incentive works."

But not everyone who advocates for fox controls thinks bounties are a good idea. Andrew Cox, the CEO of the Invasive Species Council, thinks bounty money could be better spent elsewhere.

“We don't think bounties for widespread pests provide any strategic benefit. They are a waste of money,” he told Yahoo.

“It’s not a wise use of government funds. And there are more targeted ways to control foxes that would have a bigger impact.

“Foxes definitely cause impacts on agriculture and the environment. But we need to use professional fox controllers and bait programs. And stop putting money into programs that could be easily abused, aren’t strategic, and could actually encourage the wrong behaviour.”

Dead foxes hanging on a fence with sheep in the background.
Victoria has maintained a controversial bounty system for decades. Source: Getty

NSW Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst has concerns introducing a bounty would encourage animal cruelty.

“The Victorian scheme has already received criticism of this, we can't copy this same ruthless and cruel program into NSW,” she told Yahoo.

She advocates against all mass invasive species control programs including bounty programs, 1080 poison and aerial shooting.

“Putting a ‘bounty’ on an animal’s life is barbaric and archaic. I am glad to hear the Minister for Agriculture is not supporting such a shocking proposal, which would not be supported by the community,” she said.

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