Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wild Meat: It's There for the Taking

John Lethlean of The Australian documented, in a recent article, an experience that most hunters would be familiar with, albeit with different game. In this article John joins a pro roo shooter in the boondocks of South Australia for a midnight hunt, the bounty of which is destined for the supermarkets and restaurants of Australia.

In his article, John quite rightly highlights the benefits of eating kangaroo: it is a wild meat, harvested from animals that are the best evolved to cope with the wildly swinging pendulum that is Australia's climate. The meat is a far more sustainable source than domesticated stock equivalents. And it is a quality, lean, healthy meat; all characteristics shared with many an introduced species. (You can read all about my thoughts on the wiley old roo in my last blog here.)

But enough about the humble roo and it's sustainable, ecologically friendly and oh so delicious offerings. The point of this blog is to address something that John wrote that struck me in the face like a frying wielded with the strength of a jilted lover:
"WILD-CAUGHT barramundi over farmed stuff. Bunny from the paddock instead of the farmed creature. Wild venison over farmed deer which, unless it's shot in the field, deteriorates considerably under the stress of herding and transport to the abattoir, I'm told.

You get the point. Wild protein is impossible to beat. But, the way I figure it, wild food will increasingly become an almost unaffordable luxury for the next generation."
An unaffordable luxury eh? Last time I checked my deep freezer I still had about 10kg of fine quality, wild sourced venison. If I need a rabbit for the pot there are any number of paddocks to source one from. And with the recent redeclaration of State Forests in NSW, sourcing wild protein has become all the more realistic for many of the r-licensed hunters across the state.

Every day inviting images of wild caught game prepared in a rough but warmly inviting manner adorn my Facebook news feed via groups like Gourmet Hunters. Those responsible though are no millionaires; they are usually hunters of modest means, but with a down-to-earth attitude, an appreciation for the satisfaction that is bringing home food for your family. Alongside these delectable offerings are photos of vege gardens, herb gardens and of kids enjoying fresh, down to earth food; something that is shared with many a suburban mother or father.

Which leads me to this: with this whole slow food/locavore/organic-is-good revolution we're seeing in the gastronomic universe, it is quite surprising that there hasn't been a greater focus on the protein side of things. It has been few the number of celebrity chefs, food critics etc that have ventured into the taboo waters of hunting game for meat. Even fewer are the numbers of every day folk that have taken up the rifle or shotgun along with the shovel or hoe.


The meat is there for the taking, what is stopping you?

Homemade venison bratwurst. The venison
was sourced from a young male Sambar (deer)
taken from the Victorian Alps.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Horrified by Hunting? You Know, That's Ok.

I know many hunters that find themselves in the pretty odd position of justifying their decision to bring food home for their families. It is odd because what we're doing is fundamentally at the heart of our existence: we're providing for our families - just in a slightly different fashion than heading down to the local Coles.

One of the reasons I hunt, and there are quite a number, is that for me it is a way of assuming total responsibility for the process of sourcing meat for my family's table. From the outset I am in control of the process: I chose the beast from which the meat will ultimately come from, how it is killed and how it is treated and prepared, ready for consumption. At no point do I outsource a part of this process; I own it wholly.

In utilising a wild beast, there is the added benefit of the beast having the least possible chance of suffering at the hand of man. It has lived a life - ignoring the fact it is exotic - as nature intended and you can't get much more free-range than that!

I firmly believe that we, not as hunters but as humans, should have the freedom of choice when it comes to sourcing our food. We should have the right to be guided by our own morals and our values and if those morals and values deliver us to hunting as being our preferred means of sourcing food, we should have the freedom to pursue that path.

I can only imagine the hysteria (and justifiably so) if individuals were robbed of the right to choose whether or not to grow their own vegetables or harvest their own water. It would be grossly unfair, some may even say a denial of a basic human right, if that were to occur. Why is hunting any different?

I don't think for a moment that we're about "converting" anyone to subscribe to a life philosophy of providing for one's family on any scale. Far be it for me, or anyone, to dictate to another how they should live their lives, but I and the hundreds of thousands of hunters across Australia would certainly appreciate that same courtesy be returned.

So if you're horrified by hunting, that's ok, just don't try to stop me.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Kangaroos on the Menu? It's Time

It's time for a change in the way Australia manages its kangaroos. For too long the roo has been hoisted up on a pedestal; elevated as a deity to be worshiped from afar.

Until they become an inconvenience that is.

Australians are quick to exchange that pedestal for the pyre though, the inevitable minute the kangaroo becomes a nuisance.

It really is quite entertaining to observe the switch in a community's attitude; the transformation from rabid crusaders of the roo, to judge jury and executioner is a fast one. In the blink of an eye the cries of "they're on our Coat of Arms, thou shalt not touch them!" are quickly replaced with "they're out of control, they are scary animals, someone is going to be killed, we need a cull!"

Surely as a nation we're mature enough to begin the conversation about following the path that much of the world has already trodden - and done so for hundreds of years - about using their native resources in a sustainable and responsible manner?

But wait, we already do.

And not only do we already do it, but we do it with animals that are in a far more precarious position than the common species of kangaroo - the greys and the reds.

Murray cod, golden perch, Australian bass, silver perch, catfish and Murray crayfish are all native animals, endemic to Australia, that may be targeted and harvested by recreational anglers in NSW. For the inland species, it is estimated that the current populations represents just 10% of the biomass that existed prior to European settlement.

Of course there are measures in place to ensure that the net impact on the populations are not negative - open seasons, bag limits, approved methods. The considerable funds raised by the sale of recreational fishing licenses is returned to the fishery through research, development, habitat restoration, angler access and education. Among the achievements has been the successful captive breeding and release of Macquarie perch, what was once a prevalent native but one that now finds itself on the endangered species list.

It isn't just fish though, if we look across the Murray we have an annual duck season where one can hunt native ducks, observing prescribed bag limits and an open season that is determined by the sustainability of the populations. In NSW however ducks are off-limits (that is, like kangaroos, until they become a pest).

If we look further afield, as I have already alluded to, this practice is as common as the proverbial across the globe. From red deer in the Scottish highlands to wild boar on the European continent to elk in North America and lions on the Serengeti, sustainable use of native species is a viable, responsible method of managing them in a landscape that is far removed from that in which they evolved.

And this point is absolutely pertinent in the discussion. If we look at the environment prior to European settlement, it is perhaps the most changed of any on the face of the planet for two very important reasons: predators and water.

Shortly after European settlement the landscape's apex predator, the Aborigines, were removed. Imagine the North American plains or the African savannah without their respective apex predators. Anyone who thinks the ecosystem could continue to function in a healthy manner is at best naive and at worst simply delusional.

This has been compounded with the enormous increase in the availability of water. If you've recently flown over the inland parts of eastern Australia, you would have no doubt noticed the sparkling strings of dams spread far and frequently across the landscape below. Prior to European settlement these would have been absent. Together with vastly improved pastures and crops, the modern landscape is one that is heavily in favour of the kangaroo. 

But what is even more ludicrous in this whole shameful situation is that even when kangaroos are permitted to be destroyed as pests, their nutritious, super-healthy meat is off limits to those undertaking the cull. Instead, those animals destroyed are either left to rot in the paddock or to feed the next generation of wild dogs or feral pigs. This shameful waste of high-quality protein in its own right needs to be addressed.

So let's have the conversation, let's work together to ensure that kangaroos are not propelled into the spotlight for the wrong reasons and relegated to the level of pest. Let's instead value our animals in every way we can, remove the hysterical, emotive and infantile drivel that has plagued the subject in the past and move forward with sensible, rational policy on managing our iconic species, ending the temporary hiatus of a 60,000 year tradition.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Connection With Nature Should Go Beyond Observation

We are a part of nature. Unquestionably.

Whether you are reading this in the 20th story of a city apartment block, or from a bush shanty in a lost landscape, we consume. We consume food, we consume resources, we consume energy and we cannot escape that reality.

I recently watched a recording of Paul Maguire's presentation to TEDxDubbo. It was thought provoking and painted a pretty scary picture of what our children are up to these days, or to be more accurate what they're not up to; in his video he showed a graphic that painted the following picture:

A generation ago, it was reported that almost 75% of children played outdoors more often than they do in doors. Today, that number has evaporated to just 13%.

This is startling for a number of reasons, but most importantly because it paints a picture of a childhood, that coupled with unhealthy eating habits, is incredibly vulnerable to diet related dieseases and a childhood that has a total disconnect with nature and natural systems - including our food production.

In addressing the latter, I'm sure many would counter it with a "So what?". In this day and age of technology, both its breadth and accessibility, do we need to be connected with nature? Do we need to have an understanding, as the general public, of the way natural systems work?

I firmly believe the answer is yes, yes we do.

It will be these kids that will one day lead our country.

It is these kids that will one day shape policy as it relates to food production and threats to food production and food security generally.

It is these kids that will one day make decisions from their city office without being able to fully comprehend the consequences of those decisions for our environment.

In his address Maguire advocates for a reconnection with nature through zoos. In visiting zoos kids can observe animals in a replica natural environment. And I think this is incredibly important, but at the same time it can only ever be a connection through observation; a connection that is weak, delicate and subject to being lost easily on the long trip back home through the city congestion. In making a connection via observation only, one cannot truly appreciate, nor understand the complex systems at work.

Further, it does nothing to dispel the disconnect between stock in paddocks and dinner on the plate.

I have had first hand accounts of children believing that products such as mince, eggs, chicken drumsticks etc are a product of industry, that they are manufactured in a large factory and freighted to the supermarket. This is not healthy.

I suggest that we should go beyond simply observing at zoos and instead immerse ourselves in those systems that support us as a species.

Opponents of hunting especially have often decried those that take their children hunting and pass on the skills and knowledge needed to hunt successfully; their arguments often revolving around morals and safety. They often talk of love and care for an animals and that hunting erodes these.

What is often absent though is a key word: respect.

To this end hunting and fishing provide children with the opportunity to learn about this, about respect. Hunting and fishing teach respect. It teaches one to respect the individual animal, the particular species and the environment that supports them.

If we are to be successful in hunting or fishing, we must develop an understanding of our quarry and I challenge anyone to develop this understanding without respect for the animal developing hand in hand. If you fail to treat the animal with respect you will fail. If it's a dangerous animal (in Australia our most dangerous game are pigs and buffalo) a lack of respect can ultimately lead to you losing your own life.

But it does more than this, it teaches children about just how delicate life is, how easily it can end, that there are direct consequences to their actions and that once it is taken away there is no reset button to bring it back. We very quickly see the direct impact of our existence: an animal dead on the ground. And we learn that this animal's life means that we can continue to live ours; video games don't teach you that.

But most of all, it teaches us that our existence is inextricably linked to the natural world, that our ongoing survival has far reaching consequences and we cannot think of ourselves as isolated from the health and well-being of the environment. We are unquestionably a part of it and in today's political climate, appreciating this could not be more important.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

NPA: Plain Ignorant or Deliberately Misleading?

On Friday, 30 August 2013, the National Parks Association of NSW's (NPA) Campaign Coordinator, Justin McKee released the latest salvo in his association's unrelenting attack on hunters and our culture: Call for an end to recreational hunting on all public land.

In this release, in what can only be described as a hysterical attempt to underpin a flawed argument, McKee's spurious assertions about feral animal control, hunter behaviour and our effectiveness are simply incorrect.

"Amateurs are ineffective in fighting the feral animal problem on public land in NSW; report after report tells us that" - McKee
Right from the outset McKee oversteps the mark by misleading his readers. In an address to the General Purpose Standing Committee No 5 - Inquiry Into Public Land Management, Mr John Tracey - Manager, Invasive Species, Biosecurity NSW, explicitly  stated that there were no studies in existence that had examined the impact of recreation hunters on feral animal numbers in State Forests.

So one must ask the question of McKee, where are these reports? And further, if none are forthcoming, will he retract that derogatory critique of recreational hunters?

Further to this, since recreational hunting was introduced to State Forests, Forestry Corporation, the state owned corporation charged with overseeing the business activities and management of State Forests has relied on recreational hunters for the vast majority of their vertebrate pest control. In fact, since the introduction of recreational hunting in State Forests, that particular corporation now, or used to, quote the annual Game Council report for pest animals destroyed on land under their tenure. In doing this, recreational hunters not only destroyed many thousands of feral animals, but in doing so delivered a $2.4m benefit to Forestry Corporation and contributed some $34m to regional economies annually. 

 Again the gentlemen of Biosecurity NSW appear to be at odds with another of McKee's flailing, hysterical attempts at grabbing the public's attention.

McKee goes on to say that "The door on recreational hunting in State Forests should be kept shut".

Following a question posed by The Green's MLC Cate Faehrmann, Mr Tracey offered this:

"We advocate, and it is something that we support quite strongly, an integrated approach to pest management. We want to take advantage of as many tools as we can to reduce pest impact."

And further Mr Bruce Christie, Executive Director, Biosecurity NSW had this to say:

"we need to do more wherever we possibly can to try and control feral animals, including shooting."

But the hysterics do not end there.

Further on in his fantastical piece of fiction, McKee cites the recent spate of animals suffering at the hands of criminals as reason enough to prohibit hunting on public land. In these instances it is usually the case that a kangaroo or other common marsupial is found with a target arrow lodged in it somewhere.

The truth of the matter is this: to attempt to draw a link between this sort of behaviour and legitimate, law-abiding hunters is as irresponsible and deceitful as using the behaviour of back-yard drug cooks to justify controls on pharmacists. The persons carrying out these acts are not hunters, in name or spirit and their actions are no more relevant to the debate than said drug cook is to pharmacology.

In throwing their weight into the argument over hunting in State Forests - a state owned corporation and land manager in their own right - one can't help but to question the motives of the NPA. I fear that they are following the well trodden path of many environmental groups, and most famously walked by The Greens, of using the conservation cause to catapult their organisation to prominence, only to abandon sensible discussion on conservation matters in the interest of satisfying some unknown agenda.

On this matter they have shown their hand and the environment is a noticeable absentee.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Non-Commercial Roo Cull: Wasteful & Disrespectful

Once again the issue of culling kangaroos has come to the fore of the media, particularly in Canberra, but the truth is that following the conversion of much of the landscape to grazing and cropping country, in a good seasons this practice is repeated time and time again across NSW as populations of Eastern Greys reach levels that cause damage to primary producers.

The ACT Civil & Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) set an annual quota for 2013 of 1244 kangaroos; the reaction was considerable particularly from the animal welfare and green groups. But the truth is that some properties in isolation can be granted this many tags for their annual cull such is the problem with excess populations of eastern grey kangaroos.

The science behind the culling of native animal populations is fairly well settled: our understanding of the population, their response to stress and the "excess" is now well known and gone are the days of an all out declaration on them - thank heavens for that! The fact that we're back every year culling again suggests that the overall impact is not of any great detriment to the population.

But what this little piece is about is what happens to them following the cull.

Now kangaroo meat is widely regarded (ironically less so in Australia) as a valuable source of rich protein; it is low in fat and has other anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetes properties (

It is also widely held as an ecologically superior product to domesticated livestock with kangaroos being vastly superior in their adaptation to the Australian landscape, performing better during droughts, limiting the damage to root systems of native pastures and leading to much less erosion and siltation of waterways.

 All in all, kangaroo is a very valuable natural resource.

In NSW, non-commercial culling of macropods (the dominant being eastern grey kangaroos) is governed by the National Parks and Wildlife Act. A landholder makes an application to the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service; a staff member makes a determination and issues the appropriate number of tags. In my experience and the experience of those I've talked to in the past is that the local NPWS rangers are often very friendly, easy to get along with and are sympathetic to the farmers' plight.

So what's the problem?

Well the problem arises when one tries to put all that wonderful protein to use. You see the overwhelming majority of permits prohibit the carcasses being removed from the property.

This has two major problems: the waste of protein and the increased food available to feral carnivores and omnivores.

Following the ACT cull this year, the former issue was raised in the mainstream media (Dumped Roos Seen as Waste of Protein). Unfortunately it never amounted to any real interest among the public, despite the waste of something in the order of 28,000kg of rich protein.

In this case, the concerns of Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury are valid; with a commercial enterprise in place the investors would want to see a return on their investment and this may mount undue pressure on the annual quota, particularly in a dry or run of dry years. But to dismiss any use of the meat for human consumption on the grounds of these concerns is, to put it bluntly, a soft option; it's a cop out.

If we look to similar programs around the world, the United States sets the standard with their Sportsmen Against Hunger program. This program enables hunters to donate game meat to be used for feeding the disadvantaged within their communities. In 2010 they donated enough meat to generate 1.9 million meals.

Why can't this be replicated in Australia? With hundreds of thousands of kangaroos culled annually we are not short of protein. Instead though they are left to rot in paddocks, providing a temporary food source for destructive pest animals such as wild dogs and feral pigs who then turn on native wildlife and stock to supplement their feed once the glut of prime kangaroo is spent.

It is an incredible waste and an act of despicable disrespect. It's a valuable resource that could contribute to improving the lives of our fellow man, why not use it?

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Deceit Runs Deeper Than Hunting

The Government’s decision to summarily abolish the Game Council and its impact goes far beyond recreational hunters; it has shown just how contemptuous Barry O’Farrell and his Government is and the regard with which he holds regional and rural NSW.

It is true that some 20,000 licensed, law abiding hunters have now been locked out of public lands and that the future of hunting is on shaky ground and it would be of little surprise that there is strong resentment within that group – and shooters and hunters generally.

The effect though will echo throughout regional NSW.

The recently released Public Benefit Assessment Report of the Game Council’s activities in the 12 months to April 2013 was glowing in its assessment of the benefit restricted and game licensed hunters have presented.
For regional NSW, the annual economic injection amounts to almost $65 million – all of which is spent outside of the major metropolitan areas. In a time where economic hardship is a grim reality for many smaller towns and shires, in a time when orchards are being ripped from the ground, in a time when huge corporations are buying up vast tracts of formerly family farmed land, every cent of that $65m will be sorely missed. What the knock-on effect will be, only time will reveal. 

The Assessment also revealed that the impact of restricted licensed hunters on public lands, that is State Forests, is so great Forests NSW now no longer spends any funds worthy of mention on feral and pest animal control. In fact the lost opportunity to Forests NSW is now approaching $2.4 million – a figure that one can now assume they will have to try and find to discharge their duty to continue to control feral and pest animals. The reality is that Mr O’Farrell has overseen the end of the halcyon days for Forests NSW. 

His decision also demonstrates his absolute contempt for primary producers. In the weeks since the abolition of the Game Council, there have been articles in various media outlets warning of the pending explosion of feral pigs, of the very real threat to rangeland wool growing from wild dogs and even just the other day a report of a young boy being gored by a wild pig. In this instance Mr O’Farrell has turned his back on primary producers and has hung them out to dry.

But the deceit runs deeper, the contempt more venomous. A number of ministers have been quoted as having the ambition to introduce a tenure-blind approach to pest animal control: one set of rules for National Parks, for State Forests and for public land. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if they objectively assessed the different methods currently employed across the various tenures and implemented the most effective and most efficient, but given Mr O’Farrell’s summary beheading of the most successful and most efficient, it would appear a cold day in Hell would be more likely than this model being implemented across all tenures.
If it is to be believed the Government want to impose the grossly inefficient model of pest animal management that is currently proposed for National Parks across freehold land - across your land. They cite the model of bushfire management as the successful big brother whose footsteps pest animal control will follow, but one only needs to look to the Warrumbungles and the catastrophic fire that razed 95% of the National Park to glean an indication how successful National Parks has been in managing bushfires.

But the most telling fact in this sordid tale is the reason for all that is listed above. If there were serious, life threatening, corrupt or criminal undercurrents at work in the Game Council, one may understand Mr O’Farrell’s decision. If there were a history of injuries and deaths then it may be justifiable. But we are not. In over 80,000 hunting days by some 20,000 restricted license hunters, there was not a single serious injury reported, let alone a fatality.

In essence the Game Council was the Government’s highest performing unit. Yes, there were issues with governance but these were not insurmountable by any stretch of the imagination. All that was needed was additional funding. To put it bluntly, Mr O’Farrell’s decision was akin to shooting your best working dog because he needed his claws trimmed.

This whole affair, for all the bad, also gave us a wonderful insight into the character of Mr O’Farrell.
If the Shooters and Fishers Party MLC’s are to be believed – and there’s no reason not to, I haven't seen anything from Mr O'Farrell to deny this – Mr O’Farrell gave them his word that he would consult with them on the findings of the Dunn report prior to any announcement or policy shift being made. The reality though could not have been further from what was promised. Instead Messrs Brown and Borsack did not find out until the decision had been made and the story was breaking across media outlets.

I want to stress this, because it goes a long way in highlighting Mr O’Farrell’s character: he did not make any outlandish or radical promises. He did not promise to enshrine hunting on public land time in perpetuity. He did not promise to grant National Parks to the Shooters & Fishers, he did not promise to cement the Game Council in its existence forever more. 

His promise was a very simple one; it was simply to talk to those whose constituents would be most affected but he couldn’t even keep that simple promise.

What sort of leader is it that acts so quickly and so irrationally that he cannot honour a very simple undertaking given to fellow colleagues? Is this someone who can be trusted? Is it someone the people of NSW can have confidence in?

And where were the Nationals in all of this? Where were the flag bearers of regional NSW, the knights of the primary producers? They were standing there, by his side as he rang the death knell of the most successful pest animal control program in the history of Australia. They stood there as he turned his back on regional NSW and threatened to jeopardise $65m of vital economic benefit. They stood by his side as he gave primary producers the bird and finally they stood there as he committed a gross act of political bastadry all in the name of power and authority.