Many Similarities World’s Apart

Editor’s Note: Kim Nielsen, an ag fieldman for the County of Clearwater in west central Alberta, is wrapping up a six-month work experience visit in Victoria, Australia. This is his final report for Grainews on his experiences during his stay.

The completion of my six month secondment to the Department of Primary

Industries, Landscape Protection is drawing near and this will be my last submission to Grainews before heading back to Clearwater County Agricultural Services, Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. These articles have allowed me to express more publicly my appreciation to the county council for supporting this trip of a lifetime and for recognizing the opportunities for collaborating on agricultural initiatives of mutual benefit not only during the six months but for a long time to come through the many connections I have made with DPI staff across the state.

Farm Services Victoria, under which the Landscape Protection portfolio sits, just recently released its new Better Services For Farmers model and I couldn’t help notice their new emphasis in wholesaling services and finding appropriate partners to assist with the “on the grounds” delivery or retailing.

Considerable literature searches paved the way for the new changes and the Alberta scenario of delivering some agricultural programs via Agricultural Service Boards (ASB) was one of several which was studied more closely.

I had the pleasure of presenting our local Clearwater County Agricultural Services model in early December to the Landscape Protection Leadership Team and was pleasantly surprised to hear many complimentary words about the unique Alberta Agriculture and ASB partnerships. Here in Victoria partnerships with local catchment management authorities, landcare groups and municipal councils that are now investigated more closely in assisting the state in rolling out the Better Services For Farmers model. Presenting the ASB model has also allowed me to compare more closely programs of mutual interest on both sides and with examples such as the Victorian Weed Spotter Program, Weed Stop Training, the Alberta Environmental Farm Plan and Weed Free Hay Program, and others. I was intrigued to see the interest in our Coyote Control Program, a typical ASB program in most municipalities as coyotes are listed as a nuisance species under the Alberta Agricultural Pests Act, and shared this recently with two regional Wild Dog Management Committees.

The interest was not so much in learning about the coyotes, but more in how we were able over time to engage the farmers more in managing their own livestock predation caused by coyotes and I quickly discovered similarities with our old program and their current situation with respect to Victorian wild dog management. Different species for sure, but there were remarkable parallels with Alberta’s early ’80s coyote predation program and the committees, along with the Landscape Protection portfolio, were keen to hear how we went about the transition from direct staff involvement in coyote predation management such as predation investigation, completing the loss compensation application for farmers, issuing coyote control devices to in Clearwater County’s current situation of having moved to a “help you to help yourself” approach on livestock predation via workshops and extension materials. The Victorian Wild Dog Management Program currently costs the state $3 million annually so when the cost benefit analysis was done it was a given that changes were needed. In addition the wild dog genetic relationship with the newly “threatened species” declared dingo has further added arguments for change. A Victorian Wild Dog Control Staff of 24 each have a trapping area and respond to requests from farmers to trap wild dogs on public land adjacent to the farms either from fear of wild dogs attacking stock or examples of actual kills. Learning from our Alberta experiences in more closely analysing the kills, as we did when the coyote livestock predator compensation program existed, will hopefully disclose the multitude of management related and underlying causes we saw in our coyote caused livestock predation and perhaps this will reflect in the Australian livestock predation by wild dogs as well.

Wild dog management has had a long history across most of Australia and makes for a lot of resistance to change. I remember seeing the famous 5,320 km long Dog Fence on my way to Central Australia north of Coober Pedy back in November, still maintained today to keep the dingo and wild dog crosses from coming south into the sheep country. must say it was a unique experience to tour a trap line with one of the dog control staff and see how the JC Conner, rubber jawed and “humane treatment of animals approved” traps were set complete with a little scenting to attract the wild dogs. The scenting coming from a couple of canine companions that only too willingly lifted their hind legs to deliver a few squirts of urine for collection, nothing like the real thing in the world of canine fragrances!

So I bid farewell from the Victorian capital of Melbourne and I’ll see you soon back in Alberta.

Kim J. Nielsen, Pest Management Officer/ Clearwater County Agricultural Fieldman, Hamilton, Victoria, Australia.

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