At the Conference of Stock Inspectors, held in Sydney recently, the following paper on the rabbit problem was read by Mr. W. N. Rees, Stock Inspector, Inverell:—
The great increase in rabbits throughout the larger portion of the State renders it necessary that more active steps should be taken to combat the pest. The present method of control is inadequate. While some district Boards take the matter seriously and are energetic in the work of destruction, others assume a lethargic attitude, and in this regard consideration must be given to the decreased carrying capacity of the State. In the year 1891 New South Wales carried nearly 62,000,000 sheep, in 1902, the total was less than 26,000,000. The average number of sheep in the State during the past 20 years was slightly over 37,000,000 and in 1920 the total number was 35,000,000. While drought was the main cause of this extremely serious decrease, it is undeniable that the ravages of drought were enormously accentuated by the prevalence of the rabbit.
Apart from the direct effect of dry seasons, the rabbit affects the carrying capacity and quality of the feed at all times, as it virtually poisons the country. As this effect will become worse the longer the rabbit overruns the country attention cannot he given too soon to the advisability of instituting some more effective means of general control. We cannot ignore the significant fact that a large area of country has each year been improved and made available for sheep, yet our flocks decrease. The increase in closer settlement should have greatly increased the carrying capacity of our pasture lands, but it has not done so. The rabbit has taken the place of the sheep, and many of the finer fodder grasses have been eaten out. I do not propose to make any extravagant statement as to the number of skins exported, but it is the place of a sheep, or refer to the number of skins exported, but it is a matter of common knowledge that both are considerable, and it is essential that we should consider the best means of remedying the present state of affairs.
As a means of eradication, it is recognised that wire netting holdings and digging out and burning off are the most effective and best methods to adopt. Unfortunately only a very small proportion of settlers are financially able to undertake this course owing to the prohibitive price of wire netting and labor. The introduction of diseases for the purpose of destroying the pest is unlikely to secure the approval of any Government, owing to the risk entailed to both human and animal life. We must therefore depend upon stricter adherence to approved methods, and this suggests the need for greater supervision of the work of the P.P. Boards. While some boards are fully alive to their responsibilities, others are apparently prepared to remain satisfied with the present position and take no action. Thus we find that, while in 1919 in parts of the North-Western districts scarcely a rabbit was to be seen during a long day's journey; now they are almost as prevalent as ever they have been. We must recognise that the times have been bad, and this has affected the attitude of the boards, but that in turn indicates that the present system of control is not sufficient.
In my own district (Inverell), the Board gave very serious consideration to this question. It was recognised that the cooperation of the landholders was required and circulars were accordingly sent to influential local settlers, and after the matter had been thoroughly discussed, several Rabbit Destruction Associations were formed. Rules were framed and the members undertook to supervise operations with in their local areas. In cases where an occupier failed to take proper action, the matter was reported to the secretary of the Association, and he thereupon cautioned the occupier complained of that if steps were not taken within a reasonable period a complaint would be made to the Inspector of Stock. Under no circumstances would the name of the complainant be divulged. At times, the Inspector was invited to attend the meetings of the Association and speak on the matter of rabbit destruction. These associations have keen a great success. In the event of the pest increasing in isolated areas, the secretary of the Association can get in touch with the Inspector and advise —which naturally expedites matters. The Inverell Board further appointed three of its members as a subcommittee, which meets whenever necessary to deal with the rabbit invasion, the seriousness of which the Board fully recognises.
Personally, I consider that the time has arrived when the Department should consider the advisability of appointing a permanent competent officer to periodically visit each district and report, upon the work of the local Board, and particularly as to whether it is satisfactorily carrying out its functions in the administration of Part III. of the Pastures Protection Act. Recently it was found necessary for the Inverell Board to take action under Section 62, and the holding of 4000 acres was thoroughly and effectively treated by the Board at the (absentee) owner's expense. Section 62 appears to be a very wise provision and one that should he taken advantage of by the Boards in suitable cases, and it would he interesting to learn if this course is adopted by the Boards to any extent.
The appointment of a Supervising Officer is advocated on the ground that this question should he treated as a National one as a National asset is involved. This opens up the question of expenditure, as circumstances may arise when, owing to local conditions, it is almost impracticable for the local Board to rigidly enforce the Act. It may be reasonably argued that if the Department is to control the work of the Boards, it must be prepared to assist the Boards and the landholders in the way of providing wire netting under liberal conditions. It has been suggested that the Boards should distribute poison at a low rate to applicants for the purpose of destroying rabbits, but as this course is open to serious abuse, I am strongly opposed to it.
"Generally speaking, the present Act is sufficient to provide for effective rabbit destruction providing the Boards carry it out properly. I suggest the appointment of a Supervising Officer to see that this is done and that the good work of one Board is not greatly handicapped by the laxity of another Board."
The paper was well received.