Crop protection permits issued to golf clubs in Tasmania have resulted in 5184 native animals being culled in the past five years.
A Right to Information request to the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment by The Examiner revealed 22 current permits were held by golf clubs while 121 permits had been issued since 2016.
The RTI detailed wallabies and possums as the most culled species with a combined 4112 reported taken between January 2016 and June 2021.
Fully protected species the Tasmanian native hen, sulphur-crested cockatoo, spur-winged plover and galah were also permitted to be taken by golf clubs.
More than 400 native hens were culled by a combination of shooting and alpha-chloralose - a poison causing body temperature control to stop working. Sixty-five native hens were taken through alpha-chloralose use.
The use of crop protection permits by golf clubs was thrust into the spotlight in May when a proposed cull at Greens Beach Golf Club in the state's north was called off due to community backlash.
Two years before, the Launceston Golf Club also made the decision to renege on a plan to cull wildlife at the course because they had been "causing damage"
The governing body for golf in Tasmania is Golf Australia. The body is an umbrella for the sport in the country and individual clubs are not bound by their operations. There are 67 member clubs in Tasmania.
A Golf Australia spokesperson said the body was monitoring the situation and was aware of community reactions in both the Greens Beach and Launceston communities.
"Golf Australia is constantly seeking to educate our clubs and facilities, and as the governing body we would expect them to follow the protocols that are in place, while being aware of the sensitivities of the issue," they said.
"We would never condone the needless slaughter of animals. The overwhelming majority of golfers coexist nicely with wildlife on golf courses and in fact, most would say that it is significant part of the intrinsic beauty of the game."- Golf Australia
"It was a bit of a wake up call that we need to take that commentary into consideration," he said.
"The golf club is a part of the community and is a community asset, as a result we need to consider those community values."
The club's crop protection permit had expired and it had not applied for a new one.
Greens Beach Golf Club were contacted for comment but did not respond.
Birdlife Tasmania convenor Dr Eric Woehler OAM said birds and other animals were drawn to golf courses because of their wilderness significance, and courses inherited a responsibility as a result.
"The very creation of these golf courses has produced ideal habitat for these species ... The only reason those birds are there is because the golf course has provided the habitat for them."- Dr Eric Woehler
Many golf courses in Tasmania are nestled into pristine wilderness, vibrant ecological coastlines or relatively deep within old growth forests.
Dr Woehler said birds were drawn out by the prospect of a healthy feed or easy access to water, such would be provided at golf courses that sell a wilderness brand.
He said the act of culling the animals been drawn by a course's relationship with nature infringed upon the social license - the ongoing approval and acceptance within the local community - offered to golf courses.
"From a social license perspective it's completely unacceptable," Dr Woehler said.
"The native hen is a species that's found nowhere else in the world - it's an endemic species. If anyone in the world wants to see them, they have to come to Tasmania. Shooting and poisoning them is utterly inconsistent with our claimed clean green image that we try and project to the rest of the world."
"Times have changed. Things that might've been acceptable in the 1950s and 1960s are no longer acceptable."- Dr Eric Woehler
Tasmanian Conservation Trust director Peter McGlone agreed and said recent examples of community outcry leading to golf clubs changing tact were indicative of current community interests.
While golf clubs were the ones issued the permits, Dr Woehler and Mr McGlone said the responsibility for community-rejected culling fell on DPIPWE.
Mr McGlone said DPIPWE crop protection processes were an issue wildlife groups had contended with for decades.
"This is the way DPIPWE have been for 30 years. If people claim they've got a problem with wildlife and ask for a permit to cull then DPIPWE bows down and gives it to them," he said.
Dr Woehler said crop protection permits were introduced for farmers to help protect their crops.
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"I think that's quite a different scenario to a golf course trying to have these laser flat and spotless greens," Dr Woehler said.
Mr McGlone said in the past farmers had been criticised after DPIPWE granted them permits "in a rather lax way".
He said the only way farmer issued permits had been scrutinised in the past was by community outcry and reaction.
"It's a case of the community driving change and DPIPWE, sadly, falling behind what the average person in the community expects."- Peter McGlone
He said golf courses being issued with permits was similar and called on DPIPWE to be more transparent with their permit process.
When asked how many of the golf clubs had been visited by the department to confirm the details of the application prior to the issuing of a permit, a spokesperson for DPIPWE did not specifically answer.
"Crop protection permits are issued following a rigorous assessment of damage, alternative management measures, species abundance and requirements to uphold animal welfare standards and guidelines," they said.
"Applicants must agree to a range of conditions before a permit is granted and the department undertakes audits where required to ensure permit conditions are being adhered to."
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While ideological debate typifies discussion about animal welfare, UTAS environmental sustainability expert professor Barry Brook said there are ecological and scientifically sound evaluations of culls.
He said the ecological debate boiled down to whether an animal population could sustain itself in a given environment, and if it could not then whether a natural population control or a cull was seen as more humane.
Professor Brook said animals would naturally die of starvation if there was too many animals and not enough food and said there was an objective argument to say culls were a more humane way of animal control.
Typical ecological discussions about culls essentially fell into these categories, whereas motivation for culls tended to muddy the waters.
Professor Brook said in the case of golf courses the motivation most likely came down to stopping the destruction of course greens or for amenity - avoiding animal poop or animals scratching turf - rather than an ecological question about species viability or population control, a debate he said was impossible to determine.
"I think people's argument with golf courses is: does the amenity of the owners of the golf club and the members exceed the animal rights, effectively, of the individual animals?"- Professor Barry Brook
"And that's a question no one person can answer. There's no right or wrong answer. It depends on the value system ... on matters like these, no one is exactly right or wrong."
DPIPWE is currently in the process of reviewing the legislation under which crop protection permits fall.
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