A NEW kangaroo program is being set up to take advantage of a reduced state-wide population, and harness a number of interest groups, to create new markets and minimise grazing pressure.
The 'Optimising kangaroo management in SA - a partnership approach to improving landscape and economic resilience'project is being led by the SA Arid Lands Landscape Board, with funding from the SA government's Landscape Priorities Fund, and aims to consider kangaroo management as a whole - bringing together environmental, economic, cultural and welfare issues.
SAALLB general manager Jodie Gregg-Smith said the state had been offered an opportunity, after populations dropped from their peak in 2017.
"Numbers are low, as we're coming off the drought and predation from wild dogs," she said.
"We only have a small window of time to get ahead of the curve."
Ms Gregg-Smith said kangaroo management had typically been quite a divisive issue, with a lot of different players, from landholders, processors, and environmental groups.
"There are lots of players in the space and unfortunately coming together and committing to a common approach has been challenging over the years," she said.
"There is an opportunity for someone to come in and lead."
The SAALLB is in the process of recruiting for a coordinator, to take charge of the project.
Ms Gregg-Smith said the coordinator would be tasked with coming up with some "out of the box thinking" when it came to potential strategies, but would be guided by a steering committee of experts on policy, science and legislation, as well as from industry.
She said this steering committee of experts could help avoid any potential unintended consequences.
"For example, if we're doing large-scale culling, are we considering the risks associated with potential endangered animals?" she said.
While led by the SAALLB, it has support from a number of partners, including the Alinytjara Wilurara, Eyre Peninsula, Northern and Yorke, and Murraylands and Riverland landscape boards, Livestock SA, Greening Australia, Bush Heritage Australia, Conservation Management, Department for Environment and Water, Western Local Land Services in NSW, SA Professional Field Processor Association, Ecological Horizons, Nature Foundation SA, Conservation Council, and the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation.
"All these other partners are coming forward with expertise, and a lot of in-kind and cash contributions," Ms Gregg-Smith said.
"The partners will have input, identify strategies and opportunities to try to have a program that's a win-win, rather than the win-lose situation of now."
We only have a small window of time to get ahead of the curve.
Ms Gregg-Smith said as well as bringing together landholders and ecologists, there would also be significant input from traditional owners to ensure cultural aspects were considered, while there was also a goal for economic growth by restoring and creating markets.
"We want to see innovative ideas that could generate new industries," she said.
"We'd like to explore potential private enterprises for traditional owners."
Provisions have been made for pilot programs and trials to assess different approaches, while the program will link in with counterparts interstate to share ideas and successes.
The project aims to limit the impacts of high kangaroo populations on production and conservation goals, increase financial returns to kangaroo harvesters and grow markets for kangaroo products.
There is also a goal to increase the use of harvest quotas, which have dropped in the past few decades.
In 1985, the proportion of the red kangaroo harvest quota used was 83pc, up to 93pc in 1995, 54pc in 2005 and down to 20pc in 2015.
For western grey kangaroos, it varied between 35-50pc in the 1980s through to 2008, but in 2018 had dropped to just 12pc of the quota.
The project also aims to find economic opportunities for regional communities, as well as encourage a "whole of system" approach to landscape management that considers total grazing pressure, including livestock, pests and native systems.
Ms Gregg-Smith said one big area to be tackled would be dealing with social license and trying to restore some of those national and international markets.
"There is a lot of propaganda out there, that is not evidence-based," she said.
The project has already received $350,000 in funding for its first two years, but Ms Gregg-Smith said they were already leveraging future funding.
"This is not an issue that is going to be solved in two years - we recognise this is a long game," she said.
"The success of the model will be in how the ongoing partnerships continue.
"We need a collaboration approach rather than silos."
Livestock SA chief executive officer Andrew Curtis said while there would be challenges with such a large number of partners, they were also key to its lasting success.
"The management of overabundant native species is generally challenging and needs to be addressed strategically," he said.
"This project seeks to look at the various factors that relate to kangaroo management. (It) recognises the importance of markets, ecology and engagement and is more likely to deliver solutions than would be the case if the project was more one-dimensional."
Conservation SA chief executive Craig Wilkins said while they traditionally prefer to let nature happen, it was evident that something needed to happen to bring balance back, with the overabundant numbers of kangaroos having a negative impact on native vegetation.
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"We recognise there needs to be a holistic, ecological and sustainable approach to kangaroo management to avoid the really painful boom/bust cycle," he said.
"We're very happy to be involved in this kind of approach."
He said having the diverse expertise would bring insights to long-term options.
One example he gave was field processors might typically target the largest kangaroos, because they provide the most "bang for buck".
"But that's no ideal for the ecology," he said.
"That is removing the largest, fittest and healthiest animals while a holistic approach to the program would mean not targeting the largest ones so the overall health of kangaroos doesn't decline over time."
SAALLB presiding member Ross Sawers said a coordinated approach would go a long way to restoring the landscape and increasing resilience of the areas affected by an overabundance of kangaroos, while also considering the welfare of the animals.
"History has shown that individual approaches do not provide the best results when dealing with an overabundance of kangaroos," he said.
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