A battalion of remote cameras is being installed across the Winton shire to give land managers a better idea of how wild dogs are making use of the landscape.
The Winton Shire Council wild dog management advisory committee is working with Michael Kiminski from Outside The Box Group on the wild dog tracking program.
While best practice trapping, ground and aerial baiting, and a $100 bounty for wild dog scalps is contributing to a zero tolerance of wild dogs in the shire, rising costs of supplying meat for the two annual aerial baiting programs have given rise to the alternative strategy,
It's expected that the data gained and the clearer picture of wild dog movements across the shire will give the shire council the confidence to allocate funding to management activities to control wild dogs in targeted areas.
Mr Kaminski, OTB Group chief executive officer, said a network of 100 to 150 remote cameras were being installed on private and council property for the two-to-three-year project.
"The software program will process the imagery in real time, count the animals and identify individual animals using pattern recognition software so we can track those individuals across the shire via the network of cameras," Mr Kaminski said.
"The participating property owners will have access to a web portal with the mapping inside 24 to 48 hours of receiving the imagery, giving them information on where the dogs were seen and numbers.
"We have the ability to map dogs across the whole shire network and evaluate if there was a change before, during and after management activities, if there are more pups or different individuals moving into areas and look at the impact that is having."
Connectivity has been an issue with signal boosters being deployed across high spots in the shire.
Winton wool grower, shearer and ex-shearing contractor Shane Axford is looking forward to receiving alerts of wild dog activity and data for his property and the region under the OTB Group project.
He runs 3000 Merino ewes and previously served as chairman and meat bait coordinator on council's wild dog management advisory committee during its nine-year history.
He said predation combined with generational change had created an exodus from the regional wool industry.
"Nine years ago, there were 125,000 sheep in the Winton shire and now we are struggling to get 100,000," he said.
"It has definitely hurt the pubs, clubs and shops as the shearers used to be a big source of income for them. Now the businesses rely on the tourist trade, but they don't get the bread and butter of the shearing teams.
"In 1998, there were seven full time shearing teams plus several cocky teams in Winton, and this had dropped to one by 2009."
Mr Axford said the committee was doing as much as it could, with the support of the council, but a bit more participation from landholders would help.
"It is up to people themselves to do their own control," he said.
In 2021 the council committed to a budget of $280,000 to assist the control of wild dogs and added $5000 for a $5 pig snout bounty under its $1.2 million rural services budget.
Last year's aerial baiting programs consisted of around 22 tonnes of meat bait in April and 26 tonnes in October.
"There are meat baits available for landholders 24/7 through the shire so they can bait when they need to, and we have a great budget to work with - the biggest of any of the RAPAD shires - and it's an active committee," Mr Axford said.
He said wild dogs followed a major creek system into the shire's sheep areas.
"It is a headache - some properties are 1.5 million acres and if they don't do much control then it is a lot of breeding ground for the dogs," he said.
Council received $800,000 funding for wild dog exclusion fencing at 10 sites from the federal agriculture department, plus additional funding from the Queensland Feral Pest Initiative facilitated by the Remote Area Planning and Development Board.
Single properties also received a subsidy of $2700 per kilometre for stand-alone exclusion fencing and there's now 350km of exclusion fencing on eight properties, including two clusters, throughout the shire.
Mr Axford erected 39.6km of exclusion fencing at a cost of $13.50/metre to enclose three sides of his property, and continued to control bait.
"The fence is not going to stop all dogs especially when there is open country outside but it gives us control, more grass and improved biosecurity," he said.
Prior to the fence, biosecurity had been an issue with 113 rams from 124, worth an average of $2000 each, infected with brucellosis.
Winton Shire Mayor Gavin Baskett said the wild dog control budget was under review due to the doubling in meat bait prices and fuel for aerial baiting.
"We already have two large properties restocking with sheep - once the sheep are back it brings the shearers back, and it is good for the local economy," he said.
Cr Baskett said the project with OTB Group's infra-red sensor cameras would build data on wild dog movement in the shire to help streamline budgets and funding opportunities.
He pointed to the "massive issue" with feral pests in the region, describing the scalp bounty as a great incentive to kangaroo shooters to control wild dogs.
He also said council and the wild dog advisory committee struggled with the lack of pest animal control by absentee and other landholders.
"One of our battles is to get that percentage up of landholders who bait and we will be working with national wild dog management coordinator Greg Mifsud on that education and communication process," Cr Baskett said.
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