UNWELCOME GUESTS: Wild dogs are not welcome in the wide grazing ranges of New South Wales’ Western Division.
By GRANT MAYNARD

WILD dog sightings in the grazing lands of the Wentworth Shire are expected to become even rarer once the multi-million-dollar extension to NSW’ wild dog fence are complete.

The project has been welcomed by Wentworth Shire graziers who see it as going some way to reducing wild dog migrations from north (Queensland) and west (South Australia).

Wild dogs are not common in the Western Lands lease areas of the Shire, but sightings have been made and the concern is that migrating dogs from Queensland and South Australia would continue to drift south and east respectively, and really start having an impact on the flocks of Far West graziers as well as native wildlife.

The impact of wild dogs in the Far West of NSW has been mitigated to a large degree, and for many years, by the existing NSW Border Wild Dog Fence (commonly known as the dog fence) that is currently about 583 kilometres­ in length along stretches of the NSW/SA and NSW/QLD borders.

A feasibility study commissioned by the NSW Border Fence Maintenance Board and funded by Local Land Services determined that there are considerable benefits to be had by extending the dog fence in two directions – 420 kilometres to the east, adjacent to Mungindi, and 322 kilometres south, just short of the Murray River. The extension of the dog fence was a key election commitment for the NSW Government, and it will fund the extensions at a cost of $37.5million, involving local towns, businesses and landholders in the project where possible.

Wild dogs Australia-wide significantly impact on livestock and native fauna and restrict production options in many areas. The economic impact of wild dogs is estimated at up to $111million every year nationwide. Up to $22million of that cost is estimated to be borne by NSW.

An important part of this project is ensuring the appropriate approvals and assessment work is carried out prior to construction commencing. This includes assessments for biodiversity and Aboriginal cultural heritage which will occur along a narrow corridor of the proposed fence alignment (including access tracks) to identify the potential flora and fauna habitat values of the area, as well as Aboriginal cultural heritage values.

The biodiversity works are being undertaken by qualified ecological consultants in accordance with the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The biodiversity assessment report will make a recommendation as to the relevant approvals required or if biodiversity offsetting is needed.

The project scope also included an Aboriginal cultural heritage assessment. This includes identifying the possible impacts the dog fence may have on Aboriginal objects and Aboriginal places and will be undertaken in accordance with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. An assessment along a narrow corridor of the fence alignment (including access tracks) is to be undertaken by qualified archaeologists and Aboriginal representatives. The aim will be to locate, identify and assess the significance of any Aboriginal objects, archaeological deposits and potential archaeological deposits found along the alignment.

The Aboriginal cultural heritage assessment will assist in identifying areas of Aboriginal significance and in determining appropriate management measures, such as alternations to the fence alignment (where feasible).

The project will require planning approval under NSW legislation, and will be assessed in accordance with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. The appropriate planning approval pathway is currently being determined in conjunction with input from the relevant NSW Government agencies.

The project is being managed on behalf of the NSW Government by Local Land Services.
NSW Wild Dog Fence Extension project manager, Justin Schick, told the ‘Weekly that the project was progressing well, with a considerable amount of mapping works carried out, the approvals process under way, and contractors engaged to carry out the biodiversity and Aboriginal cultural heritage values assessments.

“An $11.2million tender for the manufacture and supply of fence materials has also been completed,” he revealed.

“And there are a number of tender opportunities for construction businesses which will be opening shortly.”

But the coronavirus outbreak has put a hurdle in the way.

“In light of COVID-19, the project team are adapting to a new way of working, with measures put in place to ensure the safety of landholders, the community and staff members,” Mr Schick said.

“We had a number of community meetings planned for between Buronga and Broken Hill for late April leading into Agfair (Broken Hill 1-2 May), but unfortunately they had to be postponed. Once safe and practical to do so, we will be rescheduling those events.

“While there has been some adjustments, we are able to continue with work as planned which is great. We are looking to undertake the on-ground assessments for biodiversity along the NSW and South Australian proposed alignment over the next couple of weeks, as well as carry out the mapping of the fence alignment along the NSW and Queensland border.”

People wanting further information on the project should visit www.lls.nsw.gov.au and are encouraged to get in touch with the project team on (02) 5852 1215 or wilddogfence@scs.nsw.gov.au.