Sessional Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development Written Submissions Received Volume 2 Issues associated with the progressive entry into the Northern Territory of Cane Toads October 2003
Tabled Paper 1123
Tabled Papers for 9th Assembly 2001 - 2005; Tabled papers for 9th Assembly 2001 - 2005; Tabled papers; ParliamentNT
Tabled by Delia Lawrie
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Written Submissions Dr Freeland Volume 2 Cane Toad Inquiry Report 151 slowly accumulated understanding. It would be inappropriate to castigate the people who introduced the toad: they were well meaning, dedicated and operated according to the dictates of their time. It was not until 1947 that the above Cane Pest Boards received their first notification of trials of chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides: a solution they welcomed. Would we have done the same if we had been there? The recent introduction and purposeful spread of Gamba Grass in the Northern Territory is indicative of our continuing to make seemingly foolish decisions about the introduction of noxious foreign organisms. No one wants or wanted the cane toad in the Northern Territory. All introduced organisms impact on the environment and some have discernible and even significant social impacts. The issue of what to do about any one species of introduced organism is inevitably determined by the scale of the organism's environmental and social impacts relative to the other environmental and social issues of the time, and the potential cost effectiveness of mechanisms proposed to manage the organism's impacts. NORTHERN TERRITORY INVOLVEMENT IN CANE TOAD RESEARCH AND MANAGEMENT The Northern Territory's involvement in cane toad research and management dates from the beginning of the 1980s when a series of surveys was undertaken to determine the species then distribution and annual advance. I inherited this program when I took up duty as Senior Wildlife Research Officer with the then Conservation Commission in 1983. The cane toad crossed the border at Wollogorang Station that same year. In 1984 I was instructed to undertake a review of the available literature and produce a technical report for submission to the Standing Committee of the then Council of Nature Conservation Ministers (CONCOM) (I was given two weeks), and further develop a research program on cane toads. The report was produced (Freeland 1984). It was based on Griffith University's collection of virtually everything ever written on cane toads and covered all known aspects of its biology anywhere in the world, the species multiple introductions outside its native range, and an assessment of its likely impacts on Australia's native fauna and possible economic impacts. The hypothesis was that cane toads have a significant negative impact on the Australian fauna i.e. the null hypothesis to be disproved was that "the cane toad has no significant effect on the native fauna". There were no data other than a series of anecdotes. However I encountered a range of cane toad ecological mythologies i.e. things that people deeply believed but for which there was no sound (but sometimes suggestive) supporting evidence. The mythologies included: cane toads have devastating impacts on frogs, snakes, goannas, native marsupials etc; populations of cane toads entering new areas undergo rapid growth, achieve extraordinary densities and subsequently crash; cane toads in newly colonised area are of exceptionally large size and become smaller at some later time; cane toads along the east coast of Queensland are really skinny, cane toads act like vacuum cleaners and virtually eliminate ground dwelling arthropods etc. A risk averse approach dictated development and implementation of a structured research program while efforts were made through CONCOM to gain national support for a larger research effort. The Northern Territory implemented a policy of ensuring the extermination of any reported, accidental introduction of cane toads outside the existing
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