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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fox taskforce to be slashed [01mar06]

The Mercury: Fox taskforce to be slashed [01mar06]

TASMANIA'S Fox Taskforce is due to be slashed to just four full-time employees in the coming months, despite fears that foxes might be breeding in the state.

Just a day after the taskforce revealed a young fox had been found as roadkill at Lillico on the state's North-West Coast, the State Government confirmed it planned reducing the taskforce by more than half next financial year.

The taskforce, which faces trying to determine whether a fox den and other young foxes are in the Lillico area, has just nine staff, seven of which are in the field.

Come July 1, there could be as few as three field staff left to deal with reported sightings and fox evidence statewide.

In 2002, when fox sightings were at fever pitch, the taskforce had 23 employees.

While admitting it was planned to reduce the taskforce, Primary Industries and Water Minister Steve Kons said the remaining staff would be supported by contractors as required.

He also did not rule out the possibility of changing the planned cutbacks.

"The issue of funding is always open to review at any stage to allow us to revisit funding and resource requirements as part of ensuring we do everything possible to eradicate foxes from the state," Mr Kons said.

He said the funding was designed so that expenditure was more in the early years and gradually reduced.

The Government has spent $4.4 million on fox eradication, where an ongoing 1080 baiting program, now being done by an unknown number of contractors, has been its main focus targeting hotspot areas based mainly on where sightings were more commonly reported.

Former taskforce consultant Tim Bloomfield has criticised the lack of resources given to the eradication effort, warning that Tasmania needed to act immediately to prevent an ecological disaster where foxes establish, wiping out at least a dozen species.

DPIWE wildlife biologist Nick Mooney has also described the discovery of the juvenile fox carcass as "catastrophic".

Mr Kons said evidence still pointed to a small population of foxes and that eradication remained the aim.

He said while more testing was still to be done on the most recent find, there was no evidence beyond that that foxes were breeding in the state. * It is understood two other people came forward yesterday saying they had seen the Lillico fox dead on the side of the Bass Hwy just after Christmas -- when it was first seen by an interstate tourist who took six weeks to report the find -- but had not reported it.


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