Gas guns under threat?

Gas guns under threat?

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Black cockatoos are endangered and therefore protected. Many orchardists view gas guns as a humane way to deter the cockies from devouring their livelihoods.

Councillors have engaged in an explosive debate about the use of gas guns by commercial orchardists in Jarrahdale.

Birds can have a devastating impact on commercial crops – one orchard in Bedfordale this year reportedly lost 65 per cent of its persimmon crop to black cockatoos struggling to find food elsewhere during the driest summer on record.

But the use of audible bird-scaring devices has been a heated topic in fruit and nut growing regions all over the country for decades; the rights of primary producers to protect their livelihoods pitted against the rights of local residents to enjoy their homes in peace and quiet.

In Jarrahdale, however, that fight looks a little different.

SJ Shire Deputy president Tricia Duggin said she was approached by “a number of” Jarrahdale orchardists earlier this year about “one orchardist in particular who is overusing his gas guns” to scare away birds from damaging crops.

“An overuse in gas guns results in the birds getting used to the noise – they become acclimatised. And even worse, they actually then start finding it as a calling card,” Cr Duggin said.

“They become attracted to the noise, and start to learn this is a good place to find food.”

In WA, several local governments in agricultural regions have noise management policies in place as an attempt at a workable compromise.

The Shire of Donnybrook-Balingup said “the use of acoustic bird scaring devices such as gas guns have become the primary cost-effective means of controlling birds when used in an appropriate manner”, but acknowledges “the two periods for potential bird damage are dawn and dusk and this coincides with the periods where residents generally expect a higher level of amenity”. It recommends a variety of bird scaring measures.

While the Shires of Denmark and Waroona put gas guns last on their preferred list of bird control methods, with complete netting of orchards favoured.

Each shire outlines the limits on the use of gas guns in its own noise management plan.

But the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale doesn’t have one.

On March 18, Cr Duggin brought a motion to council – which was passed unanimously – to task shire CEO Paul Martin with reporting on the use of gas guns in Jarrahdale, any associated complaints, how those complaints were dealt with, and recommendations from relevant state departments about the issue.

Just two months later, on May 20, a motion to revoke that resolution was brought to council by Cr Morgan Byas.

He said he’d received feedback from orchardists in the community who viewed the move as an “open attempt to police” their livelihoods.

“Those I’ve spoken with believe that introducing additional red tape and restrictions on gas guns is both unnecessary and unfair,” he said.

“It is seen as an undue burden on our small businesses who are already navigating numerous challenges.”

He said he saw this resolution as a ‘slippery slope’, with worrying environmental implications.

“If we continue down this path and potentially begin imposing stricter local regulations on gas gun usage, we may inadvertently push orchardists towards more lethal methods of bird control, such as shooting,” he said.

“This could have devastating consequences for our local wildlife.”

Shire resident and former councillor Bill Denholm weighed into the argument in a statement to council.

“Gas guns are environmentally the friendliest method of managing fruit and nut crop damage by birds,” he said.

“On one hand we’ve got local landcare trying to encourage the black cockatoos to breed, and then shire councillors are disallowing the gas guns – a method of scaring them off. The alternative for farmers is to shoot them. It doesn’t make sense, especially if you’re trying to have less guns in the community.”

But Cr Duggin reminded everyone that what had been passed by council in March was not a “change of procedures” but a fact-finding mission, and an evaluation of the current approach.

“This notice of motion was simply for us to look at what we do, and see if we can do better,” she said, drawing reference to Maya Angelou.

President Rob Coales suspended standing orders to question the motives behind the revocation motion.

“It is not lost on me, that an ex-councillor and friend of the mover, stood up and made a deputation about this motion,” he said.

“Know what your role as a councillor is. Start listening to the community, and stop looking at personal agendas.

 “It’s not lost on me, councillors, that we’re trying to revoke a motion, and not one orchardist is here to tell us to revoke the motion.”

The motion to revoke was lost 1:6.