ONE thing is undeniable: foxes in Tasmania would be devastating to the state’s unique native wildlife.
Throughout this decade we have been confronted with reports that the cunning killer is on the loose.
Initially those reports were greeted with scepticism. The fact that at least one fox carcass turned out to be a hoax only fuelled the doubts.
But over the years the evidence appeared to become more convincing.
Nearly 2000 fox sightings have been reported. Certainly many of them were in twilight or the headlights of moving cars, but that matched the habits of the elusive animal.
Then came the clincher: the DNA evidence that is so vital to solving every crime in modern TV cop shows.
We had the DNA from blood left at the scene of the great chicken coop killings at Old Beach. We had the DNA from all those delicately named scats carefully collected from the fox hotspots around the state.
We all know what DNA stands for: Do Not Argue.
It was pointless to pooh-pooh the genetic reality of those scats.
The fox sceptics were now being cast as head-in-the-sand denialists from the loony edge of conspiracy theories.
The state’s Fox Free Taskforce became our frontline defence against the shadowy, evasive invader. Millions of dollars were pledged to the force that now employs more than 20 people.
Conservationists even reluctantly turned a blind eye to the use of that dreaded 1080 poison in discreetly laid baits to poison the foe.
Thirty cameras were placed in the most likely places to capture images of the stealthy beast.
The warnings became more dire. Farmers feared that a rampant fox population would cost them $8 million a year in stock losses alone.
The quoll population was at risk. The little bandicoots did not stand a chance. The remains of the cancer-ravaged devil population could succumb to the increased competition.
There seemed to be no doubt . . . but what if we were wrong after all?
The absence of one of our most prolific natives—the furry pademelon—from the collected scats seems odd to at least one Tasmanian scientist.
Is it possible that we have been hoodwinked or hoodwinked our-
selves, albeit with the best of intentions, after all?
It is too early to say, of course. But the fact that New Zealand experts have been called in to review the accomplishments or otherwise of the taskforce is revealing, to say the least.
The review’s emphasis on the ``cost effectiveness’’ of the program suggests the Government may also have concerns about how it will continue to fund the $56 million unit.
Pulling the plug on fox-eradication efforts would be a dangerous option if there is even the slightest prospect that they are making Tasmania their home.
Perhaps what is needed is an open and honest review of the fox evidence by someone of a truly independent, uncommitted standing, someone of the authority of a retired judge or similarly dispassionate background.

MERCURY

THE State Government has commissioned a major review of the $56 million Fox Free Taskforce.  The high-level review, which is yet to be announced publicly, will be conducted by invasive species experts from the New Zealand Landcare Research Group.  The group has been asked for input into the “development of an exit strategy”, prompting speculation the Government is looking for ways to downgrade the costly program as it seeks to slash Budget spending. Read more here

Opinion: What the Mercury says …