Mice and men: the mouse plague and aggressive land clearing

Jun 1, 2021
Over the years, Australian authorities have made many poor decisions about allowing the introduction of biocidal agents into the environment. In most cases, such decisions have been based on the demands of powerful minorities with no responsibility to the general community. The Berejiklian-Barilaro government looks set to outdo them all by authorising the use of the bromadiolone rodenticide.

Fifty years ago I took a drive with a National Parks and Wildlife Service ornithologist during his leisure time. We went from Coonabarabran and Coonamble through Baradine and returned via Gulargambone.
Along the way, he assiduously documented the types and numbers of birds sighted and their locations. The birds were prolific and the journey was slow. There is no doubt that the data he collected was extremely valuable for appreciating the life cycles and needs of the birds in the area. It was also important to have chronological data in order to understand the impacts of human activity.
Since the 1970s, Coalition governments, driven by the rural-based National Party, have decimated the NPWS so that such data is no longer routinely collected. If it were, it would be extremely embarrassing for the power brokers. The 2020 debacle over koala protection legislation was a high profile case of a clash of cultures.
While city-based Liberals might have some sympathy for native species of flora and fauna when irrefutable evidence of their state of crisis is made public, many Nationals seem to regard soil as an inexhaustible resource, rivers as drains and kangaroos as pests. The archaic and rapacious philosophy – if it moves, shoot it, and if doesn’t, ringbark it – still dominates much National Party thinking.
There is no doubt that a plague of mice has hit the central west of New South Wales. Every night the local Prime television news bulletin carries horror stories about the destruction wrought by these rodents.
The New South Wales Government, as is its general policy, has sought a short term fix for the problem. Its choice has been to seek to have a prohibition overturned on a deadly poison named bromadiolone, an extreme anti-coagulant.
Some of those affected by the plague have noted that caution will be needed to prevent pets and domestic animals being affected directly or further up the food chain. Few commentators have been made about the devastation likely to be visited upon wildlife.
If it were not so sad it would seem like a joke. No commentator has made the obvious connection between the mouse plague and the aggressive land clearing policies of the rabid wing of the Nationals. In biblical times it was thought that plagues and famines and droughts were visited on society by an angry and vengeful God.
Well, it is highly likely that in central New South Wales we have invited the plague on ourselves by removing the trees on which raptors depend. On a personal anecdotal level, as I drive into Bathurst through urban sprawl, I see far fewer harriers and kites hovering over the road verge looking for mice. They have disappeared along with the trees.
We must all know Robert Browning’s verse story ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’. The piper has the knack of playing tunes which animals find irresistible and so he rids Hamelin of the rats that ‘fought the dogs and killed the cats and bit the babies in their cradles’ by luring them into the river. The Burghers of Hamelin reneged on their agreement to pay the piper, so he took up his instrument again and this time lured the town’s children, making them disappear.
If the New South Wales government takes the irreversible course of promoting the use of bromadiolone, future generations will pay for it and not just in cancers and obstetric problems.
The state will become barren and birdless. Consequently, insects will arrive in plague proportions and the vicious cycle will continue. More biocidal agents will be in demand. The state will resemble the old woman who swallowed a fly, seeking ever more self-destructive solutions to relatively simple problems.
Anyone who does not understand the dangers posed by the peddlers of poisons must lack eyes to see and ears to hear. The huge costs of inquiry, clean up and compensation arising from the fire retardant ‘PFAS’ are recent and demonstrative.
While media are showing concern about international influence in Australian universities, they appear determinedly ignorant of the ways in which overseas agrichemical companies routinely use their influence to dump banned chemicals in complacent states such as New South Wales.
It is likely that the ecocidal right will argue that bromadiolone is needed as every other ‘solution’ has been tried. They mean that other rodenticides have not worked. In reality, no real alternatives have been considered. It might be a good use of resources to deploy defence personnel with shovels and buckets in order to physically remove the rodents.
Perhaps idle politicians could be pressed into service too. They might use the shovels to replant some trees along the way to partially atone for the culpable land clearing. At least we could all live with the long term consequences of that ‘solution’.

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