This article is by Darren Gray, writing in The Age newspaper.

Image: Deer damaging an Alpine bog on the Bogong High Plains Photo: Parks Victoria.

Wild deer causing significant environmental damage in the Alpine National Park will be culled in a three-year trial program aimed at tackling a population estimated to number in the thousands.

The deer – whose numbers are believed to be on the rise – trample through, drink from and wallow in fragile alpine spaghnum bogs, damage waterways, graze on native flora and contribute to erosion. They are damaging some of the most sensitive parts of the high country.

Parks Victoria, which is co-ordinating the shooting program, has reported a “marked increase” in deer activity in the park. It will be  the first deer cull to be undertaken in the huge national park to address conservation needs.

The acting chief executive of Parks Victoria, Chris Rose, has warned that the detrimental impacts of the animal on the park’s plants and animals are becoming more obvious.

“In the past decade, we’ve seen evidence suggesting an expansion of deer populations within the Alpine National Park and increasing damage to vegetation and waterways, particularly at higher elevations. Although exact numbers are unknown, we can safely say the deer population in the park is now in the thousands,” he said.

“Deer are degrading fragile environments, such as the alpine peatlands, through grazing, trampling and wallowing, which is of great concern,” he said.

While Victoria’s wild deer population is not known, there are many signs that it is substantial, spreading further afield, and that the animal is one of the biggest threats to Victoria’s natural environment.

Three months ago The Age revealed that Victorian hunters shot nearly 60,000 deer in Victoria in 2013-14. And in recent years deer have caused significant damage to delicate and beautiful parts of the Dandenong Ranges National Park, which prompted Parks Victoria to introduce a culling program in that park. Already, the park is improving in response to the shooting.

People have told of near-misses or crashes with deer on roads in Melbourne’s outer metropolitan fringe at Mount Evelyn, Ferny Creek, Olinda, Clematis and Warrandyte. They have also reported seeing deer on roads in Warburton, Belgrave and near Healesville.

Mr Rose acknowledged that Victoria’s feral deer population had apparently expanded its range. “We’ve only got anecdotal evidence, (but) the anecdotal evidence is that they’re expanding in number and range across the Victorian highlands,” he said.

“The alpine environment is one of our flagship landscapes that we’re trying to make resilient to climate change. And the best way to do that is to remove the pressures that exist on the environment from introduced species, so that the environment has the maximum chance of adapting,” he said.

The shooting program will be managed by Parks Victoria, with the shooting to be done by volunteers from the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia and the Australian Deer Association.

Steve Garlick, from the Australian Deer Association, said shooters achieved “a good result” when four deer were shot in the first hunting operation recently.

“We look forward to further collaboration with Parks Victoria on this program,” he said.

In recognition of the substantial environmental damage caused by Victoria’s vast feral deer population, Parks Victoria is now undertaking deer culling operations in four national parks or reserves east of Melbourne – the Alpine National Park, Dandenong Ranges National Park, Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve and Warramate Hills Nature Conservation Reserve.

The next shooting operation in the Alpine National Park will be conducted over three days from Friday.