Hunters will be authorised to shoot and kill up to 220 deer at three parks near Melbourne under a culling program to be managed by Parks Victoria.
In Sherbrooke Forest, in the Dandenong Ranges National Park, sambar deer have damaged waterways, caused erosion and turned parts of the forest floor into mud baths. Remote cameras have captured pictures of deer butting heads and antlers, or lying in the mud.
Parks Victoria says the deer are a threat to the habitat of native species in Sherbrooke including the superb lyrebird - which is considered vulnerable to habitat destruction - the creek-dwelling Sherbrooke amphipod (a threatened species that is a reliable indicator of water quality), and the platypus.
Fifty-four hunters are now authorised to take part in the cull, expected to start before spring. Parks Victoria has approval for deer to be shot and killed in the Dandenong Ranges National Park (up to 70), Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve (up to 130) and Warramate Hills Nature Conservation Reserve (up to 20).
About 30-50 fallow deer inhabit the western face of the Dandenongs, with sightings recorded in places such as Belgrave. The sambar population is estimated at less than 20.
It is believed that sambar deer, which can weigh about 250kilograms when fully grown, have moved into Sherbrooke over the past decade. Park rangers say they move in and out of the forest, making use of the cover of night-time or bushland corridors. Sambar deer have frightened motorists in the Dandenongs, some of whom have had near-misses or crashes.
Craig Bray, Parks Victoria district manager for the Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Ranges, said that in the Yellingbo reserve deer were having an impact on endangered species such as Leadbeater's possum and the helmeted yellow honeyeater.
In the Dandenongs there was growing evidence of damage. ''It's observed damage now … Whereas three or four years ago it probably wasn't as stark. Today you actually can see browsing and grazing through areas, the wallows, the tree rubbing, the trampling and the effects of that.
''We've had remote sensor cameras out and you can see there is an increase in the population occurring. I think we're getting onto this fairly early,'' he said.
Ideally, all of the deer would be eradicated from the three parks, but Mr Bray said complete eradication would be unlikely because of the nature of the bush and behaviour of the deer. ''It is therefore hard to say how many deer will be culled,'' he said.
When shooting is occurring inside the parks, which can occur during the day or night, those areas would be closed to the public.
Mr Bray said the cull would be conducted following strict conditions to ensure public safety and animal welfare standards.Victorian President of the Australian Deer Association, Col Brumley, said the program was necessary. ''I think a lot of deer moved into some of these areas after the Black Saturday fires, particularly the sambar - and they breed. There's no predators for the sambar,'' he said.
Sue Bendel, of the Friends of Leadbeater's Possum, welcomed the cull at Yellingbo, which she said would ''allow for revegetation to succeed, enhancing the declining habitat. This is the last remaining area for the endangered lowland Leadbeater's possum.''