EXCLUSIVE: FARMERS have accused the Victorian Government of breaking a major election promise to maintain dog trapper numbers.
A Weekly Times investigation has revealed six positions - or a quarter - are vacant due to redundancies, retirement and dismissals.
Just 18 people make up wild dog control field staff - down on the 24 the Coalition promised at the 2010 election.
Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh told a Tallangatta Wild Dog Forum in November last year he would maintain controller numbers despite Department of Primary Industries budget cuts.
The North East region has four vacant DPI controller positions, two at Tallangatta and one each at Ovens and Corryong, while Gippsland is down two staff, one each at Ensay and Bairnsdale.
In addition Gippsland has two wild dog controllers on extended leave, which has left other trappers stretched to cover their areas for up to six months.
A statement from a DPI spokesman in March 2011 said it employed 24 wild dog control field staff and was committed to maintaining that level.
"The Victorian Government policy is to maintain 24 field staff involved in wild dog control," the DPI spokesman said.
Bethanga sheep and cattle producer Lawrence Packer, who lost 60 wethers to wild dogs last year, said the drop in wild dog controllers was disappointing.
"(The Government) promised it all and nothing has come to fruition. They have let us down in a big way," Mr Packer said.
Mr Walsh said the Government was committed to an effective wild dog program and the DPI used qualified casual staff and contractors to address short-term staff absences.
It's understood staffing levels were discussed at a two-day meeting of the Victorian wild dog control advisory committee last week. The DPI's 1080 baiting review and the recent government increase in the wild dog bounty, which the committee was not consulted about, were also discussed.
Burrowye cattle and sheep producer Noel Cheshire wants regulations around using 1080 in fresh meat baits loosened, as he believed the dried factory-manufactured 1080 baits now used were not as effective as they carried a strong human scent that meant wild dogs were less likely to eat them.
"If we could manufacture baits on farm (with fresh meat) we could freeze it and put it out at the optimum time and have a better response and uptake," Mr Cheshire said.
A DPI spokesman confirmed they were undertaking a regulatory review of 1080 - which has been in place for five years - and various stake-holders would be consulted, but there were no plans to stop using it.