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Meet Wildlife Ranger Justin Febey

CPSU Member Justin Febey is part of the small but dedicated team of Wildlife Rangers working in DPIPWE.

In the role since 2006, Justin previously worked in an Aboriginal training ranger program with various field centres around the state and the Aboriginal Heritage Office.

The close-knit team is made up of five employees across the state.

“Just the nature of our job and the amount of hours we spend together in cars on back roads at night, it’s more like an extended family rather than work colleagues.“

It’s not a typical 9-5 job for Justin and the other wildlife rangers.

“We’re on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We don’t have a regular spread of hours. We work a 19 day month, and part of our Agreement is that we’ll do 23 weekends, six public holidays, or as many public holidays are we’re rostered on to do, and 285 hours overtime on top of our regular working week so we have an ability to respond to issues as they arise.”

Justin and his colleagues do a lot of compliance management work. This involves game seasons, such as duck, deer and wallaby, plus plenty of other diverse and interesting duties.

“We look after and police permit requirements for reptiles and aviary birds, imports and exports of wildlife. We manage seal interactions with salmon farms. We’re first responders for whale strandings. We’ve got one of the best whale rescue teams in the word, thanks to my colleague Mike Greenwood’s work. If there’s breach of the farm dam legislation we look into that.  Any breaches of the Crown Lands Act, Threatened Species Protections Act, the Aboriginal Relics Act, the Whales Protections Act, we also look into.”

Wildlife Rangers also pick up injured and orphaned wildlife, give advice over the phone to the public and work with farmers around wildlife management and crop protection if they’ve got browsing wildlife or crop damage issues on their land.

“The car’s my office, if we come across people who are offending we’ll do interviews under caution and seize there and then. For example, we might be working with the police on an issue like poaching; we also work with Customs and Quarantine.”

Dealing with compliance issues and enforcement means Justin has some confronting experiences.

“Conflict resolution is a high requirement for this role, and we’re the pointy end of the stick for the Department in terms of enforcement. We’re trained very well and given all the tools we need to handle these situations.

“We do validations with the Tasmanian Police force; we’re trained in how to approach situations for our safety and the potential offender’s safety. We’re taught something called verbal judo so we can read the situation, who the person is, what sort of background they come from and use the language that’s more fitting to them.

We do house searches, boat, car searches – it’s fairly diverse. We always have two people working together for safety. We intercept vehicles on back roads at night time where people have firearms on board, and we need to check their compliance around the Firearms Act, and that they’re not shooting game off the road with spotlights. That’s one of our primary roles.

“The mutton bird season is another time when we do a lot of night work. The lawful take’s on the Bass Strait Islands however there’s also the unlawful take in the south of the state on mainland and offshore islands. We all operate boats, quad bikes and four wheel drives.”

No two jobs are the same for Wildlife Rangers, with change of seasons and game seasons and animal migratory and breeding behaviours governing what need doing.

“The game season starts at the end of January, the deer, duck and mutton birds going through to June to July, from then we’re still dealing with seals and doing other inspections, then comes the whale season and general poaching activities. The illegal and unlawful importation and exportation of snakes and birds continues all the time. We also monitor wildlife parks to make sure they’re all compliant with the legislation. Seal work continues all the time as well.

“At the moment a lot of our time is spent with seal management on salmon farms. We do audits on salmon pens to make sure they’re complying with the minimum predator exclusion frameworks. We can issue the farms with non-lethal deterrents like seal crackers and beanbags. These help to negatively condition seals to think that salmon farms aren’t a great place to be so they stay away.”

Mother Nature brings her own ebbs and flows. Seals should start to back off from salmon farms soon with the breeding season about to start and whale strandings likely to begin any time now.

“The female seals primarily live in the Bass Strait Islands so the males who are contenders for harems swim up there to try and stake their claim, which takes a bit of pressure off the salmon industry. They come back down around the end of January.

“Any time from now through to April is the whale stranding season, that’s usually toothed whales, so long finned pilot whales and sperm whales are the most common. Ocean Beach is a real hook, another spot is near Stanley around the side of the Nut, and then Marion Bay in the South is another hot spot, known by surfers as the boneyard because of all the whale bones.”

A fake whale is used to practice the risky job of whale disentanglement from nets. “There’s a technique where you put a hook onto the entanglement and put massive boys along a very long line, so you’ve got a safe working distance to try and keg it, slow it down and tire the whale out so it reaches the surface and isn’t a danger, then try and cut the entanglement off.”  It’s a dangerous task and practicing for the real thing is essential for Wildlife Rangers.

Justin’s experienced the unusual and the breathtaking.

“I’ve seized pythons, grabbed crocodiles. I’ve also been to some unusual places in Tasmania that the usual punter would never get to. I’ve met some interesting characters along the way and worked with some really amazing, dedicated people.”

In 2010 Justin was seconded to the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project, on the island for 14 months.

“I met the most amazing bunch of people. I got to see the full cycle of life on Macquarie Island from winter through to summer, with elephant seals, fur seals, giant petrels and both royal and king penguins.

“One of the most surreal experiences was standing among half a million royal penguins at Hurd Point. It was very noisy, very smelly but just a privilege.”

This work has handed Justin some incredible opportunities. “Through my boating operations on Macquarie Island, where you’ve got some of the roughest waters in the world, we use Zodiacs and so forth to get supplies and for search and rescue purposes. I was spotted there by the Watercraft Manger for the Australian Antarctic Division, so now I get to do the resupplies to Antarctica and Macquarie Island.”

Justin’s gone to the Antarctic for the last two years and leaves again for Casey on December 8 as the Watercraft Coordinator for the resupply to refuel the stations.

“About a million litres of fuel goes there, plus all the ship to shore containers, machinery, taking rubbish out and getting passengers on and off. It takes about two weeks to get down there and a week to do the work.  I come back on January 4, and then I’m going to do Mawson, Casey and Davis stations leaving on January 18 and returning on March 5. I take a bit of leave and go and do that.

“It’s amazing. People ask you what Antarctica’s like but it’s a place you have to visit to get a full appreciation. My understanding of the English language wouldn’t do it justice, it’s such a privilege.”

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