TRADITIONAL Owners have held early discussions about ambitious dreams to return three long-lost native animals to central Victoria, but questions remain about how and when such a moment might take place.
A parliamentary inquiry into Victoria's biodiversity decline has heard talks between the state's First Nations people and bureaucrats are still in their early days
Central Victorian populations of dingoes, emus and quolls were decimated in the centuries after colonial settlement, in part because people modified habitats and also because farmers targeted what were then considered to be livestock-killing pests.
Quolls have kept a toehold in central Victoria - for example, a farmer in Raywood accidentally caught a live one in a fox trap 14 years ago - but remain a very rare sight.
Dingoes and emu populations were wiped out.
The Dja Dja Wurrung's Rodney Carter has confirmed that several of the group's clans are interested in the return of three significant species, after the matter was raised last week in an inquiry into ecosystem decline.
However, he told the Bendigo Advertiser those discussions were still in their very early days.
"We haven't got a clear line of sight about how we would get to this idea of 'rewilding' but the idea of it is sound," he said.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning's biodiversity executive director James Todd told a Victorian parliamentary on Thursday that bureaucrats were talking with Traditional Owners "right across Victoria" about rewilding animals long absent from habitats.
"That could be through reintroducing animals that have particular cultural significance to those groups. That might include dingoes, it might include quolls, it may include a range of other species," he said.
His comments came during an ongoing biodiversity crisis triggered by land fragmentation and climate change.
The parliamentary inquiry also heard stark warnings from Parks Victoria's chief scientist Mark Norman about ongoing die-backs of native flora.
"Clearly, ecosystem decline is going on in front of our eyes, in real time right now right across the state," Dr Norman said.
The same sentiment was echoed in many submissions from the public, including groups based in and around Bendigo which provided both scientific and anecdotal accounts of changes in recent decade that included apparent "local extinctions".
The inquiry is investigating possible solutions, including how to better uphold First Nations peoples' connections to Country.
More from that inquiry:
Mr Carter said North American efforts to rewild wolves provided a template for the reintroduction of dingoes.
Scientific evidence suggested that wolves were in effect regulating numbers of both introduced and native animals, which aided in broader efforts to rehabilitate habitats, he said.
However, Mr Carter emphasised that anyone planning to reintroduce dingoes would need to consult with farmers and other landowners long before the animals returned.
Three Dja Dja Wurrung clans' spirit animals are either dingoes, quolls or emues.
Each clan considers itself responsible for their spirit animal's care and preservation.
"You used to have dingoes and quolls as camp animals. People would nurse quolls and befriend them," Mr Carter said.
"We want to bring those wider cultural discussions about these animals around that."
At the inquiry, the Animal Justice Party's Andy Meddick argued apex predators like dingoes could become part of an alternative to DELWP baiting programs that use poison 1080 to kill feral animals.
"It's completely undeniable that 1080 poison is completely indiscriminate - there's no such thing as a 'target species' with it," Mr Meddick remarked to DELWP's James Todd.
He said an apex predator could help manage a number of introduced species in parts of the state.
Mr Todd confirmed DELWP does use 1080 to control pests like foxes.
He said special baiting was used to try to limit the poison's impact on "off-target" species.
"But there is also the issue of pest-predators and how they may be controlled in an effective and efficient way, and the impact of those on native wildlife," Mr Todd noted.