15 Sep 2020

DOC relying too much on hunters to control tahr - Forest & Bird

8:20 am on 15 September 2020

Forest & Bird is alarmed that some conservation land where tahr numbers need to be reduced is excluded from the plan for control operations this year.

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Hunters say a new report opens up decent tahr hunting opportunities in accessible locations. Photo: 123RF

The Department of Conservation yesterday released its 2020-2021 report on the control of Himalayan tahr, which thrive in high country and remote South Island locations, and graze on fragile native plants.

There has been a lot of disagreement on how best to manage the growing population of the hardy, goat-like animals.

The report out yesterday has pleased hunters, who said it opened up decent tahr hunting opportunities in accessible locations.

The general manager of the New Zealand Game Animal Council, Tim Gale, said talks with the Department of Conservation had been positive.

"They've re-allocated some of those areas which haven't had much control, and also some of that really inaccessible, steep country that typically ground hunters don't get to, which is a fantastic thing."

Culling operations have been reduced within the South Rakaia and Upper Rangitata management unit that was heavily used by hunters, while the Two Thumbs/ Sinclair (Mesopotamia) area, Naumann Range, Ben Ohau Range south of Fred's Stream, and the Wills/ Makarora/ Hunter management unit would not see any further control work.

Control would be increased in some of the more remote areas west of the main divide where tahr densities were high and hunters struggled to access.

Tahr out of control in some areas - Forest & Bird

Forest & Bird's regional conservation manager for Canterbury and the West Coast, Nicky Snoyink, said that while it was a reasonable short-term solution, they were worried that the hunters alone would not be enough to control the spread of tahr.

"We are alarmed that DOC has agreed with the game animal council to abandon some of the conservation land where tahr numbers need to be reduced, for the hunting community alone, to get.

"We know from previous experience that recreational hunting alone is not enough to control the spread of tahr, and that's the very reason they're out of control. It's a legacy issue of not having a lot of control over a long time."

The Department of Conservation and the Game Animal Council considered two years of operational data, observations from DOC staff and contractors, as well as advice from tahr stakeholders in finalising the report.

DOC said that between 2016 and autumn 2019, the tahr population was estimated to be about 34,500 on public conservation land alone.

DOC, commercial hunters and contractors controlled about 11,000 tahr between July to November last year.

Control work around huts ruled out

Gale said hunters were pleased there was also a commitment that control work would not take place close to or around huts and helicopter landing sites frequently used by hunters and other backcountry users.

"It makes much more sense for control operations to concentrate on places that are either seldom visited by hunters or very difficult to access."

Forest & Bird's preference was for DOC to comply with the Tahr Control Plan, which took effect in 1993.

Snoyink said the plan was established as a guide for reducing tahr numbers as quickly as possible.

"It is good that DOC is collaborating with the Game Animal Council but the bottom line is, there is a control plan with population numbers of tahr in it, and management units that have to be complied with.

"Abandoning some of these areas - which is sort of what it looks like DOC is doing, it may be OK in the short-term but in the longer term we need to see DOC actually getting into action and getting the numbers of tahr down."

Snoyink said they would be keeping an eye on progress. Forest & Bird was part of the tahr liaison group and had also been consulting with DOC on the plan.

"What's important to us is that our native wildlife thrives and if we let these huge herds of goats continue to roam around out there, it's not going to allow that native vegetation to thrive.

"We need to get them (tahr) under control - we need the Department of Conservation to do that. We know that leaving it up to hunters doesn't work."

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