23 Apr 2024

Fiordland wapiti elk: Forest and Bird takes legal action over hunting agreement

7:52 pm on 23 April 2024
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Introduced to New Zealand from North America in the early 1900s, wapiti are similar to red deer, but more pale and much larger and heavier. (file image) Photo: RNZ/Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

Conservationists are butting heads about the best way to control Fiordland's wapiti elk populations, now the subject of a legal stoush.

The last contingent of hunters for the season have been flying over Fiordland National Park's by helicopter, in search of the Fiordland wapiti this rut, or mating season.

But it could be the last season of doing so, if a judicial review is successful.

Fiordland Wapiti Foundation and the Department of Conservation manage the ballots for hunting wapiti elk in Fiordland National Park.

Introduced to New Zealand from North America in the early 1900s, wapiti are similar to red deer, but more pale and much larger and heavier.

Fiordland Wapiti Foundation general manager Roy Sloane said about 1000 wapiti were culled in the area each year by aerial control, with another 150 or so by trophy hunters on the ground, in efforts to reduce the negative environmental impacts caused by a large, uncontrolled herd.

However, conservation organisation Forest and Bird has taken legal action against the ballot agreement, saying it does not comply with the National Parks Act, which prioritises protecting indigenous eco-systems over introduced species.

"The agreement is inconsistent with the act because it provides for herd management of an introduced species within the national park," it alleged.

"Forest and Bird also considers that the agreement does not comply with other parts of the act and the relevant statutory planning documents."

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But the society said hunting was part of the toolbox in tackling out-of-control numbers of browsing animals which caused significant damage to New Zealand's environment.

"However, we are equally clear that hunting needs to take place in a way that is consistent with the law.

"We feel it is essential that the Department of Conservation supports the hunting community, in this instance the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation, by ensuring that any agreement it enters in to is in keeping with the law."

Fiordland Wapiti Foundation's Roy Sloane said the organisation had responsibly managed the herd for decades - and if the judicial review were successful, it would stop its work in the area.

He said the 18-year-old foundation was "an oily rag" - with many volunteers involved, and hunts usually subsidised by hunters' fees.

"Those hunters basically fund that work," Sloane said.

"There's not one cent of taxpayers' money goes into what we do.

"If you look at this year for us, to do our work in there, we're potentially looking around half a million dollars annually. And if you had a government department doing that, I bet you you'd be talking triple that amount."

The National Party campaigned on designating herds of special interest during the general election.

Sloane said the foundation was investigating enlisting Fiordland wapiti as a herd of special interest with the ministers for hunting and fishing and also conservation as a "back-up plan", for whatever result with the case.

Forest and Bird declined an interview beyond a statement while the case was before the courts.

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