'Mauri of Rakiura being lost' to growing deer population

8:05 pm on 30 June 2022

Deer are wreaking havoc on native forest on Rakiura/Stewart Island, the Southland Conservation Board says.

A deer on Stewart Island / Rakiura.

Southland Conservation Board chairperson Shona Sangster says there are remote areas of the island where deer populations can flourish unimpeded. Photo: Unsplash / Sébastien Goldberg

Rakiura iwi and residents have noticed an increase in numbers of the introduced pest on the island, and fear the impact they may be having on more remote areas of Rakiura National Park.

The government allocated $30 million over four years for deer and goat control in Budget 2022.

Southland Conservation Board chairperson Shona Sangster said she hoped some of that would be coming south to tackle Rakiura's deer problem.

"There's a concern from locals around the number of deer in the township, but then there's also a real question for conservationists about what the effect they're having on the park. People anecdotally seeing an understory that to them looks to be pretty denuded."

Hunters helped control numbers, but there were remote areas of the island where deer populations could flourish unimpeded, Sangster said.

"The ultimate risk is that you actually end up changing the type of canopy and the type of forest because the species that grow up to maturity are the species that are unpalatable to deer," she said.

"We've got lots of big established trees that are of the kind the deer like, like rātā for example, and those are still dropping seed, but we'll get to a point where the big old trees will die and there won't be the next generation of trees to replace them because they will all have been eaten."

There was little monitoring at present, so even quantifying the extent of the problem was difficult.

However, monitoring and culling efforts in remote areas cost money. That was where Sangster hoped the government funding would come in.

"As aboard we have a real concern about the Crown's Te Tiriti obligation to protect indigenous biodiversity and our taonga species," Sangster said.

"The lack of management of deer and other introduced species to Rakiura is a breach of these obligations and the Board, along with Ngāi Tahu, is very concerned about the mauri of Rakiura being lost to introduced species.

"We are very strongly advocating that action be taken around deer on Rakiura, in particular, but also in the wider Murihiku region, as soon as possible to avoid further depletion of the forest health and what could ultimately lead to major ecosystem collapse."

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