HUNTERS have turned conservationists, volunteering to find creative solutions for managing deer numbers in an area of the Fiordland National Park.
Fiordland Wapiti Foundation (FWF) president Roy Sloan, of Winton, said wapiti hunters accessing the park from Te Anau had been involved in “a win-win situation for recreation and conservation” for the past 10 years thanks to the efforts of FWF members.
The FWF was officially formed in 2000 to support the Department of Conservation’s (Doc) aim to limit the destructive impact of deer on the Fiordland wilderness and native wildlife, but at the same time help preserve quality hunting in Fiordland and the wapiti herd, which members saw as a precious resource in its own right, Mr Sloan said.
In 2013, a formal agreement was signed between Doc and the FWF.
Doc senior ranger for biodiversity Norm MacDonald said the FWF had a 10-year management agreement with Doc to deliver deer control across a significant part of Fiordland National Park. It was a partnership Doc valued highly, he said.
“Since [the agreement] was signed in 2013 the FWF have either met or exceeded deer removal targets set in the agreement and their trapping programmes have greatly benefited whio [native blue duck] recovery and other at-risk species,” he said.
Mr Sloan said the wapiti area covered 150,000 hectares, divided into 25 hunting blocks between the Doon and Worsley Valleys, spanning from Fiordland’s western coast to the shores of Lake Te Anau.
During the rut (the wapiti mating season starting about March 20 and running for 30 days each year), hunting in the conservation area needed to be controlled and was therefore balloted, he said.
“Hunting wapiti is seen as the pinnacle of hunting in New Zealand and it’s that popular we need to run a ballot. Hunters from New Zealand and around the world enter the ballot, and names are drawn each year from a lottery-style system. The winners get to hunt the wapiti during the ballot period.”
During the ballot each year about 450 hunters hunted in the wapiti area and on average each spent an estimated $2200 on helicopter flights, accommodation, food and equipment for their trip, Mr Sloan said.
“A large number of hunters” hunted the area after the ballot, spending more than $1 million in total, he said.
The FWF also removed about 1000 unwanted deer (red deer and low-quality wapiti), equal to 45 tons of venison, from the area annually, he said.
This venison was exported, generating about $1m for the New Zealand economy, with the funds helping to pay for further conservation in the area, he said.