Wed. Jun 26th, 2024


Aotearoa NZ's independent voice of fishing, hunting & outdoors

Legal action over Fiordland wapiti management on hold

5 min read
Legal action over Fiordland wapiti management on hold

Wapiti, also known as elk, were introduced to NZ in 1905. Photo: Adobe Stock

Forest & Bird and the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation have agreed to pause legal proceedings over the management agreement between the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Foundation over how the wapiti herd is managed.

Previously, Forest & Bird requested a judicial review of the agreement, which allows the Wapiti Foundation to control deer numbers, manage a wapiti herd, and undertake other pest-control and conservation work in Fiordland National Park. The parties have now jointly asked the High Court to temporarily adjourn the proceedings until a later date.

Wapiti in New Zealand

Wapiti, also known as elk, were introduced to New Zealand at the head of George Sound in March 1905, gifted by the US. They are similar to red deer but are paler and much larger and heavier. The Fiordland Wapiti Foundation was formed to address the potential threat to flora and fauna of the Fiordland National Park caused by wapiti.

The Foundation and DOC manage ballots for hunting wapiti in the park. Approximately 1000 wapiti are culled in the area each year by aerial control, with an additional 150 or so taken by trophy hunters on the ground.

The judicial review

Legal action over Fiordland wapiti management on hold
Left: The Fiordland Wapiti Foundation and DOC manage ballots for hunting wapiti in the park Right: Roy Sloan, Fiordland Wapiti Foundation spokesman Photos: NZ Hunter

Earlier this year, Forest & Bird took legal action against the ballot agreement, arguing it did not comply with the National Parks Act, which prioritises protecting indigenous ecosystems over introduced species.
Forest & Bird claimed the agreement is inconsistent with the Act because it provides for herd management of an introduced species within the national park, which is not consistent with the requirements of the Act.

The pause in legal action will allow the parties and DOC to explore a management strategy that meets both organisations’ interests. The current wapiti management agreement will remain in force during the adjournment.

“Forest & Bird welcomes the opportunity to work with the Wapiti Foundation and DOC on this critical issue,” said Forest & Bird chief executive Nicola Toki.

“There have been inaccurate suggestions that Forest & Bird’s legal action is aimed at exterminating wapiti, with some speculation the judicial review could even mean the end for all game animals. I want to be clear that these suggestions are incorrect. Forest & Bird initiated the legal action to clarify the legality of the wapiti management agreement.”

Toki emphasised the importance of dialogue over litigation, saying that rather than going to court, Forest & Bird wants to discuss the issue with the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation and DOC to agree on a solution that protects native biodiversity and maintains the integrity of Fiordland National Park.

“We don’t believe that the solution would require the extermination of wapiti. We expect the herd will continue to provide an important hunting opportunity and the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation could continue its valuable conservation work,” she added.

Herds of special interest

Legal action over Fiordland wapiti management on hold
The Foundation was formed to address the potential threat to flora and fauna of the Fiordland National Park caused by wapiti. Photo: Victoria Sheridan

The adjournment will allow both Forest & Bird and the Foundation to explore alternative solutions, including the possibility of designating the wapiti herd as a herd of special interest as defined under the Game Animal Council Act 2013.

“The National Government did make an election promise to make the wapiti a herd of special interest. This can be done under the Game Animal counsel legislation,” said Wapiti Foundation spokesman Roy Sloan. “The wapiti is basically being managed under similar circumstance so it would be simple cost-affected solution for hunters and conservation.

“The Wapiti Foundation stands for conservation and hunting, and it would be disappointing for two conservation groups to end up in court arguing over who has the best solution to protecting our precious environment,” he said.

“A judicial review would waste Forest & Bird, the Wapiti Foundation, and DOC’s money and time, diverting funding and key personnel from the front line where all three organisations are doing much-needed conservation work.”

Sloan also highlighted the Foundation’s work as an example of hunters giving back to conservation and the wider community.

“What we do in Fiordland has proven the most effective way of reducing and managing deer numbers, as well as trapping predators and maintaining tracks and huts for all park visitors.

“This is both protecting Fiordland’s ecosystem and saving DOC significant amounts of money, which is important when the department is facing hefty budget cuts and hundreds of job cuts.

“We look forward to finding a solution that not only meets the needs of both organisations but more importantly, safeguards our precious wildlife and flora.”

Political and community reactions

ACT Conservation spokesman Cameron Luxton welcomed the pause in legal action, saying the move is a win for Fiordland and good news for hunters.

“Well done to everyone who spoke out against this legal action. Advocacy from hunters, some of whom are Forest & Bird members, has clearly made an impact here,” he said.

“The Fiordland Wapiti Foundation undertakes conservation work for free that would otherwise cost taxpayers millions. The Foundation’s agreement with DOC is the gold standard in public-community partnership, but Forest & Bird’s judicial review, if successful, could have doomed the hunter-led conservation model.

“I understand wapiti hunters are eagerly awaiting an update from the Ministers of Conservation and Hunting and Fishing on progress toward designating wapiti a herd of special interest. This would give the Foundation certainty to continue its conservation efforts and would set a precedent that could be replicated for other sensitive species.”

The Game Animal Council also supports the decision to pause legal proceedings.

“Notification that the parties have asked the High Court to adjourn legal proceedings is really positive news for hunters and all those interested in the conservation of Fiordland National Park,” said Game Animal Council general manager Tim Gale.

“The Game Animal Council looks forward to working with the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation, the Department of Conservation, and other stakeholders to advance work on a herd of special interest for wapiti in Fiordland.

“A herd of special interest for wapiti would provide the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation with the long-term certainty to continue and, where possible, expand their deer management, predator control and other conservation efforts.”

Words by Shannon Williams

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.