The Fiordland Wapiti Foundation (FWF) is encouraged by the support it gets from most hunters, and the positive feedback from hunters visiting the area. Things like “We saw lots of young bulls with potential” or “There appears to be an improving amount of colour in the animals we saw this time”. We get a few complaints also, but with the huge interest in hunting in the area it’s hard to keep everyone happy. For a volunteer group, managing deer in the Wapiti Area is a huge challenge. It’s a long-term challenge too. Getting to the ultimate goal of a high quality Wapiti herd, producing a high proportion of trophies, living in good condition habitat, will take several generations of deer, and possibly several generations of hunters to achieve.
The Wapiti herd in Fiordland National Park has long been the subject of controversy. A variety of groups have sought differing levels of protection, access for recreational hunting or commercial hunting. Red deer colonised the area soon after Wapiti were established in the early 1900’s and cross-breeding has been a significant issue ever since. The influence of cross-breeding and commercial hunting pressures in the area over early 1970’s and 1990’s reduced the herd to a cross-bred population of reducing quality.
How did FWF end up managing the herd?
In 2000, the Fiordland National Park Management Plan was scheduled for review. Department of Conservation (DOC) produced a draft revised plan that did not include any provision for the management of wapiti, as the previous plan had. This sparked a strong reaction from hunters throughout the country. The Conservation Minister met with hunter groups (led by the recently formed FWF) and agreed to consider their concerns. The Minister challenged FWF to make a submission on the draft Fiordland National Park Management Plan. FWF did this and also presented DOC with a detailed proposal for the management of deer impacts in the Wapiti Area.
The final revised Fiordland National Park Management Plan was approved in 2007 and included a facility for community group animal control programmes in conjunction with DOC. FWF signed a 10 year management agreement with the DOC in 2013. The agreement allows FWF to manage a deer control programme. It requires that FWF submit an annual animal control plan each July, subject to the approval of DOC.
During the period 2004 to 2007, DOC worked with FWF to commence helicopter based control of deer within the wapiti area. DOC prepared annual Wild Animal Control Plans (under the Wild Animal Control Act 1977) in consultation with FWF, and the work was supported by venison recovery and hunter raised money managed by the Fiordland Wapiti Trust (FWT).