Forest & Bird’s threatened legal action against Fiordland’s wapiti (elk) management programme would be a massive own goal for conservation.

For 13 years, DOC has had an arrangement with the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation, in which hunters can pay for ballot access to target this prized species for recreational hunting. This means population management of an introduced species is effectively provided for free, privately. And to top it off, the Foundation culls deer, traps pests, and maintains the National Park’s back country huts.

If it weren’t for this arrangement, DOC would be unable to manage deer or wapiti in Fiordland. Like all departments, DOC must prioritise its limited resources, and it has 85 higher-ranked deer and goat management areas across New Zealand.

So what’s Forest & Bird’s problem? They’re arguing the hunter-led programme breaches the National Parks Act because it aims to manage, not exterminate, the wapiti population. So now they’re considering legal options.

Forest & Bird’s self-defeating, purist stance aims for an impossible standard while alienating potential allies. Hunters are natural champions of nature and the land, and would happily join the campaign against real threats like the rats and stoats wreaking havoc on native birdlife. Yet Forest & Bird is picking a fight with them. It’s just madness.

And of course, legal action would be costly for DOC. Precious funding meant for trapping pests would be diverted toward lawyers’ fees, at a time when government departments are being asked to spend more sensibly.

Fiordland’s vast and difficult terrain makes combing for wapiti hugely time and resource-intensive for DOC, but here we have a group of hunters who aren’t just willing to do the job – they happily pay for the pleasure of it. It’s a win-win-win for recreation, the environment, and the taxpayer; a gold standard in partnership between government and community. ACT backs the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation all the way.

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