Kaimanawa Remote Experience Zone Aerial Deer Management
Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Issue 217 Winter
Words By: Tim Maule – Sika Foundation
With assistance from the Game Animal Council (GAC), the Sika Foundation Conservation Trust applied and was granted funding through the Government’s Jobs for Nature Programme to deliver several deer management and conservation projects over the next three years. One of these is an adaptive deer management and research programme in the Kaimanawa and Kaweka Forest Parks. The project will be led by the Sika Foundation strongly collaborating with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and will start with a focus on the 15,000ha Remote Experience Zone (REZ) in the Kaimanawa Forest Park.
DOC’s Kaimanawa Forest Park Conservation Management Plan has only provided for six designated helicopter landing sites, often associated with huts. This has limited recreational hunting effort and hunter-led deer management opportunities in more isolated corners of the park.
Since the beginning back in 2015, the Sika Foundation has worked with recreational hunting interests including the New Zealand Deerstalker Association (NZDA), Hunters & Habitats and DOC to identify strategic helicopter landing sites within Kaimanawa Forest Park. The objective has been to increase recreational hunter effort and facilitate management hunts into hard to access locations.
ANIMAL AND ENVIRONMENT CONDITION
From 2017 to 2020 OSPRI contracted Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research to carry out a deer survey in the southern Kaimanawa Range to confirm the area to be TB free. The survey involved helicopter harvesting, with 150 deer taken each year over three years.
While no TB was found, 48% of the hinds were barren and 68% were in average to poor condition. This demonstrates the need for active game animal management in this area. The habitat in this part of the park (particularly the REZ) is suffering due to the high density of deer, with the current poor state of the mountain beech forest and the lack of palatable understorey as a result.
Removing hinds is well-established as the optimal method to reduce deer densities, provide for habitat recovery and improve condition of the herd.
RECREATIONAL HUNTER OPPORTUNITY
The Sika Foundation successfully negotiated helicopter access and landing rights for recreational hunters to the Kaimanawa Rangitikei Remote Experience Zone (REZ) for the 2022 Roar (28 March – 15 May). This opportunity was a privilege granted in response to increasing reports of deer impact on beech forests in the catchment.
Hunters were asked to provide information on their experience in the REZ and supplied the jaws and data of animals shot, which is contributing to our knowledge of the “baseline” starting point for the health of the herd.
AERIAL DEER MANAGEMENT
The next stage in the programme was to undertake aerial management in the REZ. This focused on thinning out the deer population using specialist and experienced operators aided by thermal imaging equipment who would specifically target hinds. This aerial work was enabled through funding provided by DOC and will decrease stress on the environment. It was carried out in late May/early June 2022.
The late May/early June aerial management was backed up by professional ground hunters and potentially further aerial management work through until late December 2022. Animals that are worthwhile harvesting, will be recovered and utilised by local iwi and the Sika Foundation Foodbank Support initiative.
Over the 2022/23 summer, monitoring will occur on both deer density and environmental indicators to gauge how the habitat is recovering. This will also help us fine tune the adaptive deer management and research programme for 2023.
The Sika Foundation is excited by the opportunity to work in partnership with local iwi, DOC, the GAC, NZDA and other stakeholders to achieve a ‘win-win’ for hunting and conservation in Kaimanawa Forest Park. A healthy sika hunting resource, thriving in resilient natural habitats, valued by stakeholders.
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