Hunting operators have welcomed a High Court ruling instructing the Department of Conservation to undertake further consultation on its 2020-2021 tahr culling plans.
The New Zealand Tahr Foundation, which represents commercial and recreational hunters, went to the High Court in Wellington on Wednesday for a judicial review into the lawfulness of DOC’s operational plan to control Himalayan tahr in the central South Island.
The proposed plan would have seen DOC undertake 250 control hours culling Himalayan Tahr in national parks and other areas, to meet the objectives of the Himalayan Tahr Control Plan 1993, which sets a maximum population of 10,000 tahr across 706,000 ha of private land, Crown pastoral leases and public conservation land.
In his decision released on Friday, Justice Dobson said that until further consultation had been completed, DOC could only undertake half of the 250 hours provided for in the 2020-2021 operational plan.
NZTF spokesman, Willie Duley said the decision “recognised the considerable gaps in DOC’s process, the lack of consideration for stakeholders affected and will stop the decimation of the tahr herd and save jobs”.
“Just as importantly, Justice Dobson recognised that recreational hunters are legitimate stakeholders and have the right to not only be properly consulted by DOC, but also have their views properly considered.
“DOC tried to ride roughshod over the commercial and recreational hunting sector and their token consultation was a sham.
“If they had been allowed to get away with this, future consultation on any issue would have become meaningless and that has serious implications for all conservation stakeholders and outdoor recreation groups,” he said.
Department of Conservation operations director, Dr Ben Reddiex said the department was pleased the judge found DOC successfully refuted all but one of the challenges the NZTF made, namely a partial inadequacy by DOC to not provide the NZTF with the number of control hours it was proposing to undertake in a reasonable timeframe for feedback.
He added DOC was pleased it could now “commence important control work across the tahr management units to protect New Zealand’s alpine environment.”
DOC said it had no plans to eradicate tahr and was undertaking a phased approach to meet the objectives of the Control Plan.
“There will continue to be thousands of tahr available for hunting across 425,000 ha of public conservation land, as well as another 133,000 ha of Crown pastoral leases and private land.
“Bull tahr will only be targeted in Aoraki/Mount Cook and Westland Tai Poutini National Parks, where DOC legally needs to reduce tahr numbers to the lowest practicable density.”
Forest & Bird also welcomed the High Court decision, which it said supported a reduction of the introduced tahr population.
“The High Court’s ruling means DOC can begin their planned cull without delay, that DOC are to stop leaving bull tahr in national parks for trophy hunters, and there is not to be more than 10,000 tahr overall.” spokesperson Nicky Snojink said.
“Forest & Bird has been warning for many years that the Himalayan tahr population is out of control. This ruling confirms that tahr control is well overdue, and they must be removed entirely from National Parks, in accordance with the law. There will still be plenty of tahr for hunting, just not in our national parks, which exist for native species not for bull tahr or trophy hunters.”
National’s conservation spokesperson, Jacqui Dean, said the decision “has stopped this clumsy and incompetent Government from destroying a $17m industry and hundreds of jobs.”
A statement from Dean said that conservation minister Eugenie Sage “made a brash decision” for the large-scale cull of tahr to start on 1 July, and the decision to halt the plan was not only a win for hunters, “but for the many New Zealanders whose jobs were on the line”.
“The minister must stay true to the 1993 agreement that was made to make sure there is a balance between recreational hunting and conservation values, and she must recognise the value of hunters killing tahr,” she said.
“The commercial tahr hunting industry contributes $17m to the economy and provides valuable jobs. Particularly in the current economic crisis the minister should be thinking seriously about the businesses that rely on this resource and have already suffered through the effects of Covid-19. We need to be protecting jobs, not getting rid of them.”
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