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Deer policy based on Ecological Realities

26 March 2001 Media Statement

Deer policy based on Ecological Realities

Government policy on the control of deer on public conservation lands is based on ecological science according to Conservation Minister Sandra Lee.

Responding to criticisms of the policy by National’s Conservation spokesperson Nick Smith and by some deerstalkers, Ms Lee said there was indisputable evidence that deer were seriously degrading native forests and preventing the regeneration of palatable species.

“To deny that deer are a conservation pest is to deny ecological reality”.

Ms Lee said she had been convinced by scientific evidence that even in frequently hunted forests few seedlings of deer-preferred species, such as broadleaf, reached more that 5 centimetres in height.

“In the Kaweka Conservation Park, an exclosure plot established close to a popular hunters' campsite had beech saplings inside a fenced plot at a density of 11,000 per hectare. In the control plot alongside, that was accessible to deer, not one beech sapling survived”.

“As Conservation Minister I can not ignore the ecological damage being done to native forests by deer just as I can not ignore the impacts of possums, goats or chainsaws”.

Ms Lee said the deer policy was not an extermination policy as some claimed.

“The Department of Conservation, working together with Regional Councils, will seek to eradicate feral deer from traditional deer-free areas such as the great kauri forests of Northland. But the eradication of deer from the main forest tracts where they are well-established is impossible as deerstalkers know”.

“DOC will undertake deer control where needed to ensure the regeneration of palatable species.”

Ms Lee said National’s conservation spokesperson Nick Smith was suffering from “amnesia” in his attacks on the Government’s deer policy.

“The former National Government declared deer to be a conservation pest in their Environment 2010 strategy, in the State of the Environment Report, and in the draft Biodiversity Strategy released during their term in office."

“It is sad to see Nick Smith apparently disavowing some of the worthwhile environmental policies that National subscribed to.”

Ms Lee said some deerstalkers groups were also grossly over-reacting to the policy.

There is an abundance of opportunities to hunt deer and other game animals in New Zealand on public conservation lands and on private land. Periodic deer control by DOC to safeguard forest health will still leave plenty of openings for hunters to enjoy their sport.

In fact I am willing to remove unnecessary restrictions on recreational hunting on public conservation land such as the bureaucratic requirement for hunting permits.


The former National Government’s statements on deer.

1. “The key to protecting biological diversity lies with the following actions: Controlling animal pests and problem plants, especially possums, goats, deer, rats and stoats.”
Environment 2010: A Statement of the (National) Government's Strategy on the Environment (1994).

2. “Because mammals are bigger, hungrier and more active than most other animals their effect has been immense. Even where deforestation has not occurred, browsing mammals (e.g. goats and deer) have invaded the forests, eating young plants, preventing regrowth, and competing with birds for food.”
State of the Environment Report, 1997.

3. “By far the greatest threat to our remaining [native forests] is from browsing animals (possums, deer, and goats) which destroy both trees and seedlings.”
State of the Environment Report, 1997.

4. “Conservation must remain the underlying principle of this deer control plan. There must be no constraint on the department’s ability to undertake additional control if deer numbers reach damaging levels.”
Speech notes for Hon Nick Smith address to New Zealand Deerstalkers Association, 1998.

5. “From the perspective of conserving our national heritage, deer are a pest. Recreational hunters do not cull deer to a low enough density to provide effective control.”
Speech notes Hon Nick Smith: New Zealand Deerstalkers National Conference July 1999.

6. “Collectively, invasive pests pose the greatest single threat to our remaining natural ecosystems and species. Possums, deer, rats, cats and stoats continue to demolish our native species.”
Draft New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy March 1999


DUE 19 March 2001

1095 ERIC ROY to the Minister of Conservation:

Can she please explain her statement in the Ministerial foreword to her department's policy statement on deer control, "the release of this policy statement marks the end of a period of consultation on deer management that began in 1997" when, in fact, consultation was halted by her department in 1998, more than two years before this policy was prepared and released?


HON SANDRA LEE (Minister of Conservation) replied:

In 1997 the Department of Conservation convened a working party which produced a public discussion document on "Issues and options for managing the impacts of deer…"

The Department briefed the Minister of Conservation in April and in June of 1999 on options and proposals and prepared a draft Plan outlining the proposed approach to deer control. The Minister consulted further with deerstalkers, including speaking at the annual general meeting of the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association (NZDA) July 1999. However, final decisions were not made prior to the General Election in November 1999.

I met with representatives of NZDA on 26 May 2000 to discuss their views on the issue. The Department has now finalised policies on deer control, taking into account the views of the working party and public submissions, the best available scientific advice, and my discussion with NZDA. This is the period of consultation (1997-2000) that I referred to in my foreword to the policy statement.


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