By Andy Thompson, Technical Advisor Recreation, Christchurch
As a passionate hunter I love exploring our backcountry—so much country, so little time!
Hunting tahr up the mighty Rakaia River
The backcountry—its huts and tracks—are our inheritance.
For me, the places where I first took my kids on an overnight tramp, and where they shot their first deer or chamois, are ingrained into my character and our family’s folklore. It’s a legacy I want my grandkids and their grandkids to have.
A day walk with the family at the bottom on the Kepler Track
I’m also one of the lucky DOC staff working with the New Zealand Outdoor Recreation Consortium, who are keen to look after and maintain New Zealand’s backcountry facilities.
My heroes are the people that go on major missions, who use these places and then choose, in their spare time, to put something back.
Whānau and friends on the Hollyford Track
This isn’t about DOC shedding its responsibilities to look after backcountry huts, this is about doing more and looking after the places where many of us spend our holidays and weekends and enrich our lives.
One of my favourite places and backcountry huts—Stanley Vale in the St James Conservation Area
“Golly—that’s one huge chunk of Forest!’’ (Well, truth be told, I may have used a slightly different adjective, but you get the idea).
My view from the helicopter was daunting, but the idea of hunting this block entirely on foot was starting to hurt my knees just thinking about it. Luckily I knew I had a good team behind me willing to do their fair share…. You know that old saying “many hands make light work?’’ or something like that. I had to now convince myself the task was achievable and not let on to the hunters that we were in for a big job given the timeframe available.
Whareorino forest – view from main Herangi Range looking west
Whareorino Forest lies 30 kilometres southwest of Te Kuiti and is the largest and one of the most significant forested areas in the western King Country. When you see it from the air it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by its size. It is dominated by the Herangi Range, a bluff system that would make most people produce an evil taste in their own mouth if faced with the challenge of climbing its sheer walls of loose flaky vertical rock and deceptive trees that give way as you use them to try to haul yourself up.
Goats will even climb trees to get food – there are two goats in this photo, one is asleep
Whareorino features tawa, hinau, kamahi, rewarewa as well as podocarps and is particularly special for its range of vegetation—from coastal and lowland vegetation types to subalpine and montane. And it had a large number of goats eating everything they could!
To succeed in reducing goat numbers, over the past years various innovations have been progressively introduced by the PMs to gain any edge possible, enlisting technology not often associated with primal activities like hunting. Tools like GPS and GIS mapping allow the tracking and recording of the hunters and their kills, and when overlaid on a map it’s a very powerful tool which can show trends, check for gaps and identify hot spots to focus on more intently. But unfortunately, no matter how high-tech we get inside the office, the goats aren’t going to remove themselves from the forest. To do this we enlist our DOC rangers and contractors to ground hunt the area with dogs.
Staff hunters and their dogs – nothing like wet boots to start your morning!
The hunters operate in the remote back country, often staying out there for 10 days at a time in order to get right back to those hard to reach places. If you want to catch a mountain goat, you’ve gotta be fitter than one! And our hunting team/s sure know how to do the hard yards!
Typical hunters camp (Awakino River – Whareorino). Flown in by Helicopter and home for the next 20 days
So why are goats such a problem? Early on, European sailors chose to release small numbers of goats onto islands within the Pacific and this included New Zealand. This was done as a future food source for sailors in case they became ship wrecked, or decided to relocate there, as many of these islands had no mammals to eat. You could say that their thinking was quite ahead of its time (you could use a buzz word like “future proofing” or something like that to describe it), but in those days it was all about survival. There was no regard given for environmental effects and as you can see from the below photos of the same area before and after goat control, there certainly is an environmental cost to pay when there are goats in a forest.
Before and after goat control – Moeatoa/Whareorino
But why did the sailors release goats—why not dairy cows or sheep? If you focus on the reason why goats were chosen, then you’ll soon start to understand the problem we face when trying to get rid of them. Goats are hardy, intelligent animals that can adapt to any extreme (deserts, jungles, mountains or islands). Goats are prolific breeders and will do so at an alarming rate—approximately a 40% net increase in population per year i.e. 20 goats will become 107 goats in the space of just five years if left uncontrolled!
If we were to look at Whareorino (one of six blocks hunted in 2012 by our Waikato staff hunters), 3,420 goats were shot. If no control was done, those 3,420 goats could have potentially become 18,393 goats after just five years! You can now see why the sailors released the small handfuls of goats they did eh? But food (native plants in our forests) is the governing factor, so it’s more likely that we’d end up with about half that number of goats as food starts to run out—but it would come at the cost of an absolutely denuded forest.
Jake – A veteran goat dog bailing a billy (goat) in a creek
So you can clearly see that when it comes to goat control, doing nothing isn’t an option, but thankfully the Department of Conservation has several teams throughout New Zealand keeping things under control. After all there wouldn’t be much point carrying out any other conservation activities if there isn’t a forest for our icon species to inhabit.
It’s wallaby time of year again in South Canterbury! The 22nd annual South Canterbury Recreational Sportsmans Club wallaby hunt was held 16 – 18 March.
The club has run an annual wallaby hunt since 1991. Waimate is known as the wallaby capital, but entrants in the SCRSC wallaby hunting competition hunt throughout the Hunters Hills and Mount Dobson area. 2008 was a particularly bumper year for the competition, with 2000 wallabies shot over one weekend. How many were shot in 2012? We don’t know yet, but we’d love to hear from you if you were there! What was your tally?
A tale (tail) of three wallaby
Before people arrived in New Zealand, the only native mammals were three species of bat and eight species of seal and sea lion. Our first peoples brought kiore (Pacific rats) and kurī (Polynesian dogs). European settlers introduced a huge range of creatures, including seven species of wallaby.
The Waimate kind – red necked (or Bennett’s) wallaby – were brought here by Michael Studholme, the first European settler in the district in the early 1870s. He released two females and one male, which in 1874 bounced off into the Hunters Hills, where their descendants have been breeding ever since.
On occasion, they have extended their range into areas south of the Waitaki River and into the Mackenzie Basin. International tourists have been known to report being surprised to see a ‘giant rat’ on the Two Thumb Range! Wallaby have even become a bit of a road hazard around the place as they look for their next meal. You may see their distinctive calling card on the hillsides (and we don’t just mean the chewed up vegetation!)
Unfortunately, they cause a lot of damage on public and private land, so they are in the sights of landowners, the regional council and DOC! So it is great to see recreational hunters actively targeting wallabies through this event.
If you missed the competition, there’s always next year. But in the meantime, you can still set your sights our way.