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Deer numbers booming on conservation land

Deer like sika are enjoying a population boom but plans are afoot to bring down the numbers. Photo: Malcolm Lock, DOC

A plan is in the works to bring deer under control as they encroach into cities and farmland.

The number of deer in the conservation estate is booming and DOC is developing a plan to bring them under control.

DOC biodiversity threats project lead Dave Carlton said monitoring has found the number of deer has increased by 34 per cent in the North Island and 21 per cent in the South Island in the last six years.

There have also been reports from hunters describing that the size and quality of deer in some places is declining, with a recent necropsy of 450 sika deer in Kaimanawa Conservation Park finding 60 per cent of hinds were barren.

“Poor breeding levels are an indicator of a population beyond the carrying capacity of its environment,” Carlton said. 

He said deer numbers have been rising as hunting and government control programmes failed to keep up with the animals’ breeding rate and deer populations had spread further in search of food.

“This is why deer numbers are building up near forest and farm boundaries and deer are moving into rural areas where they haven’t been seen for decades.”

A DOC report to the Conservation Authority said deer had been encroaching on the fringes of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Whanganui and landowners were often culling deer in their hundreds to protect their crops.

It said the department was developing a plan with hunters, iwi and conservation groups to better manage wild deer to reduce their negative impacts on the environment.

The plan would focus on four “exemplar sites” to develop strategies to manage deer populations. The sites are all in the North Island: Raukumara Ranges, Northland, the Kaweka and Kaimanawa ranges and the Ruahine Range.

Conservation Authority member Tony Lepper said the authority was supportive of the plan, but wanted to see a South Island site included in the pilot.

“People in Otago and Southland are saying their bush is being destroyed by deer as well,” Lepper said.
He said it was important hunters were onboard with the plan: “DOC won’t fix this problem on its own.”

Game Animal Council general manager Tim Gale said there needed to be a coordinated approach between recreational hunters, commercial hunters and government control programmes to manage deer on a region by region basis.

“In some places, game animals have increased and in others, they haven’t,” Gale said. “We need a regional approach based on data, science and monitoring.”