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DOC spending hundreds of thousands on controversial deer repellent

DOC is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a repellent to avoid killing deer in 1080 operations. >em>Photo: Matt Winter

DOC is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a repellent to avoid killing deer in 1080 operations in a bid to appease hunting groups.

It comes at a time when the numbers of deer, tahr and other ungulates are increasing dramatically and tension between hunters and the department grow.

Deer repellent is added to 1080 pellets to prevent deer eating the poison and will be used in operations on 45,000ha of conservation land this year, including Kahurangi National Park and the Dart-Caples valleys beside Fiordland/Mt Aspiring national parks. 

The repellent is expensive, adding about 40 per cent to the cost of producing the bait used in an operation and the department plans to spend $270,000 on the additive this year – by year-end, it will have spent just over $1m on the repellent since 2014.

Conservation groups have questioned why the department is spending large sums to avoid killing an animal that causes extensive damage to native forest.

Forest and Bird chief conservation advisor Kevin Hackwell said the money should be used to save native species, rather than protecting an introduced pest.

“It’s perverse that DOC has to spend precious biodiversity money protecting introduced deer herds that are also doing considerable damage to our forests and their wildlife,” Hackwell said. “The million dollars DOC spent on deer repellent over the last five years could have been used for predator control over an area of conservation land half the size of Tongariro National Park.”

DOC considers deer to be a serious pest, causing significant damage to native forest, and the department’s monitoring has found the presence of deer and other ungulates had increased by 30 per cent since 2013. In 2017, ungulates were present at 80 per cent of monitoring sites in national park forests.

The use of the repellent may also contravene the department’s own deer control policy, which states recreational values should not take precedence over conservation values in deer management decisions.

DOC director of national operations Hilary Aikman said the department is being pragmatic and deer repellent would only be used on 4.5 per cent of the one million hectares covered by 1080 operations this year.

“The investment in deer repellent at a small number of sites is a pragmatic solution to achieving our biodiversity protection goals at sites where there is considerable hunter concern about the use of 1080,” Aikman said. “DOC doesn’t use deer repellent at sites where we’ve identified a need for, or are undertaking, deer control.”

But Hackwell said DOC had been unduly influenced by hunting lobby groups.

“DOC is being cynical by giving in to the hunting lobby’s strong-arm tactics,” Hackwell said. “At the very least, DOC could insist that the hunters should carry some or all of the costs of the deer repellent.”

The sites where the repellent is used is identified in consultation with the Game Animal Council, NZ Deerstalkers’ Association and iwi. Game Animal Council deputy chair Stephen Hall said deer were not classified as pests in the Biosecurity Act and the use of deer repellent was warranted to protect deer herds of particular significance.

“Deer are recognised as having value to the hunting community, who are legitimate users of public conservation land,” Hall said. “In some cases, mitigation is warranted because of low and threatened deer populations or their significance.

“A good example is the Whakatipu whitetail herd, which the local community, both hunters and non-hunters, are very protective of.”

The use of deer control was originally heavily restricted, but after a series of trials the government controversially permitted its use in 2005. The move was criticised by conservation groups but lauded by hunters. At first, use of the repellent was restricted to Recreational Hunting Areas (eight zones in the conservation estate where game animals are primarily controlled by recreational hunters) and hunters had to fund its use. But that changed in 2014, when the government launched the Battle for our Birds 1080 campaign, when it more than doubled its use of the poison. Since then, deer repellent has been used in national parks and DOC has spent $250,000 a year on the repellent on average.

2019 deer repellent drop sites and additional costs

Site Area Cost*
Dart-Caples valleys 19437ha $116622
Kahurangi National Park 8500ha $51000
Lake Sumner 7000ha $42000
Blue Mountains 6701ha $40206
Whirinaki Forest Park 5000ha $30000

* Costs are estimates based on a rate of $6 per hectare.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated deer repellent adds 40 per cent to the cost of a 1080 operation. Deer repellent adds 40 per cent to the cost of producing the 1080 bait, not to the costs of the operation as a whole.