Two DOC staff killed in a helicopter crash in Wanaka last month had been threatened for their involvement in tahr control, it has emerged.
DOC came under heavy criticism from the hunting community when it announced plans to cull 17,000 tahr over the next 10 months.
Rangers Scott Theobald and Paul Hondelink were about to begin a tahr culling mission when their helicopter crashed shortly after take-off, killing them both along with pilot Nick Wallis.
Conservation Authority chair Kerry Prendergast said the pair had been abused by people opposed to the tahr control operation in the preceding weeks.
“Everyone involved in conservation is still mourning the loss of Hondy and Scotty, who were both subjected to abusive calls to their home addresses and on social media over this issue,” Prendergast said.
The tahr debate has highlighted a strained relationship between DOC and the hunting community, adding to tensions from increasingly radical protests from anti-1080 groups.
DOC came under fire after it emerged the tahr population was around 35,000, more than triple the the 10,000 population limit that the department is meant to restrict numbers to.
The introduced mountain goat can damage alpine plants, but is a popular game animal. How the herd should be controlled has sparked debate between hunting groups resistant to widespread culling and conservation groups which say urgent action is needed to prevent environmental destruction.
NZ Deerstalkers Association spokesperson Bill O’Leary said the tahr control plan needs to be reviewed because the economic importance of tahr has increased dramatically since DOC’s tahr plan was created in 1993 and the multi-million dollar guided hunting industry would not be viable if the population was reduced to 10,000.
“If the herd is restricted to 10,000, the industry will go to the wall,” O’Leary said.
Increased monitoring was also required to better understand the size of the tahr population and the damage it was causing to the environment, he said. DOC’s population estimates have had a high margin of error – the population could be anywhere from 17,300 to 53,900.
NZ Game Animal Council chair Don Hammond agreed the tahr plan needed to be reviewed.
The council was established in 2013 by the government to represent hunting interests. Hammond said while the council recognised the tahr population needed to be reduced, the control plan was outdated.
“The plan has never been reviewed and ongoing monitoring and research that DOC was meant to be undertaking hasn’t happened,” Hammond said. “Blindly pursuing the plan as it stands is not a good idea.”
After initially calling for 17,000 animals to be culled over the next 10 months, DOC scaled back its intentions. It now plans to cull just 10,000 animals in collaboration with the hunting community.