What now for heli-hunting ban?

By Christine Linnell of the Greymouth Star -
Rabbit shooting by helicopter. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Rabbit shooting by helicopter. Photo / Otago Daily Times

Expectations for a proposed ban on heli-hunting on conservation land are up in the air following lead advocate Peter Dunne's resignation as a cabinet minister.

The United Future leader stepped down over the GCSB leak inquiry, leaving Conservation Minister Nick Smith to lead the fight against the controversial hunting practice.

Mr Dunne has previously promised legislation to ban it altogether.

Heli-hunting involves helicopters locating game animals, dropping hunters into wilderness areas for short periods and sometimes herding or 'hazing' the animals. The practice has long angered traditional hunters in South Westland.

Opponents complain about cruelty to animals, the noise of the helicopters, and heli-hunters being dropped close to campsites on blocks balloted to ground hunters.

"It's annoying to trampers and mountaineers in general," New Zealand Deerstalkers Association West Coast president Mike McClunie said earlier this year.

"The machines are coming in and chasing animals around in front of them."

Now, Mr McClunie expects the cabinet shake-up to delay the legislation further.

"Peter Dunne was a good advocate for it. He was really pushing it to help us along.

"Fingers crossed (National) can improve the situation anyway."

Mr Dunne won a concession in March last year to stop guided helicopter hunting on conservation land in a deal signed between the United Future Party and the National Party, but the legislation was delayed in July. Earlier that year, the Department of Conservation granted five two-year heli-hunting concessions in the Hooker-Landsborough, Adams and Olivine wilderness areas on the West Coast.

Ground hunters have expressed concern that a ban would not be in place before the current concessions expired in February 2014, allowing more concessions to be granted.

On July 4, Dr Smith told Parliament he intended to include the heli-hunting issue in a conservation law reform bill he hoped to introduce to Parliament later this year, before the February 2014 deadline.

"There is the issue of the concessions that's coming up for heli hunting and I'm working with the department on finding a solution so that it is consistent with the government's direction of reform."

This week Dr Smith's press secretary Rachael Bruce said it was "business as usual" for the heli-hunting ban despite the change in leadership, but so far there was no timeline for when the legislation might move forward.

- The Greymouth Star

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