Heli-hunting ban about 'fairness'

Tahr living in the South Canterbury high country are likely to be living a quieter life once heli-hunting is banned. Photo / Stephen Jaquiery
Tahr living in the South Canterbury high country are likely to be living a quieter life once heli-hunting is banned. Photo / Stephen Jaquiery

The heli-hunting season on Department of Conservation land ends in late July and it is quite likely to be the last.

By the start of next season, in February, Associate Conservation Minister Peter Dunne hopes to have new legislation in place to prohibit the practice on public lands, although not on private land.

Progress towards the prohibition has been held up by a High Court case taken against the Minister of Conservation by six companies - Back Country Helicopters, Alpine Deer Group, Mount Hutt Helicopters, Alpine Hunting Adventures, New Zealand Mountain Hunting and South Pacific Safaris.

Their application for a judicial review was dismissed by Justice Stephen Kos this week, and Mr Dunne's office told the Otago Daily Times he was determined to push ahead with legislation that would end the practice on the conservation estate.

The spokesman said the issue over heli-hunting was not about animal welfare but about fairness to other hunters who stalked on foot animals like tahr and chamois.

"Where Peter's coming from is the fairness issue. The average recreational hunter goes into the hills and stalks an animal by means of fair chase. And heli-hunting is not fair chase.

"These guys are able to do an activity that impinges on other people's right to enjoy the hills, whether that's a recreational hunter or a tramper or a climber."

President of the Deerstalkers' Association Tim McCarthy has congratulated Mr Dunne on his court victory.

In his decision, Justice Kos said heli-hunting was mostly carried out by hunters from the United States who hired guides and helicopter operators to take them into areas of the South Island that were extremely remote, "high, rugged, glaciated and snow-covered much of the time".

"Some are impossible to reach on foot," Justice Kos said.

Justice Kos noted three areas of controversy over heli-hunting - hazing, aerial shooting and herding.

Hazing was where a helicopter chased a game animal "potentially to the point of exhaustion". However, he noted operators were adamant this was not a practice they undertook and it was banned both under the industry code of practice and their Doc concessions.

Aerial shooting was prohibited under concessions and the industry's code of practice also did not condone aerial shooting "except where a wounded animal needs to be dispatched humanely".

"Herding" was undertaken by operators, who described it as "different to herding a mob of sheep", Justice Kos said.

"Rather the trophy is located by the helicopter, which then backs off and hovers about 30 to 50m above, and 15m behind, the trophy.

"The animal then moves away from the helicopter, and if all goes according to plan, heads towards the client, who has already been dropped off by the helicopter and is positioned on the ground."

The industry code of practice required herding be done "in a manner that does not place the animal under adverse duress", Justice Kos said.

The case being considered by Justice Kos was over the length of heli-hunting concessions.

The six companies have been operating under two-year Doc concessions - which run out in February - but have been arguing for 10-year concessions.

They suggested Mr Dunne was "biased" against heli-hunting.

In his judgement, Justice Kos recognised the "trenchant" views on both sides but found no illegality by Mr Dunne or that his trenchant views made his decision biased.

He considered Mr Dunne had approached the question of concessions with an open mind.

"The record here shows that the associate minister in fact did so, granting the concessions and significantly watering down his previous stance on the practice of herding."

Dunedin lawyer Colin Withnall QC said the heli-hunting interests he represented in the case had 20 working days to decide whether to appeal and that was being considered.

He questioned what it was that Mr Dunne proposed banning given that aerial shooting and hazing were not carried out by heli-hunting operators under existing concessions and the minister had allowed a "very low level" of herding.

"We don't need legislation to ban that, primarily because it doesn't happen anyway, and secondarily, because it can be done by way of conditions on concessions."

Mr Dunne's spokesman said the new legislation would not affect helicopter venison recovery.

- Otago Daily Times

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