The hunter who loves birds

By Helen Bain

aul Cutfield has been a hunter all his life. But for Paul, watching a fantail flit through the forest branches and land briefly on his shoulder, before dancing away again, is as much part of the hunting experience as bringing home venison for the freezer.
His steep hill farm, Homeburn, borders the Aorangi Forest Park in the south-eastern corner of Wairarapa. As well as being a Department of Conservation-managed forest park, it is also a recreational hunting area, an area established by DOC where recreational hunting is used (though not exclusively) to control wild animal numbers.
Paul is an enthusiastic supporter of both hunting and conservation, and is spokesman for a group of Aorangi deerhunters who have developed a plan to "bring the birds back" to the forest park, largely through a pest control programme to reduce rodents and possums. Paul and fellow hunters, alongside the local community and environmental groups, wil l carry out the pest control and monitor its success.
The group proposes to focus initially on a 1000-hectare block of forest - a mix of lowland and upland forest, reaching from river flats up the steep slopes of the ranges behind. After trialling the project here, it is hoped that eventually the project could cover 17,000ha of forest.
Forest & Bird Lower North Island Field Officer Aalbert Rebergen says he doesn't know of any area of similar lowland forest anywhere else in Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay. Most of New Zealand's lowland forests were cleared long ago to make way for grazing and development - most of our remaining forest is on our mountain ranges.
But somehow this lowland block has been spared. The forest that Paul's group hopes to protect includes rewarewa, hinau, black and white maire, mahoe, ngaio, coprosma, kamahi, hoheria and titoki, with some karaka, rata and totara.

In places the forest understorey is dense, and masses of kawakawa and rewarewa seedlings have sprung up, and fungi and native orchids can be seen.
When the kowhai is flowering here it is a mass of gold, Paul says.
The diversity of native fruit and seed-bearing trees feed a variety of native birdlife - as farmer Paul puts it "it has good stock-carrying capacity for birds". During our visit we saw and heard tui, kereru,whiteheads, grey warblers, fantails and bellbirds.
Paul says there are also karearea (native falcon), kaka, shining and long-tailed cuckoos, shags, herons and rifleman here.
In the earth and leaf litter on the forest floor we saw masses of seeds and berries that had fallen from the mature trees, or been distributed by birds.
Paul says the amount of fruit on the trees was noticeably greater following pest control operations. However in other places we saw signs of deer and pigs, and Aalbert suspects they may be hindering regeneration of some of the more palatable plant species , such as hinau and titoki.
Paul says deerhunters witnessed the birdlife return to the forest park following 1080 operations in 2006, so have an appreciation of how pest control is effective in protecting forest birds. "A lot of hunters commented on how many birds there were afterwards, it was amazing. You could see a big change.
"The number of birds just exploded, especially tui and kereru. You used to hardly see any juvenile kereru but suddenly you started to see whole flocks of them. And there is heaps of noise," Paul says, pausing as a tui calls so loudly it interrupts him.
"It is so noticeable it is undeniable."
Paul has enjoyed the outdoors since he was a child, and has been both a recreational and commercial hunter of deer and possums. He has also visited offshore havens such as the Auckland and Campbell Islands, so he has seen forests as they might once have been on the mainland, before pests took their toll.
"The vegetation on those islands is so dense and tight the canopy looks like a cauliflower. As soon as you have the possums here you don't get that - the forest has much more open space, more gaps in it. You can just see the forest is not as healthy."
In the 30 years he has farmed at Homeburn, his appreciation of native birdlife has grown. He says with increasing age his mind is turning more and more to how he can help "put something back."
Paul has little patience with many deerhunters' "phobia" about the use of 1080 to protect native species from introduced predators. He says hunters who oppose 1080 claim to be concerned about toxins in the environment, but their concerns are really about the by-kill of deer in 1080 operations (which Paul believes is minimal with use of deer repellent).
"People will dream up anything against 1080 but they would admit that really it's about the deer, if they are being honest. The anti-1080 people will tell you it is some horrendous chemical that will sneak in and kill you in your bed at night, but it is simply not true. The whole anti-1080 argument is surrounded by ignorance, and it thrives on ignorance.
"People say it builds up in the environment, that it kills everything - it is just a crock of s**t, simple as that.
"Yes, you have incidental bits of by-kill, but six months down the track the recovery of the forest is just stunning."
Paul says he "started out anti-1080" but the more he experienced in the outdoors and learned about the science supporting its use, the more convinced he became that it was not the great evil its opponents claimed. He says hunters will trust someone like him, a fellow hunter, supporting the use of 1080 (with deer repellent), much more than they will listen to an environmentalist or government "shiny-arse from Wellington" telling them what to do.
Paul says 99% of deer are shot in just 10% of catchments, and if deer repellent was used on 1080 baits in just those areas, most deerhunters would be happy. He says deerhunters now need to debate where those key hunting areas are.
Officially - in terms of national policy of the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association - deerhunters are opposed to the use of any poison, including 1080, to control "game animals," but clearly not all deerhunters go along with this.
A meeting of deerhunters from around the lower North Island earlier this year agreed to support 1080 in Aorangi Forest Park with the proviso that deer repellent is used in key hunting areas.
Forest & Bird doesn't generally support use of deer repellent as it believes deer are also pests, but limited use of repellent is a compromise it could live with if it means forests benefit from effective pest control.
Paul believes the project in the Aorangi Forest Park will help break down barriers between deerhunters and environmentalists.
"When you do stuff together you break down barriers and form bonds. The only way to break down prejudices is to work together."
Where many conservationists and deerhunters differ is the very way in which they view the presence of deer in New Zealand forests: a pest to be exterminated, or a food and recreation resource.
Yet Paul acknowledges that deer, especially in high numbers, are detrimental to forest health, browsing the more palatable species and therefore reducing the diversity of forests and changing their character.
He says that's where hunting, in combination with pest control operations (including 1080)can keep numbers of deer and other introduced species low, so they will do less harm.
Finding that middle ground is something that both groups will have to work on, he says.
Conservationists and deer hunters aren't a million miles apart - most deerhunters, including himself, are conservationists, he reckons.
"Absolutely I'm a conservationist - the whole nine yards. I defy anyone who goes out in the New Zealand outdoors not to gravitate towards conservation. You go from being a 17-year-old who just wants to blow everything away to enjoying the things around you like the birds and the trees. I'd be bloody miserable without the birds! [Hunters and conservationists] have 10 times more things in common than we have dividing us. That's got to be a good start."

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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