Land owners worried about sambar precedent

2 Jun 2006

Forest owners and farmers on the North Island’s west coast are fed up with having to host destructive sambar deer on their properties.

The Forest Owners Association, Federated Farmers and the Farm Forestry Association say a Department of Conservation (DoC) review last year of the regulations applying to sambar appears to have come to nothing.

They say DoC has released its analysis of submissions but has declined to confirm whether there will be significant changes made to existing policies, or when they will take place.

"Yet forest owners are facing thousands of dollars worth of damage a day," says David Rhodes, executive director of the NZ Forest Owners Association.

Sambar tear large strips of bark from trees, leaving stems severely scarred and often ring-barked. Damage to standing forests in the Horowhenua is estimated at more than $25 million.

"Younger radiata, before hard bark has formed, are badly affected as are cypress species of all ages. Tree growth slows and the most valuable part of the stem loses its commercial value," he says.

Unlike other deer species, sambar are protected by laws which dictate when and where they can be hunted. In the gazetted sambar zone, licensed hunters may shoot no more than one a year. Land owners are not permitted to control sambar on their properties.

"We are concerned that sambar could become a precedent for the management of other game species in other parts of the country," says Ruth Rainey, president of Manawatu/Rangitikei Federated Farmers.

"Our position is very reasonable. If land owners want to control feral deer on their properties, they should be allowed to," she says.

"They should not be required to play host to feral game species for the benefit of recreational hunters. In principle, those who benefit from the resource should pay the costs of maintaining it."

Regulations to protect sambar were first introduced in 1981, when it was feared that the viability of the Manawatu/Wanganui herd was being threatened by unrestricted hunting. Since then, the herd has recovered and has now spread out of its coastal home range.

Steve Anstis, president of Wanganui Federated Farmers, farms in the Parapara hills 60 km inland from the coast. Last year he saw a young sambar deer on his farm and says other farmers have reported them inland of Turakina and up the Whangaehu and Waitotara valleys.

"These are highly secretive animals which are very difficult to hunt," Mr Anstis says.

"If the regulations protecting them are not repealed, they will in due course reach Tongariro National Park and the Ruahines. They may already be in the Whanganui National Park.

"The difficulties DoC is now facing controlling a handful of Red deer on Mt Taranaki will be nothing compared with the nightmare they will face if sambar make it there."

Farm Forestry Association spokesman Denis Hocking says land owners need to be able to manage pest species on their land.

"But if they shoot sambar they’re breaking the law. Also growing populations of the deer attract poachers with spotlights and high powered weapons."

He also points out that trees play a very important role in stabilising the sand dunes which are typical of the Manawatu/Wanganui coast.

"If damage by sambar is allowed to continue, fewer trees will be planted, raising the potential for loss of tree cover and increased wind erosion," says Mr Hocking.

"Whatever way you look at it, the existing policy is deeply flawed. DoC needs to attend to it urgently."