Proposal to allow heli-hunting sparks conflict
Moves to endorse recreational hunting by helicopter on public land will rob traditional hunters, South Island deerstalkers fear.
The Department of Conservation's Canterbury conservancy is reviewing the five-year permits granted to helicopter operators for wild-animal recovery. Among proposed changes is a provision for recreational heli-hunting.
The New Zealand Deerstalkers' Association has argued recreational heli-hunting is illegal under the terms of the existing permit.
Canterbury conservator Mike Cuddihy said the revised permits, to be issued from September, would provide "greater clarity".
"One side thinks the existing permit covers [recreational heli-hunting] and the other side doesn't. The only way to clarify it is by getting it out into the public arena through publicly notified applications."
Cuddihy said heli-hunting was a "locally significant" tourism activity.
"It's really a question of where across the public conservation land is it suitable for this activity to happen. It's certainly not going to be everywhere," he said.
The department would look at zoning areas for all aircraft to minimise the disturbance to "natural quiet".
Deerstalkers' association advocate Shaun Moloney said there was no issue with helicopters being used to access remote areas or for commercial meat recovery.
"We take helicopters into camps and tent sites, but they're designated, permitted landing sites. After that, the helicopter plays no part in the hunt," he said.
Hunters on foot could spend days tracking animals only to have them "spooked" from the air, Moloney said.
"Your day's basically trashed by these guys flying over you.
"Although it doesn't stop us hunting, it basically robs us of the full measure of enjoyment of the back country."
Paul Cornelius, of Mt Hutt Helicopters, said heli-hunting trips had been run for more than 30 years.
"Clearly, it's a business that works well and, collectively, it's probably a multimillion-dollar business for the country."
He said most trophy animals were likely be taken from areas inaccessible to hunters on foot "certainly well above the snowline and in some of the most rugged country in the world".
Canterbury hunting consultant John Berry said helicopter trips that he guided always left an area at the first sign of foot hunting.
Most operators and guides were keen hunters and would probably do the same, Berry said.
"There'll be instances where they haven't, and there'll be instances where they probably haven't picked signs of them, but in a lot of cases I'm sure the pilot or the guide will see footprints or a vehicle and leave it to them," he said.
"I don't think these people will go out of their way to create a conflict situation."
Federated Mountain Clubs president Rob Mitchell said national guidelines for aircraft use in public areas were required.