|Lower North Island Red Deer Foundation Inc||
HUNTERS TAKE DOC TO COURT – AND WIN
Recreational hunters have won an important High Court battle against the Department of Conservation, with the court finding that DoC breached natural justice over the way it allowed helicopter operators to kill deer in forest parks.
Hunters, led by the Lower North Island Red Deer Foundation, went to the High Court early last month over what they said was DoC’s refusal to consult fairly over allowing helicopter operators to hunt and kill deer for the commercial wild venison trade in forest parks and other public land. This practice is known as Wild Animal Recovery Operations, or WARO.
The hunters said DoC’s 2015 review of WARO permits resulted in several areas previously closed to helicopters being opened for commercial deer recovery.
This included quashing long standing closures to WARO operations in the Ruahine, Tararua and Rimutaka Forest Parks. In some cases such as the Rimutakas, helicopters were allowed to hunt over 84 percent of the park. Before 2015, they had been banned from 81 percent.
Hunters said DoC’s actions were unfair as it had failed to consult with them as it was required to do, yet it had consulted with the helicopter operators.
In his judgement, Justice Simon France agreed, saying he was satisfied the process was unfair because of DoC’s failure to consult.
Justice France says as the Minister of Conservation’s delegate, DoC was under a duty to consult with the Red Deer Foundation in order to achieve a fair process.
He says as a result of this unfairness, DoC’s 2015 WARO decision is invalid due to a failure of natural justice.
Justice France has also awarded costs to the Red Deer Foundation.
The Lower North Island Red Deer Foundation is delighted with the High Court victory.
Its president Gordon George says the decision is great news and will benefit hunters nationwide.
“DoC’s view that it was under no obligation to consult with hunters has been proved wrong. The areas opened to helicopters are important recreational hunting areas and used by thousands of hunters every year.
Gordon George says the court battle was unnecessary.
“The lifting of helicopter exclusions without any hunter input came as a complete surprise. The whole process has been time consuming and costly and DoC has wasted taxpayer dollars. We tried repeatedly to engage with DoC about what was happening and couldn’t find out even under the Official Information Act. In the end we had no choice but to go to court.
“We hope the department will now start consulting properly with recreational hunters as it is required to do.”
Mr George says there is an ironic twist to the case.
“Ironically, our foundation grew out of the Lower North Island Hunter Liaison Group which DoC set up. The terms of reference included working together in good faith and operating on a no surprises basis, but then DoC went and ignored its own guidelines and left us with court as the only option.”
The Red Deer Foundation says New Zealand has around 40 thousand large game hunters who spend around $140 million every year harvesting around 135 thousand deer off public and private land.
In contrast, it says the WARO industry is worth only about $5 million a year and kills around 16,000 deer.
The Foundation says despite recreational hunting being more effective and contributing more to the economy, DoC bent over backwards to accommodate minority commercial interests.
Following the High Court decision, the Foundation is calling on DoC to change its behaviour and work co-operatively with recreational hunters instead of shutting them out.
Posted: Thu 22 Jun 2017