Forest and Bird’s Attack on Fiordland’s Wapiti Herd is Nonsense

Opinion by Tony Orman


In an article on “Newsroom”, Forest & Bird  has challenged the legality of the prized wapiti (elk) herd in the Fiordland National Park.When President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States made a gift of wapiti to the people of New Zealand in 1905, he unknowingly set the scene for a bitter war that has lasted 100 years. On one side are hunters, who insist deer can be managed with minimal impact on the native ecology. 

On the other are conservationists, who see all deer as a threat to New Zealand’s native forests. 

Nicola Toki said it would be writing to UNESCO’s world heritage committee over concerns about the Crown’s management of browsing pests in Fiordland National Park, part of the Te Wāhipounamu world heritage area.

Hunting book author Tony Orman examines Forest and Bird’s verbal attack on the prized herd.




Forest and Bird’s shrill strident alarmist call criticising wapiti (elk) in the Fiordland National Park shows a lack of understanding, a lack of reality and a lack of awareness of past research into the role of wapiti and red deer, in this case, in Fiordland.

Forest and Bird’s Chief executive Nicola Toki wrote to then Conservation Minister Willow-Jean Prime last August, questioning the legality of wapiti management in Fiordland, and stating it was “considering its legal options”.

Toki rails against browsing animals alleging they “cause severe damage, threatening the integrity of the forest and alpine ecosystems.”

Evolved Vegetation

Firstly Toki apparently isn’t aware New Zealand’s vegetation evolved over millions of years under strong browsing pressure by moas and other vegetarian birds such as kereru (pigeon), kokako, takahe and others.

Eminent ecologist the late Dr Graeme Caughley estimated the moa population was probably six million. The various moa subspecies inhabited lowlands, forests and alpine tussock areas.

Would Forest and Bird be railing against the presence of moa, if they existed today?

The defence mechanisms that plants evolved against the browsing pressure shows in divarification of shrubs(e.g. Muehlenbeckia) thorns (e.g. Bush lawyer, matagouri), bitterness (e.g horipito) and even toxins (e.g. tutu) in foliage.

Scientists at a “Moas, Mammals and Climate Change” seminar in the late 1980s, likened the browsing of moa to that of deer.

It’s interesting to note by its absence in Toki’s argument that there’s no mention of the 1949 New Zealand-American Fiordland expedition comprising top US and NZ scientists. The scientists concluded  “no changes of economic (and environmental) consequence (through the continued presence of deer and wapiti) can result. Large areas of forest will remain in pristine condition —despite the continued presence of deer —numbers of animals—is rigorously controlled by limited areas of good browsing range available.”

Deer Herd Peak late 1940s

That is 1949 – seven decades ago – but the late 1940s is generally regarded as when New Zealand’s wild deer herds had reached their peak. 

Similarly Forest and Bird makes no mention of a classic study of deer done by eminent ecologist-scientist Thane Riney in 1957 at Lake Monk, Fiordland where an “un-hunted” red deer population was found to be low, following an earlier population peak. 

Nature had achieved carrying capacity equilibrium. 

Yet Toki in her haste, accused deer of damaging native plants. Would she accuse browsing moa or takahe of damaging native plants? Would she label them “browsing pests”?

Forest and Bird has become well known – arguably notorious –  for it’s unrealistic ideological view that descends to being an “anti exotic wild animal phobia” as once a visiting US scientist  Dr. William Graf, described government departments and extreme green groups being afflicted with.

Forest and Bird don’t have a legal case against DoC’s perfectly realistic approach to wapiti in Fiordland as Toki is threatening with.  The National Parks Act says “introduced plants and animals shall as far as possible be exterminated”.

The Act does not prescribe full extermination, only extermination “as far as possible.” 

Wapiti Foundation

The Wapiti Foundation deer culling programme meets (and probably exceeds) the goal of “as far as possible”, given DoC’s logistic and budgetary constraints, and the fact that there are many other introduced species of plants and animals (e.g. blackbirds, sparrows, wasps, gorse) in Fiordland which DoC does nothing about.

Again railing against “introduced” wildlife is both pointless, unrealistic and ideological idiocy.

After all, all humans are introduced by way of migration and brought with them introduced life. The first wave of migrants brought dogs and rats (kiore) while the second wave brought all manner of life from sheep to cattle, potatoes to petunias, bumblebees to blackbirds and many others.

A 21st century ecosystem has evolved from two waves of migrants and the introductions they both made.

Footnote: Tony Orman has spent a lifetime in the outdoors often mountain areas, observing and learning about the wilderness ecosystems and relative to deer.

He has had over two dozen books published on trout and sea fishing, conservation and is the author of a researched volume, “About Deer and Deerstalking”. Past chairman Council of Outdoor Recreational Associations of New Zealand. Once, many years ago, he was a member of Forest and Bird.

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8 Responses to Forest and Bird’s Attack on Fiordland’s Wapiti Herd is Nonsense

  1. Stewart Hydes says:

    Forest & Bird illustrate themselves as being a bunch of gormless numpties .. with boringly predictable regularity.
    They should do the New Zealand environment, landscape, and society a favour .. and all remove themselves to a country where their efforts could be both more useful, and more rewarding .. for everybody concerned.

  2. J B Smith says:

    In the 1950s Dr William Graf of San Jose University, USA came to NZ on behalf of the state of Hawaii, to examine the so-called “deer problem” as Hawaii was considering liberating deer. He met with departmental officials and the Royal Forest and Bird Society and came to the conclusion that there existed an “anti-exotic wild animal phobia,” and that the place of wild animals was being viewed with prejudices subjectivity and not objectivity.
    Obviously by Nicola Toki’s calls, it still exists in some quarters.
    The Fiodland Wapiti Foundation is doing a fine job of game management.

  3. Lew says:

    I think Toki and her cronies should do a bit more homework on the amount of conservation work hunters carry out while pursuing their sport, they hunt and observe wildlife in areas that most F&B members would have no hope in hell of getting to.
    Who was it who discovered takahe still existed

  4. Bud jones JonesQSM says:

    What a fabulous summing up of the situation of introduced flora & fauna by Tony here he is the foremost author on the subject.
    May I please add another summing up by a brilliant conservationist author William Benfield.Bill held the obvious truism that nature is very much like a spring.It will always return to its default setting Pushing against this no matter the heave of tampering, it will always return to neutral weight of force. Such blind ignorant attempts to re wind this spring to imagined some holy writ, like blanket poisoning with 1080 are futile, expensive & a waste often with un wanted side effects like killing non target animals.
    The spring will always return to perfect balance.

  5. "Squire" says:

    Right Lew. It was Dr Geoffrey Orbell, the founder of the NZ Deerstalkers’ Association.
    Ethical hunters are conservationists and understand how Nature works in them thar hills, unlike the many urban living greenie extremists.

  6. Chaz Forsyth says:

    Another manifestation of hysteria!

  7. Charles Baycroft says:

    Some people have a delusional ambition to restore new Zealand to a primitive state that existed before the arrival of our species.

    The most delusional aspect of this “vision” is they want to use the incomes of the people who live and work here to eradicate the other “introduced species” that are also living here.

    The “missionary zeal” of these deluded zealots motivates them to become politically active and influential in order to impose their ambitions on the rest of the people.
    They use their positions of political influence to use government resources and productive working people’s money to try to eradicate the species they hate.
    The majority of people, whose money is spent on this desired genocide, are not asked for their opinions and informed consent.

    No. Propaganda is used to vilify the intended victims and manipulate the minds of the masses to fear them.

    Attempts to oppose these deluded ambitions and the irrational fear of “introduced species” are a waste of time because rational arguments can never influence irrational thinking, prejudice, discrimination and delusions.

    The only way to restore a rational approach to the management of environmental issues is for more practical and sane people to become involved and influential in our political system to reduce the authority and power of the deluded activists.

  8. Paul says:

    Yes Nicola Toki is way out of line here. I have been involved with stoat trapping in the Wapiti area since its inception many years ago & still front up to trips. A Forest & Bird member is heavily involved here & is disgusted with her comments. Without our hard work in the mountains, there would be a total loss of Whio in time. This is at no cost to the public purse. The local DoC staff are very supportive so we have a very good relationship & I hope this continues indefinitely.

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