The Department of Conservation (DOC) supports the fur recovery industry. But fur recovery does not reduce possums populations sufficiently to allow the recovery of forests and native species. Possum bounties are not used in New Zealand.
Possum fur recovery
Department of Conservation supports fur recovery
DOC supports the fur recovery industry by providing access to some areas of conservation land to trap possums, especially where there are conservation benefits that result from these operations. DOC also encourages trappers to use its hut network to assist with access to trapping blocks.
In the East Coast region, which produces some of the best possum fur in the North Island, DOC works with a major fur buyer in the series of ‘blocks’ that buffer the high value DOC protected areas.The overall percentage profit from operations is lower but there is a greater conservation benefit. The large scale of the integrated block operations in this ‘buffer zone’ keeps the fur enterprise profitable. The fur recovery operator reduces the possum numbers to 15 possums per 100 traps laid within the blocks.
Possum fur recovery is not possum control
Attempts to reduce the threat of possums through fur recovery have not succeeded because there are two different objectives:
- Fur recovery is about getting an economic return on possum fur. This is driven by the market price given for a kilogram of fur.
- Protecting natural values is about reducing the threat from possums and other pests to the level that enables the recovery of the forest and gives the native species a chance to breed and succeed.
Fur recovery doesn't fully control possums for natural heritage protection
Normal fur recovery is ‘skimming’ the population and benefits the hunter but does not reduce populations sufficiently to achieve a conservation benefit.
The possum population reduction hovers around the annual replacement rate for a healthy breeding possum population. If the hunter tries to take more possums out, it becomes uneconomical as they are not getting enough return for their efforts.
Viable level for fur recovery
To measure population density, 100 traps are put out over one night and the population density of possums is expressed as the number of possums caught per 100 trap-nights. Research shows that to get any direct conservation or animal health benefit, the possum density figure must be reduced to 5 possums per 100 traps.
The viability of fur recovery operations requires a high possum density e.g. 50 possums for every 100 traps put out. Trapping continues until the catch rate drops down to about 30 possums per 100 traps. Below this point, under normal conditions it becomes uneconomic to continue trapping.
Some areas where DOC requires reduced possum populations are less accessible, more rugged, and difficult to service and fur recovery is not a viable economic proposition. Fur trappers will go elsewhere to more accessible, higher density populations where there is a better return for their effort.
Harvesting possum fur to reduce unemployment
Possum trapping is a highly skilled and physically demanding job that requires operators who have the skills and stamina to survive in often harsh conditions. There are some jobs available but not a huge number.
Harvesting possum fur on conservation land
Find out about the standard procedures for harvesting possums on public conservation land or talk to your local DOC office.
A bounty places a value on the existence of possums. They have been tried before in New Zealand but failed to reduce possum numbers. During the era when bounties were in existence, possum populations continued to expand in Coromandel and Northland as hunters deliberately introduced the pest to those areas in order to have a local population to 'farm'.
If this system was reintroduced, DOC and TB Free New Zealand would still need to continue with possum control operations in priority areas. Bounties are very expensive to manage.