Over half of New Zealand's backcountry huts were built for wild animal control. Learn more about this part of New Zealand's history.

Exotic animals were introduced into New Zealand in the 19th century for food, fur, trophy hunting, tourism, and a general desire for the familiar. Legislation was passed to protect the animals while their numbers built up. The Tourism and Health Resorts Department sponsored the liberation of red deer into areas of Stewart Island (1902), Tongariro National Park (1905) and Fiordland (1909).

By c.1920 the effects of introduced animals on fauna and flora was cause for public debate. For much of the flora and fauna it was already too late.

In 1927 protection was lifted from red deer in State Forests and by 1930 introduced animals had become such an economic pest that all protection was removed and the Department of Internal Affairs commenced deer control operations. Paid hunters (cullers), were sent into the backcountry to systematically shoot deer and, to accommodate them, bivvies and later huts were built. The Tourist Department publicised deer stalking as a sport until 1934. Possums remained protected in the hope of developing a fur industry.

In 1938 the effect of these pests on soil and water conservation was dramatically illustrated when floods wreaked havoc in Hawke's Bay, killing 21 people and burying farms with debris.

A National Forest Survey (1945-55), revealed forests throughout New Zealand had been seriously degraded by excessive animal numbers. Protection on possums was lifted in 1947, and in 1951 a bounty was introduced. The Noxious Animals Act of 1956 transferred responsibility for wild animal control to the Forest Service.

The Forest Service built a large number of standardised huts to support the culling operation. Strong objections to deer control and the eradication programme continued from sportsmen. The control strategy changed to concentrate effort where most needed. The scale and professionalism was such that a specialised cullers training school was established, at Dip Flat, Nelson.

State funded deer culling operations remained until the early 1970s. Then, motivated by the lucrative European market, commercial venison hunters operating from helicopters began to proliferate, and the Forest Service cullers gradually disappeared. In the early 1970s, European demand for fur saw possum trapping become a substantial industry giving some old huts new occupants.

Today, there is no state sponsored private hunting and the government has opted to control possum numbers with poisoned bait.

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