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Goats control on the Remutakas

Closing the Remutaka Hill Road for an hour for four mornings in May was inconvenient for some, but we have no regrets. Public safety is our number one priority!

The road closures were a result of a joint operation to control feral goats on or near the hill road posing a significant risk to vehicles.

The operation was a collaboration among DOC, Waka Kotahi NZ, Greater Wellington Regional Council and the New Zealand Native Forests Restoration Trust. It was the first time a road closure for aerial hunting has happened.

Ground hunting of the Remutaka Forest has occurred in the past but because of the steep terrain hunters are unable to hunt close to the road corridor.

Biodiversity Ranger Jamie Fitzgerald [aka Fitzy], said goats have been sighted historically on the Remutaka Hill Road, however the increase in sightings in recent years is concerning.

“There have also been incidents of Wairarapa Connection rail service pulling into stations decorated with goat remains. Not a pleasant sight for commuters!”

Fitzy says left unchecked feral goats are a significant risk to the safety of drivers and passengers on the hill road. “And that’s not a risk we’re prepared to take.”

“The increase in sightings and near-misses meant we were able to secure funding and support from other agencies to undertake aerial shooting from a helicopter.”

The operation had 345 goats shot on the immediate Remutaka Hill Road corridor and buffered area, using a combination of aerial and ground hunting. Further hunting in the southern Remutaka area resulted in an additional 251 goats shot, bringing the number of goats culled from the Remutaka Forest to 596.

The Remutaka Forest operation formed part of DOC Wairarapa’s annual goat control programme for the region. Goat control is also undertaken in the Aorangi Forest Park, Tararua Forest Park and Rewa Bush.

A large driver for the goat control programme is the huge devastation goats can cause to the natural structure of a forest. Goats are agile climbers and can reach places other ungulates can’t. They browse on many plant species, including natives, which prohibits forest regeneration.

“With the Remutaka our goal was to control feral goats to low densities,” said Fitzy. Our contractors estimate that a reduction of 80-90 per centwas achieved on the Remutaka Hill Road corridor and within the buffer up to 300m. We’re really pleased with that result.”

Our work is not over though, said Fitzy. “Feral goats can deliver two-four offspring a year meaning constant control is required to keep numbers down. We aim to repeat this operation annually to ensure the ongoing safety of vehicles using the road.

“It’s not just the risk of cars hitting goats, but drivers distracted by goats on the side of the road also pose a risk. Effective goat control will also reduce roadside erosion and rock fall caused by goat browsing.

“Thanks to all the agencies and contractors involved for all of their hard work and support to deliver this important mahi.”

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