The 7 taxa of deer introduced to New Zealand are officially regarded as pests but also are valued by hunters and commercial harvesters, who often debate the need for deer population control. Some hunters argue that it should be more cost-effective to enhance existing private hunting effort than to use state-employed cullers to kill deer. To explore that argument, we combined predator–prey and economic theory to predict how net revenue (carcass value minus cost of harvesting it) for a commercial helicopter-based venison-recovery operation was likely to vary with deer density and to result in stable harvest equilibria when marginal net revenue was zero. We then adapted that model to simulate the cost of state-funded deer control and the net satisfaction obtained by ground-based recreational hunters. Key findings were that 1) payment of incentives to commercial harvesters usually will be more cost-effective than state-funded culling, 2) payment of incentives to recreational hunters usually will not be effective unless time costs can be reduced at little monetary cost, and 3) ground-based cullers will be more effective than helicopter-based hunters at attaining low deer densities in dense forest. Key management implications are that commercial hunting can be cost-effectively manipulated to enhance control of deer populations, but neither commercial nor recreational hunting is likely to be a cost-effective alternative to state-funded control where very low densities are required in inaccessible or difficult-to-hunt areas. Although developed for deer control in New Zealand, the models are applicable to any situation in which harvesting is used as a form of population control.
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