Editorial: We have no choice on using 1080

Last updated 05:00 09/06/2011

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OPINION: Enough pandering to the self-interested ignorant. The science is clear.

The country's unique forests, insect and bird species need more aerial drops of 1080 poison, not fewer. A comprehensive report by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright on the use of the poison leaves no room for argument.

It is irresponsible for critics such as UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne to suggest predator populations can be controlled through trapping and shooting or that the Conservation Department is overlooking the possibility of a scientific solution. Millions of dollars have been spent trying to find a biocontrol for possums, but funding was stopped last year because progress was deemed too slow.

On the bulk of the conservation estate 1080 is the only way to stop possums and rats chewing up the forests and the only way to stop possums, rats and stoats denuding them of birds. Without its use, the delight of hearing a kereru wooshing overhead or being followed along a forest track by a pair of fantails feeding on disturbed insects will become rarer and rarer till it can be experienced only on offshore islands or within fenced sanctuaries.

There are other poisons and shooting and trapping are useful tools. However, none of the other methods of predator control are as effective, none can be used over such large areas and none can deal with the sudden explosion of rat and stoat populations every four to six years when some trees flower abundantly and produce much greater numbers of fruit and seeds. What should be boom years for native birds become instead times of population collapse.

The pitfalls of 1080 have been well publicised. Bait dropped aerially gets into waterways, poisoned carrots are attractive to native and imported birds, pigs and deer as well as rats and possums. Poisoned carcasses present a hazard to dogs.

However, the commissioner has found the dangers have been overstated. The poison breaks down quickly in water and equally effectively, although more slowly, on land. There are no records of any deaths associated with drinking water or eating wild food after a 1080 operation. At its highest-recorded concentration in a water sample an adult would need to drink thousands of litres of water at one sitting to risk death.

Bait refinements and improvements in the way it is deployed have reduced the danger to native birds. Dog deaths, while deeply distressing, are relatively few. Since 2007 just eight are reported to have died as a result of 1080 poisoning – far fewer than die on the roads.

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Few embrace the idea of aerial poison drops. As Dr Wright says, "scattering poison from the skies just feels like a really bad thing to do". But faced with a choice between the destruction of New Zealand's unique plant and animal life and the limited collateral damage of a well-managed poisoning programme, the Conservation Department has no choice. It must act to preserve what is left of a unique environment developed during 65 million years of isolation from the rest of the world.

- The Dominion Post

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