1080 report 'kick in the guts' - Dunne

FOREST KILLER: A rat preying on a fantail chick. New Zealand face a future without fantails and other native birds unless pest control is stepped up. Aerial poison drops are the only option, a report by the parliamentary commissioner for the environment says.
FOREST KILLER: A rat preying on a fantail chick. New Zealand face a future without fantails and other native birds unless pest control is stepped up. Aerial poison drops are the only option, a report by the parliamentary commissioner for the environment says.

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne has described a new report on the use of the pesticide 1080 as a "kick in the guts for many of our provincial communities".

A report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright warns that unless 1080 is used over larger areas of the mainland, kiwi could vanish from unprotected areas within a generation and native birds could disappear from New Zealand's forests.

The pesticide was cost-effective and safe, and any proposed moratorium would destroy more of the landscape, the report found.

However, Dunne said 1080 had been used in New Zealand since the 1950s yet native bird populations remained in serious decline with predatory pests still the major culprits.

"Most people recognise that after 50-odd years of fighting a losing battle it's probably time to rethink your strategy, however not according to the proponents of 1080."

The Department of Conservation spent around $100 million a year on 1080 operations but less than $2 million a year on researching and developing alternatives, he said.

"No matter what DOC's science says, spraying such an unpopular and deadly toxin over large tracts of our conservation estate, water catchments and farmland will never be accepted by those that reside in our provincial communities and see the devastation it causes.

"1080 is an extremely cruel and indiscriminate killer, with a high level of secondary poisoning. While it is possums, rats and stoats that are targeted by the poisoning, many native birds, pets, and recreationally-valued game animals are killed by it also."

REPORT'S FINDINGS SURPRISE

Wright was surprised by her findings from an investigation of 1080.

1080: Poison used in a drop in Tararua Forest Park last year.
PIERS FULLER/Wairarapa News
1080: Poison used in a drop in Tararua Forest Park last year.

She compared it with other poisons and other pest-control methods, and measured its cost-effectiveness and safety.

"I was also surprised, when you set it up against these criteria, just how good 1080 was. I really didn't expect it to look so good," she said.

Any proposed moratorium on the use of 1080 would allow possums, rats and stoats to destroy more of the landscape and devastate native bird populations in the future, she said.

"It's a future where many of our birds, other animals, plants, will be only on offshore islands where the public may not be able to go ... that everyday experience of walking through the bush followed by a pair of fantails won't be happening."

Other Vocal opponents of 1080 include Maori Party MP Rahui Katene, who is intending to draft a member's bill calling for a ban on its use, and documentary-maker Clyde Graf, who made the Poisoning Paradise film with his brother, Steve.

Graf said nationwide opposition to 1080 was growing, and he predicted a public outcry would follow Wright's report.

"You can't litter in this country of ours, you can't allow cows in the waterways because it all seems to be unclean, yet here we are dropping a deadly poison into our waterways and stating it's OK in big amounts."

He said scientists were deterred from publishing evidence about the harmful effects of 1080.

The Labour Party backed the report, saying it provided an evidence base for people to form their views around 1080.

Conservation Spokesperson Ruth Dyson said New Zealand could not afford to give up the battle against introduced pests such as possums and stoats.

"To do so would be abandoning our moral responsibility to future generations."

Labour was calling on the Government to adopt all six of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's recommendations around 1080 including developing a national fur harvesting policy and ensuring there is no moratorium on the use of the pesticide, she said.

"The Minister of Conservation (Kate Wilkinson) has demonstrated she is only too willing to support Gerry Brownlee and his proposals to mine in national parks; this is a chance for her to support the proposals in this report and make a strong statement for conservation."

EMOTIVE ISSUE

Wilkinson said 1080 was an emotive issue, but she hoped the science would convince its detractors.

When asked how the Conservation Department would be able to use 1080 over a larger area, considering the squeeze on its budget, Wilkinson said the department oversaw eight million hectares and had to identify where 1080 was the most useful.

"At this stage, we're not looking at increasing the use of 1080. We're looking at ways we can more effectively and efficiently use it."

Wright said that, whether it came from "efficiency gains, reprioritisation, or more funding", greater resourcing for 1080 applications was needed.

The only option for controlling possums, rats and stoats on almost all of the conservation estate was to drop poison from aircraft. "And 1080 is the only poison currently available for aerial pest control on the mainland that can do this job."

A 1080 moratorium would allow interconnected ecosystems to deteriorate and tree species to vanish because native birds such as kereru were crucial to seed dispersal, she said.

Research to develop better poisons should continue, but no potential alternatives on the horizon could yet replace 1080.

The vast majority of forests were subject to no predator control at all. "It's not only a matter of keeping up with aerial 1080 but it's using it over a bigger area."

Wright is calling on Environment Minister Nick Smith to investigate ways to simplify and standardise the way that 1080 is managed, because the "labyrinth" of laws covering its use created unnecessary confusion.

She is also calling on Wilkinson to ask DOC to prioritise a national policy on possum-fur harvesting, because its economic potential could encourage the culling of possums.

USING 1080

New Zealand has one of the highest extinction rates of native species in the world and at least 19 species of native forest birds are under attack from introduced mammals. They include kiwi, kereru, whio, kaka, kakariki and hihi.

1080 is one of 11 poisons used by DOC to control possums, rats and stoats. It is incorporated into bait, and strict controls over its use include using public notices and monitoring how long carcasses take to break down.

In 2009, DOC applied aerial 1080 to 174,000 hectares to control possums and rats.

In 2009, the Animal Health Board controlled possums and other TB carriers over 3.4 million hectares. About 0.4m hectares of this was controlled using aerial drops of 1080.

Kill rates for possums are above 90 per cent when using 1080, and are close to 100 per cent for rats.

An aerial drop costs from $12 to $16 a hectare, while ground baiting can cost up to $40 a hectare, or $80 in rugged terrain.

THE RISKS

Individuals from 19 species of native birds and 13 species of introduced birds have been found dead after aerial 1080 drops. Most deaths were associated with four operations 35 years ago that used poor-quality baits.

Since 2007, eight dogs are reported to have died from 1080 poisoning, two of them after an operation was not adequately notified.

1080 kills deer, although deer repellent can be added to the bait.

In the 1960s, a possum hunter died after eating 1080-laced jam bait. At the highest concentrations of 1080 in baits, seven baits could kill an adult and one could seriously harm a child.

An adult would need to eat two tonnes of watercress at one meal to risk death, if the watercress had absorbed 1080 through the soil.

Residues can linger in carcasses for some months under very cold and dry conditions.

- KIRAN CHUG/Dominion Post and DANYA LEVY/Stuff