New 1080 plan 'has to happen'

SARAH DUNN
Last updated 13:00 17/02/2014

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The Nelson branch of Forest and Bird has reiterated its stance in favour of 1080 as it anticipates a wave of community backlash to follow the extensive new poisoning operation planned for this year.

Minister of Conservation Nick Smith said last month that the seeding season or "mast" of the beech tree would result in around a million tonnes of seed being dropped this autumn.

This would supply the raw material necessary for around 30 million rats and tens of thousands of stoats to be born.

The 1080 programme developed in response to the impending predator plague will hit an extra half a million hectares with 1080 drops this year, and add another 50,000ha each year until 2019.

In a Department of Conservation community forum meeting, DOC science officer Josh Kemp said beech seeds looked small to human eyes, but their high nutritional content made them very desirable food for rats.

"They have to husk [a beech seed] but it's very rewarding for them. They eat it, they love it."

He said a full beech mast meant the trees would cover the forest floor with 4000 seeds per square metre, but expected Nelson and Tasman forests to see around 6000-10,000 seeds per square metre.

Silver beech, red beech, mountain beech and hard beech were all going "completely nuts".

Mr Kemp said rats capitalised on the unlimited food supply by breeding as fast as they were able, before turning on native birds and invertebrates once the seeds germinated.

Forest and Bird regional field officer Debs Martin said public opposition to the use of 1080 was often voiced on social media, but DOC's poisoning programme was essential: "We think this is absolutely superb. It has to happen."

Trapping is often proposed as an alternative to the use of 1080. Ms Martin said trapping was appropriate in small protected areas such as Paremata Flats, where teams check the traps each week, but mounting a trapping operation big enough to reach the heartland of national parks such as Kahurangi was impossible.

"You would need to employ a small town to go out and check traps, and then [the trappers] would have to be fit every day and go out in all weather, and have access to all the cliffs and bluffs."

She said trapping would be particularly ineffective during the beech mast as rats were not tempted by traps when there was such an abundance of free food.

Ms Martin said it was true that kea had died after eating 1080 pellets, but thousands more native birds were saved by the poison's application.

She likened the poison to chemotherapy, saying it was unpleasant but necessary.

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"Those people [objecting to the use of 1080] are not being eaten by predators, so their aversion to toxins is not really fair. The idea that we can trap our way out of this is just whimsical."

- Nelson

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