NZ's largest pest eradication programme launched
The Government has announced its largest ever pest control programme in an effort to protect Kiwi and native wildlife from a "biblical" plague of rats and stoats.
Department of Conservation (DOC) data, from traps and seed trays monitored over the past four months, shows New Zealand's rat population has exploded five-fold from about three million to about 15 million. It was expected to increase to 30 million.
Stoat numbers were also estimated to grow to about 25,000.
Today, Conservation Minister Nick Smith confirmed operations would be carried out in 29 forests, across 700,000 hectares, beginning this month and being completed in November.
A further 14 forests covering 200,000 hectares are on "close watch", and would also have pest control operations if monitored predator numbers exceed thresholds.
The operation would involve aerial drops of 1080, but the Minister said it would not be in "record" amounts.
"These pest control operations cover a record area and involve a mix of aerial and ground control using toxins and traps, depending on the topography and practical logistics. It does involve the use of aerial 1080, but does not mean record use of the toxin," he said.
"I know some people are opposed to the use of toxins but we have to back the science if we are to save our native birds from extinction."
Pest numbers had exploded to a plague of "biblical" proportions due to a beech mast this year, Smith said.
In a mast year beech forests produce a higher than normal amount of seeds. Rats and stoats feed on the seeds and turn on native birds such as fantail, grey warbler, tomtit, bellbird and tui when the seeds run out.
The new programme was particularly focused on ensuring the survival of the great spotted, brown and tokoeka kiwi, kaka, kea, whio (blue duck), mohua (yellowhead), kakaraki (orange-fronted parakeet), rock wren, long and short tailed bats, and giant snails.
But Smith said it would also save millions of other native birds, insects and reptiles, including tui, kereru, geckos and weta, as well as trees like rata.
The cost of the programme would be between $9 million and $12 million.
But that would not include work being carried out by TBfree New Zealand on another 300,000 hectares of public conservation land.
Smith said it would be a "record total" of one million hectares of pest control to be undertaken on top of DOC's normal operations.
He's dubbed the programme the "Battle for our Birds". It would see DOC increas its pest control work from a rate of 150,000 hectares per year to 450,000 hectares per year.
The Government has put a total budget of $21 million over five years toward it.