Lack of data behind 1080 drops 'criminal'

HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 12:46 07/07/2014

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The science behind the region's largest 1080 blitz to save native birds from a predicted pest plague is being questioned by opponents.

They say the Department of Conservation lacks baseline data showing targeted back country wildlife populations benefit from aerial pest control efforts in it's Battle for Our Birds campaign.

Tasman District Council is assessing DOC's resource consent application to drop 1080 across 145,496 hectares of Kahurangi National Park. A further 56,864ha of parkland will be covered in neighbouring Buller district as part of the same operation. Council consent has already been given for a parallel operation across parts of Abel Tasman National Park.

The Kahurangi National Park consent is for two years, but DOC hopes to do the pre-feed and poison bait drops between late winter and early spring to best protect specific high-risk native species.

In a combined statement, former Forest Service population ecologist Jim Hilton and Golden Bay's Bill Wallace, of the BAN 1080 political party, said DOC's assessment of the proposed drops said "there is no specific survey data available for the abundance and distribution of most bird species throughout particular areas".

Wallace said the Tasman District Council needed to adhere to the same strict rules they used for other resource consent applicants and, in particular, provide the before and after science on the poisoned impact site and unpoisoned control area.

He urged residents to demand that council publicly notify the planned aerial operation - something which Tasman District Council has never done.

Hilton, a former farmer and trapper who lives part-time in the Motueka Valley, said the back country was cold and wet and dark. "There are rats and possums in there, but they are in low numbers, like the birds. The greatest populations of birds largely prefer the warmer lowland bush where food is more abundant.

"If we are putting baits in the bush and killing 80 to 100 per cent of the rats and possums we are also killing a lot of everything else. There is so much baseline information that we don't know - and that's the criminal thing about it."

He has joined other local 1080 opponents fighting against the massive aerial drops which Conservation Minister Nick Smith announced in April.

Smith said the current one in 10-15 year beech mast would drop tonnes of seed and fuel a plague of rats and stoats that would annihilate natives birds once the seed germinated in spring. The programme will cost around $21 million over five years and come from DOC's annual $335m budget.

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A DOC spokesman said two decades of research in South Westland's Landsborough Valley suggested that strategic pest management mitigated the impacts of predation on forest birds, including the most vulnerable species.

He said Landsborough had been the subject of multiple 1080 aerial operations and had a substantial mohua population.

The detailed proof of concept could be applied to other areas. By measuring the scale of threats and measuring "at-risk" species, it was possible to interpret the likely threat to vulnerable populations, he said.

For specific areas proposed for the Battle for Our Birds pest control operation, baseline surveys have been conducted on species of native birds within the Eastern Kahurangi treatment site.

These included five-yearly surveys of great spotted kiwi on the Gouland Downs since 1987, on-going monitoring and management of whio in the Wangapeka/Fyfe area since 2003, management and monitoring of rock wren at Henderson Basin since 1989 and kea census and productivity monitoring at Mt Arthur/Wangapeka between 2010 and 2012, he said.

In its consent application, DOC said between 1kg and 2kg of poisoned baits would be dropped per hectare in the impending operation, with kaka, kea and the native falcon the species most at risk of being subjected to by-kill.

Meanwhile both sides of the 1080 debate will be brought to Nelson this year.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright will speak for the use of 1080 on August 19 at Old St John's. Jim Hilton will speak against its use on December 9 at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.

- Nelson

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