1080 vital to counter rat plague - Wright

Last updated 13:00 19/12/2013

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Plagues of rats and stoats will devastate native wildlife this summer unless 1080 poison use is stepped up, the parliamentary commissioner for the environment says.

Jan Wright has called on all agencies responsible for pest management to work together to deal with the pending threat, which had come about because beech trees across the country are producing more seeds than usual. This is known as a "mast" event.

It is expected to provide vast amounts of food for rats, helping them multiply. More rats also means more food for stoats and greater numbers of them as well.

"These mast events happen periodically, and take a huge toll on our native birds, insects and lizards", Dr Wright said. "1080 is the only tool we have to control the plagues of rats and stoats that follow."

Friends of Flora chairman Peter Adams agrees. "Nobody is saying it is the ideal solution to the problem but it is the only one we have when there is a widespread masting."

The group did stoat control with traps which worked well in a normal year in protecting kiwi and whio. However, it looked like there would a strong masting in the Flora area and without 1080 there would be a risk of losing not just kiwi and whio but also the smaller robins, tomtits and rifleman birds, he said.

It was expected there would be a beech mast across the whole of the South Island and the Department of Conservation at a meeting last week had looked at how it would mitigate the effects. It was looking at including the use of 1080 in sensitive areas such as Mt Arthur and Friends of Flora would lobby for the Flora area to be included in that, he said.

Conservation volunteer Peter Hale who is involved in predator control through trapping in the Rotoiti area said he supported the use of 1080 because the trapping was not enough in a mast event.

Locals were saying they had not seen such a strong flowering. "Lots of locals are saying it's the biggest mast event in many years," he said. It would lead to an increase in stoat numbers in 2015.

Dr Wright, who has been advocating for increased use of 1080 since 2010, said aerial applications were the best way to administer the "vast, tactical strike" needed to fight the coming plagues.

"If additional funds are needed to respond effectively to this mast, then it is important that these be found or we risk setting our conservation programme back decades."

DOC has used aerial 1080 on only 8 per cent of the 1.8 million hectares it manages over the past five years. This costs it about $3.5m a year.

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Dr Wright did not have an exact figure in mind, but said the Government would need to stump up a significant amount of cash to widen its programme.

"I've been saying they haven't been doing enough in the past, so . . . we're talking millions of dollar here."

A spokeswoman for Conservation Minister Nick Smith said he had asked DOC to consider Dr Wright's recommendations and report back to him early next year.

Waikato regional councillor Clyde Graf, who made the anti-1080 documentary Poisoning Paradise, said Dr Wright was using the mast event as a convenient excuse to push for more aerial poisoning.

Such events had been happening since the beginning of time, and native wildlife had always survived, he said.

He suggested putting more money into ground-controlled trapping programmes instead, because it was difficult to target the right species with aerial drops.

"Pouring more 1080 across the forests will kill rats, but it will also target the species that are in danger."

There was still no sound scientific study that showed the net population of any native species benefited from the use of 1080, he said. "1080 is certainly not helping the forests, it's harming them. It's non-targeted, indiscriminate killing of native wildlife."

Dr Wright said an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) report released yesterday that found existing controls on 1080 were both safe and effective.

Authority chairwoman Kerry Prendergast said the tighter management regime launched in 2007 was working well. "The majority of incidents are now reported to the EPA by users of 1080 rather than by members of the public, as was the case when monitoring began in 2008."

Given the new rules were working, there were no plans to reassess 1080 again, she said.

- Nelson

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