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War on pests stepped up with 'battle for our birds'

BILL MOORE
Last updated 13:00 30/01/2014

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The 1080 blitz unveiled by Conservation Minister Nick Smith is "a fitting response" to this year's predator threat but the Department of Conservation needs more funding to keep up the fight, Forest & Bird said today.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright said she was "delighted".

Dr Smith announced a "battle for our birds" that will hit an extra half a million hectares with 1080 drops this year, and add another 50,000ha each year until 2019.

Announcing DOC's largest ever species protection programme, Dr Smith said it was essential if the kiwi was to exist in the wild for future generations.

In his annual speech to the Rotary Club of Nelson West last night, he said rats, stoats and possums had to be controlled to stop them killing 25 million native birds each year.

Dr Smith said he was aware that some people would oppose the use of poisons "regardless of the science", but "reason must trump prejudice".

"The comprehensive conclusions of the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and the Environmental Protection Authority make [it] plain that 1080 is safe and the only practical tool that will work."

Dr Smith said the one in 10- to 15-years beech mast this year would drop about a million tonnes of seed in autumn, triggering a "plague" of an additional 30 million rats and tens of thousands of stoats. When the seed germinated in spring, "these starved predators will annihilate populations of our endangered species".

The "battle for our birds" will increase pest control in 35 forests, mainly using 1080, to protect 12 native species.

This year's extra 500,000ha will increase pest control coverage from 5 to 12 per cent of public conservation land.

The 12 species targeted for protection are the great spotted, brown and tokoeka kiwi, kaka, kea, whio (blue duck), mohua (yellowhead), kakaraki (orange-fronted parakeet), rock wren, long-tailed and short-tailed bats, and giant snails.

"It will save millions of other native birds like fantails, robins, tui, kereru, riflemen, bellbirds, tomtits and warblers, reptiles like geckos, insects like weta, trees like rata, and plants like mistletoe," Dr Smith said.

The bulk of this year's work will be in South Island beech forests in the Kahurangi, Abel Tasman, Arthur's Pass, Westland, Mt Aspiring and Fiordland national parks.

The other targeted reserves in the South Island are the Catlins and Waikaia in Otago, Mt Dobson and Upper Hurunui in Canterbury, Haast, Maruia and Mokihinui on the West Coast, and Pelorus and Isolated Hill in Marlborough.

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"We need to monitor the mast seed drop and the resulting pest plague, and engage with affected communities," Dr Smith said.

He said the programme did not mean a record level of 1080 use. Pre-feeding, improved bait quality - to avoid crumbs that were attractive to birds - the use of helicopters and GPS, and the development of repellents for non-target species had cut bait application from 30 kilograms to 1kg a hectare.

The programme will cost about $21 million over five years, out of DOC's $335m annual budget. Savings from last year's restructuring, partnership funding, efficiency gains and economies of scale had made it possible, Dr Smith said, and it was about "backing our kiwi, kaka and kea over rats, stoats and possums".

Forest & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said the level of control planned for the next five years should become the new baseline if the battle against introduced predators was to be won.

"We know from 2000 - the last time native forests had a bumper crop of seeds - that if they don't get on top of the rats and stoats, the impact on native wildlife is severe.

"Mast years require action, not talk, and I'm very pleased to see that DOC has answered this challenge."

However, Forest & Bird was concerned that the money would come from DOC's operating budget, which had already seen successive years of cuts, he said.

"DOC should be funded properly for dealing with this event. But if this level of predator control is not maintained, the money could easily be wasted."

Dr Wright said the beech mast had the potential to take an enormous toll on native wildlife, and she welcomed Dr Smith's considered response. "1080 is the only tool we have to control the plagues of rats and stoats that follow a mast."

Friends of Flora, a group of volunteers that works with DOC to trap predators over 8000ha in the Mt Arthur-Flora Stream area of Kahurangi National Park, west of Motueka, also welcomed the announcement.

Chairman Peter Adams said the group strongly supported 1080 use.

"Trapping is one method of control, but it does have its limitations.

"Nobody is saying that 1080 is perfect, but it's pretty much the only tool that DOC has got at the moment."

- Nelson

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