Food drop for birds is a poisoned chalice

EDITORIAL

Last updated 08:35 31/01/2014
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Conservation minister Nick Smith declared war on the mammal mafia this week, knowing his preemptive strike plan would fan the debate over 1080.

The Minister unveiled a $21 million pest eradication programme adding, immediately, an extra 500,000 hectares of land to the bush now being protected, and increasing it by 50,000 hectares each year for the next five years.

The initial attack is in preparation for a beech mast - a one in 10-15 year occasion when the trees produce a bumper crop of seeds. That crop, estimated at a million tonnes, would nourish generations of rats and mice.

And when the food supply is gone, because the remaining seeds have germinated, those rodents would look for new food sources. Our vulnerable native wildlife, which until the Europeans arrived had only ever had to contend with an eagle, a falcon, a hawk, some warm blooded humans and an introduced kiore - rat - will be the easiest of pickings.

Mr Smith warned Nelson Rotarians this week the plague of rats would number 30 million, and the stoat population would explode by tens of thousands.

The plan he unveiled will increase pest control in 35 forests to protect 12 native species, and mainly involves using 1080.

Figures produced this week might be up for debate, but the chain reaction the Minister discussed is not.

Sodium fluoroacetate, 1080, is a nasty poison, there is no getting away from that, but it is also a key weapon in the Conservation Department's artillery.

There will be opposition to the plan, but the facts and figures available to the Government all suggest it is the best option. Most of the work will be carried out in the South Island, but there is one area in Taranaki, the 3854ha Pouiatoa Conservation Area, inland east of Waitara.

The block can fairly be described as remote. The Department of Conservation says it is an untracked forest of unlogged tawa and kamahi, rimu, rata, rewarewa, miro, matai, kahikatea and beech.

It is also a home to kiwi and the East Taranaki Environment Trust runs a pest control programme there.

It is an irony that these havens for native flora and fauna should intermittently produce massive seed falls which ultimately doom the very wildlife it once nurtured - but that is an inevitable consequence of the random introductions of foreign animal life.

Mr Smith's announcement might have been expected to have whipped up a wave of protest against the increased use of 1080, but yesterday's response was relatively mild.

A subject which has a history of bringing out the protesters didn't even manage to make the front page of the country's leading newspapers.

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Perhaps that is as nod to the continuing good marks 1080 has achieved in studies.

What has been absent is a complete before and after report, and an assessment of the lasting, as distinct from immediate impact on the poison on forests. This blitz will provide an opportunity to properly assess that impact and possibly put an end to the 1080 debate.

- Taranaki Daily News

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