Simultaneous protests on opposite sides of the Coromandel Peninsula disrupted the Conservation Department's planned 1080 drops in Whenuakite and Tapu yesterday.
In Whenuakite, on the peninsula's east coast, about 20 protesters blockaded a site about 9am. Using vehicles to block the farm road out, and occupying the clearing where the helicopter was landing and taking off, the protesters shut down the department's planned drop in the area. The helicopter left and DOC was unable to remove the bags of 1080 baits from the site.
Police were called to monitor the situation. Police vehicles blocked the entrance to the farm, owned by the Wallace family, and officers watched the standoff between the protesters and DOC.
Colin Harris, a Whitianga hunter, landowner and farmer, said the protest was about registering strong opposition to the use of 1080.
"We believe they have not followed due procedure," he said. "In the end we've got frustrated. We just feel this was our last action."
The people in the group described themselves as farmers, pighunters, iwi representatives, conservationists and landowners.
"The people here are concerned with the detrimental effects of 1080," Mr Harris said.
"There needs (to be) a change of focus. It is truly feasible to do ground-based operations to protect our animals."
Mr Harris described the situation as a "Mexican standoff".
"Hopefully we'll hold them up all day," he said.
DOC had managed to treat the perimeter of the 1200-hectare Whenuakite block before the protest, but after the disruption turned its attention to the west.
About a dozen 1080 opponents had already gathered in Te Mata to disrupt DOC efforts to follow through with the Thames Coast aerial drop.
"We are here to perform a citizen's arrest and remove them from the Coromandel," protester Graeme Sturgeon said.
He said the poison's guidelines said it should not be applied less than 150m from residential properties, recognised camping areas, tramping huts, bivvies, picnic areas, public toilets, public road lay-bys, tracks, public roads, watercraft landing points, streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and reservoirs. Mr Sturgeon said that from a helicopter some of these places would not be seen.
"You can't aerial drop and follow these conditions. It's just impossible," he said.
"It can't even be hand-baited safely. There is still the run-off from dead animals."
The Thames Coast protesters were unable to stop DOC from carrying out the planned aerial treatment of two blocks, totalling 800ha, inland from Tapu.
Mr Sturgeon said the protest action had forced DOC to use an alternative helicopter pad, probably in the Kauaeranga Valley, near Thames.
Peninsula Project spokeswoman Erana Stevens said the operation was audited by representatives of the Medical Officer of Health, responsible for public health standards, particularly in respect of drinking water.
Mr Sturgeon said the day had been a great success from the protesters' point of view, and more disruptive protests were planned.
DOC Waikato conservator Greg Martin said the protest had been expected, and had resulted in disruption of the department's operation at Whenuakite. "It's a group that has made their intentions clear during the week, and we knew they were going to frustrate the operation today," he said. "But we had our own strategy to deal with that."
He confirmed DOC had used the Kauaeranga Valley helicopter pad, but would need to "reassess" how it would complete the drop, and there was a potential for the department to incur extra costs.
Mr Martin said the operation was legally authorised, and DOC staff as public servants simply wanted to do their jobs.
"I think they (staff) do accept that some parts of the community have a different view (on 1080), and they have got a right to express that view."
The presence of police meant the disruption was not as bad as it could have been, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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