DOC wants to increase aerial drops of 1080

CATLEY EDWARDS
Last updated 13:58 17/03/2014

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A row has broken out among Owhango residents, iwi representatives and the Department of Conservation over a tiny area of Tongariro National Park and the future use of aerial drops of 1080.

The residents of Owhango, about 22 kilometres south of Taumarunui, turned out in force on Thursday night to challenge DOC over its plans to drop 1080 in the village's 364 hectare water catchment area.

DOC reached a formal agreement with residents in May 2002 to ban aerial dropping of 1080 and other toxins long term (defined as within five years) and use only bait stations in the water catchment area. This would give DOC time to work with the Owhango community to identify other ways of eliminating possums, rats, stoats and ferrets.

Until then, Owhango residents agreed that a range of techniques and toxins could also be used to eliminate the pests, including bait stations, cyanide and trapping within the catchment area.

However, DOC officials told residents DOC wanted to change its original agreement and make more frequent 1080 aerial drops over the entire water catchment area.

The 5 per cent catchment area falls within the 20,000ha Tongariro Forest, which houses a national kiwi sanctuary, and is home to the endangered whio (blue duck) and other vulnerable fauna and flora.

DOC Tongariro biodiversity service manager Bhrent Guy said while the combination of bait traps and aerial drops was resulting in good outcomes, any increase in bait traps in the aerial ban area was not enough on its own to adequately protect whio.

He also said more needed to be done to protect the 300 to 400 kiwi in the Tongariro Forest region. Last season 26 kiwi were killed by one ferret, he said.

Mr Guy said the use of 1080 bait stations was too expensive and "a very ineffective use of taxpayers' money", costing $79 per hectare compared with $8 per hectare for aerial drops.

Some residents expressed concern that 1080 aerial drops fell into creeks which fed into rivers and ultimately the village drinking water supply.

Owhango kaumatua Jim Komene, one of the signatories of the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding, engaged in a fiery exchange with officials, challenging comments that any 1080 spill into streams was minimal and harmless.

"When they say it is safe to be in the water supply, they don't know what they are talking about."

He said residents "knew for a fact" that water tested in the Whakapapaiti (River) after the drop in 2006 tested for 1080.

"You fellas say you care about our health. What you don't know is that every time there is a 1080 aerial drop, we don't use our water, we turn it off."

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However, Mr Guy said even if residents drank "thousands and thousands of gallons of water per day, even with a reasonable amount of toxicity, the water is safe". This was because 1080 dispersed when coming into contact with water.

Mr Guy said the DOC proposal involved keeping the aerial drop 800 metres from water intake areas, using smaller pellets distributed at the same density as the previous drop with 40m gaps in between.

DOC also proposed increasing the number of drops from five yearly to three yearly over the next 10 years, which would enable it to buy time while awaiting the results of other biodiversity research.

While the prime target was rodents, possums were secondary because of their high risk as carriers of tuberculosis (TB).

Residents described the MOU as a legal document and moral agreement, to which Mr Guy responded that DOC had not thrown the idea of the memorandum out the window.

"We would like a meeting of the two parties and [to] progress that and move forward. It is our belief we can do that [aerial drop] operation without doing you harm," he told the residents.

But it made sense to revisit the agreement to use bait stations in the water catchment area on the grounds of "time, money and outcomes", when rodent control could be done more efficiently.

"We are only funded to do this for the aerial drop. We have to draw money from all sorts of other departmental operations for bait stations," he said.

DOC considered only two of four options as viable. The most preferred option was a blanket 1080 aerial drop using smaller pellets every three years.

Residents decided to meet among themselves to decide on a common view before holding further discussions.

- Waikato

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