Rabbits turning Central Otago recreation spot into hazardous minefield
An infestation of rabbits on lake-side land on the outskirts of Cromwell is creating a "hazardous minefield", a community spokesperson says.
The Pisa Moorings Community Group is lobbying the Central Otago District Council, Land Information New Zealand and Otago Regional Council to stop "playing dodgeball" and take responsibility for the escalating problem.
Group chairman Luke Win said rabbits were running rampant on land beside Lake Dunstan and adjacent to the Pisa Moorings community, about 10km from Cromwell.
The land was Crown-owned, while the district council and Contact Energy also owned areas.
"Basically you have got three organisations - ORC, CODC and LINZ that all pointing the finger about who is responsible for what out here. The most constructive thing would be to get all three organisations around a table at the same time so they can't play dodgeball.
"We have got rabbits running up the street, people have got them in their yards. At the top end of the community there is a lovely recreation area with a walking and cycle track running through it. It would be great to see it used by the community more but how can you enjoy it when it is riddled with burrows? In summer, when the grass gets higher, you run the risk of falling in a rabbit hole. It is so dangerous for children and the elderly. It is a minefield. You could quite easily lose a four-wheel-drive vehicle in the rabbit burrows. The holes are that deep."
The situation needed to be treated with urgency, and the approach needed to be a "concerted effort" with public consultation, he said.
"Rabbit proof fencing around the perimeter of the community is one of the better options but we all have to be on same page to get it done. It is very important our community has the input of what we want to do rather than them making decisions behind closed doors then coming in and saying they are going to drop 1080 or pindone around your walking tracks."
LINZ biosecurity manager Dave Mole said the organisation proactively carried out rabbit control on the land it managed around Lake Dunstan to ensure it complied with the Regional Pest Management Strategy.
"We're always open to meeting and coordinating with community groups, adjacent landowners and other agencies. LINZ has not been contacted about rabbit issues on land we manage."
Rabbit-proof fences could be a very useful tool to reduce the transfer of rabbits across property boundaries, making control tools more effective. However, fencing could be costly, he said.
"The use of fencing would need to be carefully considered alongside other control methods."
LINZ was taking part in a joint rabbit control operation on the Lake Dunstan foreshore, north of Pisa Moorings, over the next few weeks where numbers appeared to exceed acceptable levels, he said.
Mayor Tim Cadogan said any solution for the rabbit issue at Pisa Moorings should come from the wider landowner group.
"We all know that just tackling bits here and there will never be an effective solution. As such Council has and will continue to work together with other landholders, as part of any wider landowner programme.
"Council will take its lead from ORC as it is the regulatory agency tasked with developing and managing Otago's Pest Management Strategy. Council supports the Pisa Community Plan Group and their desire to find a way forward on this matter."
Contact Energy Environmental Advisor Daniel Druce said Contact owned a small block of land to the south of Pisa Moorings and was "more than happy to control rabbits on its land as part of a wider pest control initiative in the Pisa Moorings area".
Otago Regional councillor Michael Laws said a lot of the ongoing pest issues in the Dunstan region was down to an antiquated pest strategy that dated back to 2009 and a lack of funding for ongoing operations.
"A great deal of faith seems to have been in the Korean virus that wasn't released and still seems no closer to government approval. That said, ORC seems aware that its rabbit control strategy has failed....Because they haven't got the enforcement personnel to ensure that landowners are made responsible and there isn't the political will to make them so. In some parts, where farmers have banded together in co-operatives the same spread of rabbits is not apparent.
With the growing number of lifestyle properties, and non-complaint properties, for vast tracts of lands, there was no rabbit control at all, he said.
"This obviously aids and abets the spread of the pests."
He welcomed working with the Pisa Moorings Community Group on the "next steps", he said.
Councillor Graeme Bell said ORC staff should lead a rabbit control effort for the community.
"The way forward for progress is to get the land owners in Pisa Moorings along with Contact, CODC around the table with ORC and get some action. It is a joint responsibility by all parties. CODC used to and may still rate for rabbit control as a land owner to carry out pest destruction.
"I do think ORC staff should be available to lead this with the Pisa Moorings Community Group and suggest solutions and action."
The Otago Regional Council has yet to respond.