1080 battle gets political

By Paul Charman

Without aerial 1080 applications, a kill rate among kiwi chicks as high as 95 per cent is envisaged in some areas.
Without aerial 1080 applications, a kill rate among kiwi chicks as high as 95 per cent is envisaged in some areas.

Ban 1080 Party leader Bill Wallace registered his party online yesterday, having completed paperwork to show he has the required 500 members.

Wallace, 63, a mussel farmer and helicopter pilot from Golden Bay, claims to be a newcomer to the 1080 debate.

He says the party will look at fielding candidates in West Coast, Tasman and possibly also further afield.

He would not be standing himself but will soon be in discussion with potential candidates and is on the lookout for a celebrity prepared to front the media on behalf of the party.

Wallace, who holds a science degree, was spurred into action after overhearing conversations of DoC "rat counters" whom he flew into the Tasman wilderness, in April.
The men were checking rat numbers ahead of DoC's planned "Battle for the Birds", a 1080 drop over 700,000 ha.

This is designed to counteract the expected explosion in predator numbers in the wake of the current South Island "beech mast".

Seed fall
Mast events are prolific flowering bursts among forest trees - such as beech - over spring and summer. This leads to a bumper seed fall the following autumn and widely available seed on the forest floor drives a rapid increase in rat and stoat numbers.
Wallace said he "smelled a rat" when the men complained of missing sleep due to the large number of noisy kiwi in hinterland areas where they camped.

"They also mentioned being followed around the bush by kaka and kakariki."

The men from DoC apparently told him rat numbers in these areas were not high compared to coastal zones. This led him to conclude a proper base-line-survey of bird numbers was necessary, ahead of any aerial drop on 1080 in an area never previously been targeted.

Soon after this encounter Wallace decided to sell his helicopter and commence plans to set up the party.

Previously he'd always stayed out of the 1080 debate, believing that wilderness areas in the Kahurangi National Park and Fiordland were safe from poison drops.

But according to Wallace there are not enough rats in these hinterland areas to justify aerial application of 1080.

Outdated studies
"And in any case, though the poison can be effective against rats in the short term, there's always the risk following its use of rat numbers rebounding and coming back higher than before." He also quotes reports indication a substantial by-kill of native birds.

Forest and Bird Advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell says some information published on the Ban 1080 Party Website is based upon 30-year-old studies of the by-kill effect on populations of tomtits and robins.

These relate to un-coloured carrot baits, rather than the pellets now used, and to spreading methods that have been discontinued.

He points out that other facts are taken out of context, such as deaths of kea with radio transmitters following 1080 drops.

These had all been in areas where kea had been interacting with humans, or that have been highly modified, and so got used to eating unusual foods.

But since this occurred research has been underway to develop a repellent that can be added to the pellets to stop the kea eating them.

Hackwell does not deny that rat populations rebound following a 1080 drop but maintains that, when used strategically, the reduction in rats (and stoats which prey upon them) it provides a sufficient window of time for endangered birds recover.

He said rat numbers do not spring back to highs measured during a mast event, as there is not enough food around to allow this.

"The mast will see predator numbers explode, potentially leading to loss of entire bird populations or even extinctions. The aerial drop is absolutely essential to prevent this."

Cruelty alleged
Wallace says he is against, "the sheer sadistic cruelty of the lingering death for native birds and introduced mammals alike." During the synthetic cannabis debate politicians rejected the idea of testing this drug on animals, but he doubted that the synthetic cannabis could be as cruel a death as 1080.

However, a scientific evaluation of all poisons available for pest control by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment found 1080 to be a moderately humane poison. 1080 baits are made unattractive to birds by being dyed dark green, being too large for most birds to eat and they are treated with a cinnamon lure which attracts the possums and rats but repels birds.

Landcare research has calculated that some 25 million native birds are killed every year by rats, stoats and possums.

"None of their deaths are particularly humane," says Hackwell.

Alternatives
Wallace says DoC won't look seriously at alternatives, "while they can sit at their desks, draw lines on maps, let tenders and produce propaganda to justify 1080."

He alleges that a 1080 industry exists which effectively stymied research into decent alternatives.

Kevin Hackwell: "That's very insulting to the hundreds of dedicated DOC front line staff who give their all to conservation in the field."

Other poisons and methods of ground control of pests are examined in detail in the 2011 report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

But none even come close to being as effective as 1080, says the report.

Wallace points out that 1080 has been in use for 60 years but has a short term effect at best, and must be constantly re-applied.

"Can we still be applying it in another 100 or 1000 years".

However, DoC, community conservation groups, research institutions, universities and private sector companies and donors are all working on the Predator Free New Zealand project, which aims to eliminate rats, stoats and possums from all of New Zealand in the next 30-40 years.

"None of us enjoy the fact that we have to kill these introduced predators in order to protect our unique native wildlife and forests. We are faced with difficult choices and this is why we are so keen to get the job done properly so New Zealand can become predator free," says Hackwell.

Water supply
Wallace says a lot of people worry about it in their water supply.

"It's easy to talk about dilution factors when it's not in your water supply."

Hackwell counters that the concentration of naturally occurring 1080 in a cup of tea, is nearly twice the level that the Ministry of Health allows to be in a water supply following a 1080 drop. The Ministry of health requires tests of water supplies to be carried out and of the 2442 water samples tested by Landcare Research between 1990 and 2010, 96 per cent had no detectable 1080.

Six were equal to, or above the Ministry of Health's level for drinking water but none of these were in water supplies.

'Logistics impossible'
Wallace says it is likely that the scale of "Battle for the Birds" project will be a logistical impossibility in the time allowed.

Helicopters will be unable to spread sufficient 1080 during the optimum pre-nesting period, "as if north-west Nelson and Fiordland are some flat paddocks, which dozens of helicopters can just buzz up and down, with no weather or cloud issues.

"They'll still be spreading it long after the nesting season is over and in any valleys that actually had a beech mast, the rat populations have again collapsed, simply because the tenders and contracts must be honoured and paid. 1080 is a self-perpetuating industry," says Wallace.

However, Hackwell says he (Wallace) doesn't seem to have a very high regard for the organisational skills of DOC's dedicated staff who have a lot of experience at organising and carrying out landscape-scale pest control operations.

"By the time voters go to the election most of the operations will have been completed in this rugged country and Mr Wallace's prediction will almost certainly have been proved wrong."

Resource consents
Wallace says the Tasman District Council, West Coast Regional Council, and Environment Southland are currently trying to "sneak through" non-notified resource consents for vast new areas where 1080 will be applied.

"We're talking of poisoning an extra half million hectares this year, and no other Resource Consents are ever processed this way, and certainly not with such inadequate science."

Hackwell disagrees: "As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment reported there is actually a lot of very good science. The anti 1080 proponents often quote older science about now thoroughly outdated operational methods and almost none of their own so-called 'science' or reviews, has ever been subjected to peer review."

- NZ Herald

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