Realising the dream of a healthy ngahere teeming with native birds is getting closer for the North Hokianga's Warawara communities.
Just completed monitoring results following last October's pest control operation in Warawara Forest show rodent numbers are at their lowest level ever recorded.
Bronwyn Hunt, principal advisor for Te Runanga o Te Rarawa , said the Te Hiku settlement, which became law in December, had empowered the iwi of the Far North to pursue a brighter future. Warawara had a key role to play in that future, and the knock-down of pest numbers was the first step, breathing life into the forest once more.
"As Warawara grows in health, so too does our capacity," she said.
The pest control operation was part of Warawara Whakaora Ake, a collaborative forest regeneration project involving the runanga, the Northland Regional Council, Reconnecting Northland and Department of Conservation, working with the Warawara Komiti Kaitiaki and the Warawara communities.
The project was the result of many hui organised by the Komiti Kaitiaki, at which the community discussed the options available and helped develop their own pest management strategy. A 1080 aerial operation was a key part of the strategy, which was approved by the community at the Save Warawara hui at Waipuna Marae in August 2014.
The goal of the operation was to reduce the number of rats, possums, stoats and feral cats in the forest, to halt the destruction of canopy trees and allow native birds a chance to breed without constant attack by introduced animal pests.
DOC Kaitaia operations manager DJ Neho said the operation had been the first of its kind in Warawara for a very long time, and the rat population had plummeted, exceeding the target. There had also been a significant drop in possum numbers overall, but in some places had been mixed.
"Pest control was very effective in parts of the forest, with no possums recorded in some locations, but in some pockets, like Panguru Maunga, the majority of which was not treated with 1080, possum numbers went up," Mr Neho said.
"These high recordings skewed the average count, resulting in the post-operation possum density failing to meet the set targets.
"Warawara is a special place with unique needs, and we're learning how best to control the variety of pests in there. We achieved a significant reduction in possum numbers throughout a good chunk of the forest. We didn't get the knock-down in the possum population we were aiming for at some specific sites, and as a result we'll be adapting our management approach."
Rongo Bentson, project co-ordinator for Warawara Whakaora Ake, said a major milestone had been achieved with the aerial operation.
"Although it was a DOC-led operation, the Komiti Kaitiaki and community members were all very much involved, helping with security, clearing pellets from the walking tracks and water testing that took place both before and after the operation," he said.
"The marae-appointed komiti members have very quickly upskilled to understand these relatively new threats to the native species and the tools available, including 1080. However, it should also be noted that traditional tools are still in practice and in March last year the chairman of Te Runanga o Te Rarawa placed a rahui over Warawara to protect kukupa and kiwi.
"The operation and the outcome of the aerial drop was a great example of what can be done through co-management and everyone working together - mahi tahi. Now we are in the next phase, a five-year Community Pest Control Area (CPCA) programme on the private land surrounding Warawara, being co-ordinated by the NRC, consisting of bait stations and trapping. Four local trappers are employed to carry out the CPCA programme."
Don McKenzie, biosecurity manager for the NRC, said the project is setting a new model for pest control in Northland, and the promising results of the recent operations were an important first step in restoring the mauri of one of New Zealand's most important kauri forests.
"The council is proud to play its part as a contributing partner, and is fully engaged in pest control on private land. And we wish to take the opportunity to acknowledge the way DOC and Warawara Komiti Kaitiaki are leading the project," he said.
David Mules, programme manager for Reconnecting Northland, also complimented all those involved with the project to date, affirming that the benefits achieved through the 1080 drop represented a very significant step along the "difficult path" towards restoring the health of Warawara.
"Achieving an enduring improvement in the health of our whenua, and the vitality of our communities, will require the ongoing commitment of everyone, local people and agencies alike," he said.
"The progress made by these communities through the leadership of the Komiti Kaitiaki, with the collaborative support from all the project partners, is a very encouraging start. Kia kaha tatou."