The Department of Conservation has been allocated an extra $380,000 for pest control in a Northland forest conservationists say is on the brink of collapse.
Conservation Minister Maggie Barry made the announcement on Mt Bledisloe, in the Waitangi Forest overlooking the Bay of Islands, yesterday. The money will be spent this financial year in the 7100ha Russell Forest and surrounding areas.
She also committed to working with hapu to develop a 20-year forest health plan for Northland.
The ramping up of predator control in Northland was part of the Government's intention to make New Zealand predator-free by 2050.
The extra cash boosted the sum DoC spent on predator control in Northland to $1.5 million, but getting communities involved still offered the best hope for the region's forests, she said.
Many of the community-run pest control groups working in the Bay of Islands were represented at the announcement, as were local hapu, weedbusters, DoC staff, Forest & Bird, and former prime minister Jenny Shipley.
The minister also travelled to Waipoua Forest yesterday to announce $400,000 in grants to a range of community conservation partnerships and to inspect the first stage of a three-year programme to upgrade tracks to prevent the spread of kauri dieback, a pathogen threatening Northland's kauri forests.
She commended west coast iwi Te Rarawa for their pest control work in Warawara Forest, which included a 1080 drop last year. The poison was controversial but was the most useful weapon to rid forests of introduced predators, she said.
The extra funding for pest control comes after a campaign by Forest & Bird to highlight the perilous state of many Northland forests. Drone footage taken in 2015 revealed widespread death of forest canopies due to possum browse.
Forest & Bird Northland conservation advocate Dean Baigent-Mercer said yesterday's announcement was a "small but significant start" towards saving the region's forests.
He hoped that increased, ongoing pest control would allow birds that had become extinct in the area, such as kaka and kakariki, to return from nearby predator-free islands.
"At the moment, many of Northland's forests are silent. Native birds have been under relentless attack from introduced pests for decades, and the tops of many ancient forest trees are dead or dying because of possum browsing."
Mr Baigent-Mercer said DoC-managed native forest covering more than 46,000ha was collapsing in Northland, with even the highest priority forests not getting enough funding for multi-species pest control.
Constant restructuring and underfunding of DoC had been to the forests' detriment, he said.