Forest pests targeted in joint aerial bait operation

By Laurel Stowell

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AERIAL ATTACK: A significant 1080 poison drop is scheduled for Ruapehu.
AERIAL ATTACK: A significant 1080 poison drop is scheduled for Ruapehu.

Pest animals will get a thrashing in Ruapehu this year, with poison drops planned to kill possums, rats and stoats.

Two agencies are involved, the Conservation Department to protect native wildlife and Operational Solutions for Primary Industries (OSPRI) to eliminate bovine TB.

The Ruapehu District has been a hotspot for bovine TB.

The area OSPRI will target is 40,000ha that extends from National Park village through Horopito to Waiouru, taking in large parts of Tongariro National Park. The operation will target possums, with rats and stoats as by-kill.

Possums in the forests there are known to be infected with TB. Possums outside the forest have been reduced to low numbers by ground trapping and poisoning.

The aim is to get possum numbers down to one or two per 10ha for 10 years, an OSPRI spokeswoman said. That would eliminate TB from the area.

Aerial drops of poison baits are needed for the most rugged terrain. Ground control there would take a long time, be expensive and risky for workers.

Aerial drops are expected in August or September.

The permission of landowners is needed, and OSPRI has also been consulting Ngati Rangi and other iwi within the control area.

Ngati Rangi has had five hui so far, pou arahi Andy Gowland-Douglas said. Turn-out has been low, with people both supporting and opposing the use of 1080 poison baits. Hunters often oppose poison baits because they kill deer, but they can be coated with a deer repellent.

There has been lots of good scientific information and evidence offered, Mrs Gowland-Douglas said.

"We've had quite a lot of balance. People from both sides have come and given their views."

The tribe wants input into the operation to fulfill its obligation to look after the environment. People didn't seem too concerned about an aerial 1080 operation, though she said there was a petition circulating.

Feedback from the iwi will be used to make decisions on the programme.

Meanwhile, in a pre-budget finance arrangement announced this week, Government is putting an extra $20.7 million nationwide into aerial pest control over the next few months.

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said control is needed because native forest trees like beech and kahikatea are masting this year - producing more seeds than usual. Rats eat the seeds and their population increases. Stoats eat the rats and their population increases.

When the seeds run out both rats and stoats are starving and turn to eating native birds, insects, bats and lizards.

The extra funding will be used where native birds are most at risk, including in the central North Island's Egmont, Whanganui and Tongariro national parks - to protect kaka, North Island brown kiwi, whio and short-tailed bats.

The last mast year was 2014 and extra money was spent on pest control then - mostly in the South Island.

The first aerial drops will not happen until July, and the exact areas are yet to be determined.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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