The controversial pest poison 1080 will be used to deal with
an expected explosion in rat and stoat numbers this year
which threatens to "annihilate" the country's native
Hailed as the Department of Conservation's largest ever
species protection programme, and dubbed the 'Battle for our
Birds', the $21 million project aims to protect 25 million
native birds a year over the next five years.
It was unveiled tonight by Conservation Minister Nick Smith
at his annual speech to the Rotary Club of Nelson.
"Our native birds are in decline and the kiwi will not exist
in the wild for our grandchildren unless we do more to
protect them," he said.
He said the problem was "particularly urgent" this year,
because the country was facing a one in 10-15 year large
beech mast, which is expected to drop around a million tonnes
of seed this autumn.
"This flood of food will trigger a plague of an additional 30
million rats and tens of thousands of stoats. When the seeds
germinate in spring, these starved predators will annihilate
populations of our endangered birds," he said.
The programme will increase pest control in 35 forests to
protect 12 native species, and mainly involves using 1080.
Dr Smith said he was aware some people would object to the
use of the controversial poison, but said it would not mean
"Pre-feeding, improving bait quality to avoid crumbs
attractive to birds, helicopter rather than fixed-wing
aircraft distribution, GPS, and the development of repellents
for non-target species have enabled major improvements in
1080 control methods," he said.
"Reason must trump prejudice about poisons when the very
species that define our country, like kiwi, are at stake."
An additional 500,000 hectares will be treated this year, and
will also see the expansion of DoC's pest control work by
50,000 hectares each year over the next five years.
The plan is aimed at helping to protect the great spotted,
brown and tokoeka kiwi, kaka, kea, whio (blue duck), mohua
(yellowhead), kakaraki (orange-fronted parakeet), rock wren,
long and short tailed bats, and giant snails. But is expected
to also help save other native birds, reptiles, insects and
trees and plants.
The programme will cost about $21 million over the next five
years, coming from DoC's $335 million annual budget, Dr Smith
DoC director-general Lou Sanson said field staff would be
closely watching the seed fall and rat-tracking results from
key sites over the next few months.
"We need to be ready to act quickly to knock back rat or
stoat numbers before they overwhelm birds which are
particularly vulnerable during the spring nesting season."
It was concerned that its existing trap and ground-based
networks would be overwhelmed if predator numbers rose
"Our best, and fastest, option for protection over large
tracts of rugged bush is using biodegradable 1080 baits by
Forest & Bird, New Zealand's largest conservation
charity, backed an increase in the use of 1080 as a "fitting
response" and the level of its use over the next five years
should become the new baseline if the ongoing battle against
introduced predators is to be won. "Without this increase in
predator control, there will be a real possibility that we
will lose a bird species this mast year. Ground control
operations carried out by Forest & Bird branches around
the country are already reporting increased numbers of rats.
That means the stoats will follow," Forest
& Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said.