The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan
Wright, is no friend of the establishment. She made herself
unpopular with the Government in her vocal opposition to
mining of the conservation estate; she has raised the red
flag over Solid Energy's plans for lignite extraction; she
opposed the former Labour-led government's policies on
So what is she doing not only endorsing the Department of
Conservation's use of 1080 poison, but advocating for an
extension of the same? There is, after all, considerable and
vocal opposition to the blanket use of the pest control
That opposition is based on a number of factors including
1080 is toxic to placental mammals other than those at which
the poison is aimed, and in particular it is harmful to
humans, dogs and deer if ingested in sufficient
concentrations; it is argued it does not work - that it kills
the very species, our native birdlife, it is applied to
protect; that it kills insects; and that it poses an
insidious threat to human health through potential
infiltration and pollution of soil and the water table.
There is some truth in all this. It is true, for instance,
that in years past 1080 aerial drops have been conducted with
less than pinpoint accuracy and at dosage rates that far
exceed those now deemed sufficient for purpose.
In some areas, and on some past occasions, birdlife has been
observed to decrease following heavy and unmitigated aerial
drops. And like all other chemical agents, 1080 can and will
leach into the soil and groundwater, or lie on the surface
posing risks to dogs and deer.
But more recent usage, managed with sophisticated GPS
technology for accuracy of coverage, and smaller more
precisely attuned dosages avoids many of these problems.
Trials have shown that by and large bird life is unaffected
directly by such drops.
And controlled applications of 1080 augmented by trapping, as
opposed to trapping alone in adjacent valleys - aimed at
eradicating predator life - have shown a vast disparity in
the resultant population densities of threatened birdlife in
favour of the poison.
Its supporters, of which there are many, point out that
unlike other poisons, 1080 breaks down rapidly in the
environment and that, while certainly toxic, huge quantities
of contaminated plant or animal would have to be consumed to
cause significant human harm.
They say that its optimal use is much better understood than
in the bad old days of vast overdosing in pursuit of the
rabbit control for which it was first introduced.
Having studied the evidence for and against the use of 1080
in New Zealand, Ms Wright is unequivocal in her report: there
is no suitable alternative. Failure to sustain, indeed
increase, its use will see our forests eventually fall
At stake to the predations of predominantly possums, rats and
stoats is not only our flora but much of our native fauna,
which faces extinction unless there is successful
The breeding cycle and fecundity of these predators reads
like a horror story, swelling populations uncontrollably.
Over time, kakapo, mohua, kereru, kokako, kiwi, saddlebacks,
parakeets and many other species stand little chance against
Ms Wright's report will not, of course, convince everyone,
but it has united in support of continued 1080 use a number
of unlikely bedfellows: the National Party, the Labour Party,
the Green Party, Federated Farmers and Forest and Bird to
name just a few.
Ranged against her are a number of individuals and
organisations convinced of the poison's inefficacy, including
United Future's Peter Dunne who, long aligned to outdoor
sporting interests such as deer hunters, has been claiming
his own expertise in the matter, insisting 1080 does not
Introduced predators are destroying our native forests and
much of the precious wildlife within them (to say nothing of
the bovine Tb threat from wild animal pests to our
Ms Wright's report is a timely corrective, and 1080 the most
effective and least environmentally corrosive of all the
weapons at the disposal of those to whom we entrust the
safeguarding of our heritage. That is not to say alternatives
to 1080 should not be sought or developed, but for now the
message is clear: use it or risk losing our natural and
native heritage forever.