1080 debate should die but will not

The case for 1080 use in New Zealand’s forests is overwhelming, no matter the fervent protests of the past two weeks.

Each independent investigation into its use has come to that conclusion. 

Yet, the Department of Conservation and its staff have had to put up with abuse and worse. Tampering with the wheel nuts on vehicles, as has been reported, is downright criminal and dangerous.

Blatant "fake news" and completely misleading photographs have been spread around the internet, news stories hijacked by activists, and 1080 drops disrupted.

There is, indeed,  no doubting the genuine feelings of the anti-1080 brigade, including the majority who act responsibly in their opposition. But they, like the irresponsible, are sadly and badly misguided.

Some of the fervour is understandable.  Dog owners are fearful of the awful death their charges might suffer should they eat carcasses of mammals killed by the poison.  Others are concerned about the deer by-kill, meaning fewer animals to hunt.

Much worse than these concerns, though, is the massacre by possums, stoats and rats. They lay waste forests of birds and chicks, turning them into silent graveyards and disrupting the ecosystem.

Trap instead of poison, say the 1080 opponents. Given the vastness, and ruggedness of New Zealand’s topography, this is totally  and absolutely impractical.

The 1080 kills birds instead of saving them, the opponents add. While it is true 1080 has killed birds as well as pests, birds and reptiles seem to have some tolerance. Doc’s threatened species ambassador Nicola Toki quotes a study where 600 kiwi were monitored by radio transmitters for a long time after 1080 was spread.  Not one died. Meanwhile, 19 of 20 kiwi eggs were eaten by predators in areas without pest control.

The 1080 kills so many pests it allows bird numbers to recover.

One of the big advantages is that the poisonous ingredient, fluoroacetate, is a naturally occurring plant-based toxin found in many plants around the world.  It breaks down quickly and does not persist, making it unlikely to accumulate in streams. The 2011 Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, thoroughly investigated 1080.  Her conclusion was that we should use not less but more.

"It is seldom that I come to such a strong conclusion at the end of an investigation. But the possums, rats and stoats that have invaded our country will not leave of their own accord," she wrote.

"We cannot allow our forests to die."

Forest and Bird, for its part, is utterly convinced, saying much of the opposition to 1080 did not even stand up to mild scrutiny.  Extensive research showed it was one of the safest toxins for large-scale control.

A group of prominent Maori environmentalists, under the banner Ngahere Justice, issued a statement last week which included this comment: "We therefore support the appropriate use of 1080, informed by current scientific evidence, while research continues for alternative measures of pest control."

It is true other countries decline to use 1080.  But that is because of their native mammals that would be badly hit.

Other means of pest control might emerge as a substitute one day, including perhaps from advances in genetics.  In the meantime, protocols around 1080 have improved out of sight and many of the mistakes of earlier days are no more.

Thank goodness for 1080. It is relatively inexpensive and, as Doc says, it leaves no residue. The verdict is simple: poison and native species survive; do not, and they die.

Given these facts, the 1080 debate itself should die, at least until new evidence can come in or further pest control methods be developed.

But, unfortunately,  like the anti-vaccination lobby,  the vociferous and vigorous anti-1080 crowd will maintain their vehemence. They will continue to reinforce each other’s views and carry on bombarding the public.  No number of independent reports nor any amount of unbiased information will sway them. 

Comments

I've never had much doubt about the efficacy of 1080, however, I am conflicted by its cruelty, which this editorial fails to address. Few would argue that it's OK to club a possum to death, but a gruesome hours long death by means of 1080 is far more cruel.

There is a lot to read about 1080, both for and against. It really doesn't take much fact checking to form an opinion in favour of its use however.
There is one area of concern I find it hard to check though. Like Dornoch, I question the nature of the animals death. Is it a humane death?

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