New Conservation Minister Maggie Barry explains her stance on the use of 1080 poison to control predators on conservation land.
We are now engaged in a serious battle to save our native birds from eco-invaders.
Ridding New Zealand of introduced pests is essential if we want to preserve our vulnerable birdlife and biodiversity. Kiwi, kea and whio (blue duck) and many iconic birds will be wiped out, unless we take effective action now.
As the new Minister of Conservation, I am committed to protecting New Zealand's natural landscape and to preserving our biodiversity for future generations.
The "Battle for our Birds" programme run by the Department of Conservation since August has been very successful in reducing the number of rats, mice, stoats and possums that prey on our precious wildlife. The programme is close to completion and will have treated 700,000 hectares of conservation land with aerial drops of 1080 in an effort to protect our birdlife.
The programme takes the area of pest control on public conservation land from 5 per cent to 12 per cent. It involves 37 blocks of remote beech forest, mainly in the South Island, that are home to 12 at-risk native species. DOC are expanding pest control work by 50,000 hectares each year over the next five years to maintain these gains.
Native bird species are particularly vulnerable to introduced predators. These "eco-invaders" are compromising the biodiversity of our landscape and need to be dealt with in a practical and efficient way.
1080 is straightforward and safe to apply from the air, which means difficult terrain can be covered where usual methods are not feasible. 1080 is the most cost-effective and least damaging method of providing large-scale pest control to stop vermin killing 25 million native birds a year.
A raft of scientific evidence has been examined as part of the decision to continue judicious use of 1080. Specifically, the independent review by the former Environmental Risk Management Authority in 2007 resulted in approval of its ongoing use.
In 2011 and again last year, Dr Jan Wright, as Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, evaluated the use of 1080, and her reports strongly endorsed its use to control a range of pests. Dr Wright is an independent expert whose role was to rigorously examine all the scientific evidence on 1080. Her reports concluded that "not only should the use of 1080 continue (including in aerial operations) to protect our forests but that we should use more of it".
I urge people to read these reports and to consider the science - they are readily available at pce.parliament.nz
To date, no viable alternative to 1080 has been put forward that will provide such effective and widespread pest control. We have yet to see any credible, pragmatic alternatives to using 1080 on the scale that's required.
The active component of 1080 is sodium fluoroacetate. It occurs naturally in plants in Australia, South America and Africa, including in the leaves of the camellia plant.
1080 does not pose any risk to humans when used within regulations. It is biodegradable in soil, and breaks down in water into non-toxic by-products within two to six days. No trace of 1080 has been found in any of the 500 samples taken over five years from drinking water catchments. Only 2 per cent of other samples had any detectable level and all were less than one tenth of the tolerable exposure limit of 3.5 parts per billion. To put this in perspective, 1080 naturally occurs in your everyday cup of tea at levels above 10 parts per billion.
Concerns have been raised about the impact of 1080 on some birds, including kea and kiwi. The research shows the benefits to kea from increased breeding success more than outweigh any loss of individual birds.
The real threat to kea, which nest on the ground, is the killing of chicks by vermin. Without the use of 1080, most kea chicks are lost to predation. In areas where it is used, 100 per cent of kea chicks survived in the first year. In the opinion of many scientists and of DOC experts, kea survival depends on the use of 1080.
The Department of Conservation is also making every effort to minimise the risks.
The threat to kiwi from 1080 has also been well researched. In total, 430 kiwi have been individually monitored through aerial 1080 operations and not one has been poisoned.
Essentially, if we don't use 1080, our native birds will continue to die in large numbers and many are at genuine risk of extinction. In my view, we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted and swayed by emotive and ill-informed arguments, and instead need to keep our eyes on the prize and get rid of the predators.
The alternative, for future generations, is a deafening silence that will replace our outstanding dawn chorus. As Dr Wright says in her report, "we do not have the luxury of time".