The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, spoke in Nelson recently about her views of the toxin.
After research, Wright concluded the use of 1080 should continue. Wright spoke in Nelson at the invitation of the Nelson Science Society on her report ‘‘Evaluating the use of 1080: Predators, poisons and silent forest’’.
She took two minutes to speak with The Leader to talk about 1080 and why she supports it.
I’m an independent officer in Parliament, so I’m not aligned with the Government or any political party.
That independence is very important and very precious. I have a small office in Wellington and the main thing we do is to undertake investigations, the topics of which are completely my choice. When the investigation is complete we write a report that is tabled in Parliament.
So it was your idea for your office to write its report on 1080 that was released in 2011?
Yes, I had no particular knowledge about it when I started at all.
I thought it probably does some good, but there are probably some problems with it.
What form did your investigation take?
We read everything on it, and talked to lots of people including its leading opponents. I looked at all the arguments. We went through a very highly structured analytical process and asked questions about its effectiveness and risk.
Were you surprised at what you found?
I was really quite astonished at how good it was, and how important it is for our biodiversity. While there are alternatives like trapping and other poisons, none of them can do the job that 1080 does – at the moment. Personally, I thought New Zealand is very lucky to have it. But it’s important to add that there have been many changes in how 1080 has been used over the years.
When it was first introduced, it was used in a way, with a lack of regulation, that we wouldn’t contemplate today. Now it’s governed under 18 different laws and is very highly regulated.
So why 1080?
In the forests of New Zealand we’ve got three really big enemies of the biodiversity, particularly the birds – possums, ship rats and stoats. These are collectively doing enormous destruction. One of the huge advantages of 1080 is that you can hit all three and you can’t do that with alternatives. You can drop 1080 aerially, you can get into rugged remote places where trapping would be impossible. The really exciting thing is that they’ve learnt over the past 10 years how to use it to deal with a beech mast.
Is it a necessary evil?
I don’t like the term necessary evil, because I was astonished when we put it through this analytical process, at how good it actually was. To me the term necessary evil is putting it down too much.
But again I would add the caveat it is used in a much more sophisticated way now, so it is a different story to in the past.
What about the arguments against it, including its toxicity and it making its way into the food chain or water sources?
Yes it is toxic. As a person if you swallowed about eight of those pellets you would die. But I don’t think anyone is going to do that. It does not bioaccumulate, it is actually biodegradable and breaks down reasonably fast. When it gets into water it dilutes very quickly. It also breaks down in the water. Within 24 hours of an aerial drop, water in the vicinity is tested and at the highest of the 2500 samples taken you would have to drink something like a couple of thousand litres of water to kill yourself and that’s within 24 hours, and then it breaks down quickly.
The one situation in which it can persist longer is if you get it in the body of a possum and a dog eats the possum – that is how a dog would potentially die. DOC bans people from taking dogs into areas six months after a drop, and also picks up poisoned possum carcass and monitors their decay. Occasionally carcasses will take longer to break down, and if they take longer DOC will leave signs up and keep people out for longer.
By far the most common poisoning deaths among dogs is from slug bait and rat poison that people have around their houses. Over the past few years there has been a very big reduction in the amount of 1080 that is dropped over a hectare – it’s down to about 10 per cent of what it was.
That is equivalent to the order of one pellet the area the size of a tennis court. If a deer was to die from this they would need to eat seven pellets and get to them before some other animal eats them. They now can include deer repellent in pellets. It’s far less of a risk now.
What about trapping or ground control, is it a viable option?
Traps – there’s been some great developments in traps – and they absolutely have their uses. It’s a question of huge rugged remote areas and when you do set your traps you need a different trap for each animal, eg, one for possums, one for rats, one for stoats. I think the Kahurangi is something like 452,000ha so imagine setting traps over that. It’s just not practical.
What about alternatives to 1080?
Alternatives have their place, but none of them are capable of doing what 1080 does. If you want to get to large rugged remote areas, and you want to get all three pests, you have to drop aerially and 1080 is the only way allowed to do that on the mainland.
Nothing else can deal with the beech mast, which is beyond the normal situation. If, for example, during a beech mast, you wanted to trap, you would have to have 10 times as many traps as normal and check them 10 times as often – as that is the kind of population explosion you get with rats or stoats after a beech masting.
What about the risk of bykill with 1080?
We used to get more by-kill in the past because they would use carrot bait in little slivers big enough for birds to eat and there was some by-kill of birds. But even in those cases in the 1990s, which are much quoted, the breeding success, the effect on the overall population, was very positive. You might lose a few curious adults, but it’s a matter of how many chicks you get to adulthood. There is very little by-kill now, the risk is much lower. There has been some problems with kea on the West Coast but again the net effect on the population has been very positive.
So the way 1080 is used has changed?
Yes, there is a lot of innovation – there is 30 to 40 years of innovation around this and increasing control.
Why do you think it is such an emotive issue?
I think a lot of how it was used in the past was – in modern terms we would see as irresponsible. I think because the worry and anxiety grew about it in the past, quite justifiably, and then regulations grew in response to those concerns, I think a lot of that has lingered on.