By Mick Jensen
The Department of Conservation (DOC) has recommenced its Battle For Our Birds predator control programme and has contracted OSPRI to drop cereal pellet baits containing 1080 in the upper catchments of the Wilberforce and Mathias rivers.
The area is popular with red deer and chamois hunters and flows directly into the Rakaia River, which irrigates a chunk of the Canterbury Plains and is a busy fishing river.
DOC’s aerial 1080 drop aims to protect the unique totara-cedar forests in the area from possums and covers up to 16,789ha of land.
It involves a non-toxic pre-feed drop, followed by toxic 1080 baits, which are green in colour.
Warning signs are out at the main points of public access.
Tom Beams, president of the Rakaia branch of the NZ Deerstalkers Association, said he and fellow hunters disagreed with the aerial 1080 drops in the Wilberforce and Mathias rivers.
“We join the growing numbers of New Zealanders who question what we see as the increasing misuse of aerial 1080,” said Mr Beams.
“Originally, we were sold on 1080 being used as a last resort – the best tool in the toolbox for treating large, rugged and inaccessible land areas – but now it seems to be pretty much the only tool that is used, in many cases. And often in reasonably accessible country.”
He said DOC’s own survey showed more than 60% of New Zealanders are not happy with aerial pesticide use.
“That’s why we are seeing growing opposition. Groups like Operation Ban 1080 on social media have more than 80,000 members against aerial 1080.”
Mr Beams’ comments are supported by former musterer Alan Galletly, who spent a number of years in the high country, including stints in the Wilberforce area.
He said he believed 1080 was “inhumane”.
“If you’ve ever watched the possums die, it’s just not a pleasant sight,” he said.
“DOC’s figures presented for the Mathias/Wilberforce area don’t show an overly high population of possums either.
“DOC say the possums favour the totara and cedar found in that area, but research from Lincoln University doesn’t necessarily support that fact.”
Mr Galletly said he believed possums liked shrubs like wineberry.
He also points to the declining kea population since the increased used of aerial 1080.
DOC says monitoring data shows that 1080 operations are effective in protecting native species and have helped return birdsong and increased reptile populations.
Nationwide protests against 1080 are planned this weekend.