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Published: 2008-04-02 00:00:00

Environment Waikato’s regional pest management committee has heard a range of presentations about the use of toxins to control animal and plant pests, including views both for and against using 1080 to kill possums.

The information sharing session this week featured 11 presenters and was for the benefit of councillors, and in response to councillor and public concerns about ongoing toxin use.

The committee’s chair, Cr Simon Friar, said the meeting was a valuable forum for councillors to hear from experts and members of the public. He said he was determined to correct any perception in the community that Environment Waikato would not listen to a range of views.

He said the meeting had been described as unusual for the council but indicated he wanted to see similar information sharing events in future. “Expect more unusual activity. We want to keep listening to a range of views on pest control and want to work with the community on the way forward.”

Presentations covered topics such as biodiversity threats from pests which kill birdlife, the aerial application of 1080, science and research into toxins, pest control options and the public perceptions of toxins.

Cr Friar said the council relied on national and international standards, and other regulatory bodies, to determine what is “safe” in terms of the environmental and human health effects of pest control.

“It is important to review information from time to time and this session has helped us look at a range of opinions.

“We recognise there is a section of the community which has concerns about the aerial application of toxins for pest control. We are trying to find a cost effective method of control for heavily forested and mountainous areas.

“The council recognises that possum control is required and we are open to new ways of doing things. We welcome all serious proposals for pest control,” said Cr Friar.

“My view is that given the concern about aerial 1080, we need to be open to other solutions.”

Some speakers spoke of their successes with 1080, while others raised a range of concerns.

Farmer Fiona Scott told of how “we could see our bush dying in front of our eyes” but after a 1080 drop in surrounding land “almost immediately we saw change”, adding that “the environmental benefits are overwhelming”.

The chair of Puketapu 3A Incorporation John Hura spoke of how some iwi forestry trusts had found that aerial 1080 use was “the only way to efficiently and reliably control possums and rabbits prior to replanting” and noted anecdotal comments that possum control had helped birdlife flourish.

However, Mrs Scott said she lost a dog when it apparently ate a poisoned possum and that dogs needed to be well managed in areas where the toxin was used. Mr Hura spoke of the need for 1080 operations to be well planned and consulted on to help ensure people’s concerns were addressed.

Consultant Wren Green said “there’s a whole suite of concerns people have about the use of aerial 1080” and suggested pest control tendering arrangements could be more flexible to allow for greater community engagement over pest control operations. The Environmental Risk Management Authority’s (ERMA) Mike Morris agreed better communications were needed between various parties over 1080 drops.

However, InfoSmart chief analyst and hunter Hugh Barr, and independent scientist Quinn Whiting-O’Keefe, had strong criticisms of 1080 use.

Mr Barr explained that he was concerned that, at low temperatures, 1080 did not break down as quickly as it did when it was warmer. He said that, with NZ winter water temperatures of around 5-7 C, 1080 could be quite persistent for some time in the environment. He believed it was being over-applied and was killing non-target species which were valued by the community.

Dr Whiting O’Keefe criticised studies showing 1080 use had a beneficial effect on birdlife – he felt no other country would carry out large-scale aerial 1080 operations and said there were clear alternatives. “Aerial 1080 is not essential to control possums.” He wanted an independent review of New Zealand’s use of 1080.

Cr Friar said he appreciated all the presentations and the high level of public interest in the issues. He noted that councillors would consider all the information they had received.