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North Waikato possum populations plummet

An Opuatia possum control scheme managed by Environment Waikato has been a huge success, and has seen numbers of the pest plummet.

The Opuatia community possum control scheme was established in 2004 to maintain the gains of the Animal Health Board’s former bovine Tb work. It involves 106 property owners and covers 3800 hectares of land.

Last June, residents formerly under the AHB programme began paying Environment Waikato $133 per property and $3 per hectare to implement possum control work.

“Results for property owners are guaranteed under our rated scheme, because the contractors don’t get paid unless they reach their targets,” said Environment Waikato Biosecurity Manager John Simmons.

“It’s worked extremely well.”

The first baiting operation under the new scheme was carried out from January to March, with its effectiveness tested by an independent contractor.

Only one possum was caught after the operation, giving a residual trap catch of 0.28 per cent – well below the five per cent target.*

“That’s a fantastic outcome for the community and it’ll go a long way towards keeping a lid on possum problems in the area,” Mr Simmons said.

As well as carrying bovine Tb, possums destroy native bush, prey on native animals and compete with stock for grass. In one night, about 10 possums will eat as much grass as a sheep eats during the day.

Mr Simmons said the Opuatia scheme was a shining example of what could be achieved. No further possum control work is needed in the area until 2008.

“We thank landowners for their cooperation and goodwill – we couldn’t have done it without their support,” he said.

Following this success at Opuatia, Environment Waikato is hoping the nearby Port Waikato-Wairamarama community possum control scheme will switch to a similar rating format.

Aerial and ground baiting operations targeting ecologically significant bush areas within the 15,000 hectare Port Waikato-Wairamarama scheme in February and March resulted in an overall 0.74 percent residual trap catch. This, again, was below the five per cent target.

However, while those operations were successful, possum numbers on private farm land are well above the targets set for landowners, who are responsible for controlling the pests on their own properties.

“Since 2000, most landowners have been doing a great job with possum control, but inaction on some properties has meant overall scheme targets are not being achieved,” Mr Simmons said.

“Because of this, we are proposing to employ a professional contractor to do all maintenance work on an annual or biannual basis. In some cases the work can be done more cheaply than a landowner can do it themselves.”

This approach has recently been adopted in Glen Murray, which lies between the Opuatia and Port Waikato-Wairamarama schemes, and Punga Punga north of Opuatia, where maintenance work has just been completed.

Meanwhile, the Awaroa-Whangape scheme, immediately south of the Opuatia scheme, is achieving its targets and there is interest in forming a new scheme in the Waimai Valley.

“Our five-year plan is for coordinated possum control to extend from Port Waikato to Raglan and west of the Waikato River,” Mr Simmons said.

“We plan to close the remaining gaps in two large operations during 2007/2008 and 2008/2009 and then develop a biannual maintenance programme across this whole area. This would be hugely beneficial to farmers and the wider environment.”

Please note: The term “residual trap catch” refers to the number of possums caught per 100 traps.

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