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Possum operations drop Tb numbers

The incidence of bovine Tb in the Waikato has reduced significantly due to intense possum control programmes and disease testing.

Environment Waikato’s Biosecurity Committee heard this week that possum control operations over about 750,000 ha in the Region were having a significant effect on the spread of the disease. The work had involved a lot of staff time and contracted work as well as consultation with communities in getting the work done.

The $9 million being spent on the Tb programme this year represented major aerial re-flying in large bush areas.

Biosecurity Group Manager John Simmons said the goal for 2006 was only seven infected herds in the Region and the present total was 36. Other regional objectives included a drop in infected herds in risk areas to 17 by 2004 and in non-risk areas to one herd.

“It’s a tall order, but we are managing to prevent the spread of risk areas. The expansion of Tb free areas will begin to happen by the end of this year.”

Individual herd owners would be encouraged to take action to minimise risk of Tb infection occurring in their herds, he said.

In the West Taupo area, an extensive ground control operation in July and August resulted in very thorough coverage of the area and very good support from the farming community, which was keen to build on the success of recent aerial control operations. Only six herds are now infected, compared with 47 in 1994.

On the lakeshore reserves, an aerial operation covered the area which is considered to be the reservoir of the remaining possum population which re-infests adjacent farmland. A long and complicated boundary made the operation difficult with risks of overflies and stock deaths, but none occurred. A boat was used to put out more than 80 warning signs along the lake front.

In east Taupo, a large area of forest was treated after extensive planning and consultation and should have had a major impact on predators such as feral cats and mustelids. Large areas of rough, steep forest were able to be treated very rapidly.

Committee Chair Helen Lane said the results were extremely pleasing. A great deal more needed to be done in educating people of the merits of using 1080 toxin, and the safety procedures involved.

Mr Simmons said there was a small group of anti 1080 activists which placed bogus poison signs and sabotaged the operations, with rocks and high tensile wire placed in the carrot bait. This posed a risk to contractors and staff, and damage to equipment by people who were becoming more determined to interfere with the process.

Despite such disruptions, the Council’s contractor Epro Limited had done a superb job with excellent community consultation, culminating in exceptional results of residual trap catches averaging less than 1 percent.

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