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Published: 2007-06-28 00:00:00

Environment Waikato’s 2007-2012 Regional Pest Management Strategy (RPMS), adopted today by council, takes a new approach to controlling a well established pest, possums.

As well as carrying bovine Tb and spreading cryptosporidia and giardia, possums compete with stock for grazing – in fact ten possums can eat as much grass in a night as one sheep. Possums also destroy native bush, eat the chicks and eggs of native birds, prey on native insects and damage people’s gardens.

In the past, the Waikato region has benefited from millions of dollars the Animal Health Board (AHB) has spent to control possums. Although the main goal was to eradicate bovine Tb, these operations have created biodiversity benefits such as healthier bush and dramatic increases in bird life in operation areas.

However, with bovine Tb now close to being eradicated from herds of domestic stock, the AHB is gradually directing funding to other parts of New Zealand. Over the next five years, the area of Waikato land under AHB possum control schemes is expected to be cut in half.

Even with bovine Tb eliminated, Environment Waikato believes it would be irresponsible to let possum numbers rebound.

“Everyone in the community will benefit if we can maintain the gains we have made in possum control so far,” Environment Waikato chairman Jenni Vernon said.

Environment Waikato will be expanding its possum control programmes in a move to boost biodiversity, improve catchment health, and keep the lid on possum numbers where they are already low.

One of the areas where this will occur is the Waimai Valley in the western Waikato, where the 50,000 hectares of land currently under possum control is planned to be expanded to 185,000 hectares over the next three years.

It is proposed that by 2012 the council will be involved with possum control on 600,000 hectares of land.

Cr Vernon said an amendment to the Resource Management Act in 2003 made regional councils responsible for managing biodiversity, particularly New Zealand’s native plants and animals.

“This new responsibility coincides with a greater public expectation that the regional council will do more to protect our natural heritage,” she said.

“Introduced pests are the single greatest threat to native plants and animals at many sites around the Waikato region. For example, in areas without predator control, approximately 95 per cent of kiwi chicks are killed before they reach maturity. But up to 80 per cent of chicks survive in areas where possums, rats and stoats have been intensively controlled.

“In our urban areas there are serious problems with pests and weeds that the new Regional Pest Management Strategy will address too.”