Forest and Bird calls for Government funding to eradicate wallaby 'plague'

It turns out possums aren't the only Australian invaders posing a major threat to New Zealand's ecosystem.

The wallaby population is reaching plague levels in some regions, and if nothing is done, the marsupials could cost the country $84 million a year in economic losses.

"In Australia, they're native. There, it's a completely different thing. They're supposed to be there, they're not supposed to be in New Zealand," says Forest and Bird's central North Island regional manager Dr Rebecca Stirnemann.

They might look cute and cuddly, but Dr Stirnemann says wallabies pose as much of a threat to New Zealand as possums.

"They're really the forgotten pest."

They could spread to over a third of New Zealand within the next 50 years and our native flora is on the menu.

"We will see more forest collapse. You'll have possums eating from the top, and the wallabies taking out all the baby trees from the bottom," explains Dr Stirnemann

Wallabies are reaching plague levels in the Rotorua lakes region, and have spread into the Waikato for the first time.

They're also dangerously close to the native forests in Te Urewera and the Kaimai Range.

In South Canterbury, they're starting to spread from their 900,000 hectare containment area.

They've also been spotted in Auckland, Northland, Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, Wellington, Marlborough, Southland, and the West Coast.

One Bennett's wallaby in the South Island can eat the equivalent of six rabbits. 

"You lose all your baby plants, your ferns in the undergrowth. But you're also losing your fungi in certain areas, and they really like some of our rare alpine plants," Dr Stirnemann says.

Now they're nationwide, Forest and Bird says it's time the Government funds their eradication.

The Government says it's working on it.

"MPI, DoC, Environment Canterbury, and Waikato Council are working together to develop more of a national strategy," says Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.

But funding for wallaby control didn't make the cut for this year's Budget.

"There is control work done by the Department of Conservation, but there are a lot of pests and they have to priorities," Sage says.

Wallabies currently cost $28 million dollars a year in economic losses - but the Ministry for Primary Industries estimates that in a decade, they'll cost $84 million a year if the spread isn't stopped.

"We need to improve the technology, and we need to improve the commitment to controlling them," admits Sage.

A commitment that'll need to happen soon, before this so-called "forgotten" pest becomes all-too familiar.