Enormous 900,000-hectare 1080 drop planned for South Island forests

The Government has planned for a massive 1080 drop over South Island forests this autumn, in response to what's been called a widespread "mega mast". 

The Department of Conservation (DoC) says there will be heavy seeding in New Zealand forests this year - the biggest in more than 40 years - with the most set for South Island forests. 

That would provide a bonanza of food for native species, but would also fuel rodent and stoat plagues that threaten native birds and other wildlife as predator populations build up next spring and summer.

In response, the DoC's Tiakina Ngā Manu predator control programme, previously known as Battle for our Birds, will see more than 66,000 ha of trapping with the remainder - more than 900,000 ha - aerial 1080 operations. 

"DoC is planning its largest-ever predator control programme for 2019/2020, at a cost of $38 million, to suppress rats, stoats and possums over about one million hectares or 12 percent of conservation land," Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said. 

She said it's a step up from the previous largest programme overseen by former National Party Conservation Minister Maggie Barry, of 840,000 ha in 2016 and 600,000 ha in 2014 ,when there were significant but smaller mast events. 

The priority sites for predator control include the South Island's Kahurangi, Abel Tasman, Arthur's Pass, Westland, Mt Aspiring and Fiordland national parks, the Catlins and Whirinaki.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage. Photo credit: Newshub

While most sites have been confirmed and are at an advanced stage of planning, Sage said predator control operations will only proceed from May this year if rodents reach levels that pose a threat to wildlife. 

"Responding to the increased threat from introduced predators during such a big mast year is critical if we are to retain our unique native species that set New Zealand apart from the rest of the world," Sage said. 

Animal welfare groups like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) have called for 1080 to be banned, saying it causes "intense and prolonged suffering" to animals.

But DoC says there are "no practical alternatives" and aerial 1080 is "the only method that can be deployed rapidly to manage a pest boom over vast or rugged terrain".

Sage said DoC had been consulting with iwi partners, regional councils and other pest control agencies, community groups and neighbouring landowners in recent months as part of its planning for the purge.  

The programme aims to sustain vulnerable populations of kiwi, kākā, kōkako, kea, whio/blue duck, mohua/yellowhead, kākāriki/orange-fronted parakeet, rock wren/tuke, long and short tailed bats/pekapeka, native frogs and Powelliphanta snails.

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