Exclusive: Major spending boost on finding 1080 alternatives

The Department of Conservation (DoC) has significantly increased its spending on finding alternatives to 1080.

Documents obtained by Newshub show since 2011, the trend in spending has jumped from $1.06 million a year to $3.55 million planned spend in 2018/19.

DoC's director of biodiversity threats Amber Bill told Newshub technology is changing.

"A large part of it is to do with the predator [free] 2050 vision and the need for shifting from ongoing management to eradication - it needs more tools.

"Shifting across different habitats too, like landscape scale. Offshore islands we do very well, but in an urban or rural settings it needs new tools and techniques."

Funds for collaborative projects may include some work but breakdown not available.
Funds for collaborative projects may include some work but breakdown not available. Photo credit: Newshub.

Five sub-projects are underway within the department's Tools to Market project. They include developing new bait for stoats, finding new methods to evaluate the vulnerability of native birds and extending a pesticide to target ship rats.

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".

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage has welcomed the work being achieved in predator eradication.

"We've seen a huge increase in the number of New Zealanders working in their backyards and communities to trap and control rats, possums and stoats. So we need new tools and toxins to make that work and make predator-free more effective."

When asked if 1080 will eventually be phased out of use in the future, Sage says there is still a lot of work to be done and 1080 is still the most effective tool in the toolbox.

A recent study concluded current approaches to making New Zealand predator free by 2050 won't be achieved with current predator-control approaches. It also suggested technologies such as genetic engineering (GE) could lead the way.

Newshub revealed in February the Conservation Minister penned a letter of expectation to Predator Free 2050 Limited, explicitly telling the company not to invest in research into the technology.

That's despite official advice from DoC suggesting it could be used to help rid New Zealand of predators.

Bill confirmed DoC is also not doing any work in the area. But she did say it could be something to look at in the future.

"What I could do is take on board the input of scientists in this quest of broadening our toolbox, so that seems like it could be a possibility.

"It could only come after that social conversation those ethical considerations and a legislative process."

The Conservation Minister stands by the decision not to look into the technology.

"There are no silver bullets sitting on the shelf in terms of GE. There's been no strong public push for genetic engineering tools. There'd need to be a huge amount of research and field trials.

"Also discussion in the community to get a social license, that has yet to happen."

Bill mentioned artificial intelligence is being looked at, and there is research into understanding the genetic makeup of species in New Zealand.

National's Conservation spokesperson Sarah Dowie told Newshub biotechnology should be the way forward, and it could be a long-term replacement for 1080.

"Biotechnology, if investigated well could be a real cost benefit. If we can get some sort of biotechnology that works, that may well mean there is a reduction in funding long-term.

"We need to approach conservation with good scientific principles - if the science is there, we should be using it. Let's have a conversation, let's do the investigations and research and see what comes out."

The Government announced in February it would invest $19.5 million from the Provincial Growth Fund into developing "innovative" alternatives to 1080.

In 2011, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright conducted an independent review into the use of 1080, which concluded more of it should be used.