DOC planning biggest 1080 drop ever to combat 2019 mega-mast year

Warning: This video contains distressing content.

From Facebook newsfeeds to the steps of Parliament, anti-1080 sentiment has been surging in recent months.

With the Department of Conservation (DoC) planning its biggest drop in history for next spring, Newshub Nation has investigated the arguments for and against the controversial poison.

There are legitimate concerns about 1080 such as by-kill, animal welfare and tikanga. However, other concerns around water supplies and poisoning humans have been thoroughly debunked. You can read more on this here.

Possums, rats, stoats and other introduced mammals kill more than 26 million native chicks and eggs a year and 1080 has proved invaluable in protecting our native species by knocking down this triple-threat.

After an eight-year operation in the 1990s, the number of kōkako in the central North Island bounced back eightfold.

In 2006, a 1080 drop in Tongariro Forest saw the survival of kiwi chicks jump from 25 percent before the drop, to more than 50 percent in the following two years.

In 2014, the nesting success of robin in the Marlborough Sounds jumped from 7 percent before, to 50 percent after the use of 1080.

Aerial 1080 works by killing the possums and rats that eat the baits. It then kills the stoats that eat the poisoned animals (this is also why 1080 is so dangerous to dogs).

The poison is particularly useful for saving native birds during what's called a mast year - when the forest produces huge amounts of seeds and fruit. This causes the number of rats to multiply, and the stoats - who feed on the rats - to do the same.

DOC planning biggest 1080 drop ever to combat 2019 mega-mast year
Photo credit: Newshub Nation, DOC

Next spring is expected to be a mega-mast year. To combat it, more than 1 million hectares has been earmarked for pest control.

At $33 a hectare, aerial 1080 is the most cost-effective method of covering such a large area.

For comparison, the Bay Bush Action group estimates that the annual cost of maintaining a fenced forest is around $3365 per hectare. Trap setup costs alone are about $378 per hectare.

Despite the comparative cheapness of 1080, the 2019 drop will still cost an estimated $36 million - but DoC has the cash, following an $86.1 million budget boost for pest control over the next four years.

Forest and Bird CEO Kevin Hague says 1080 is vital in the fight to keep our native species alive.

"I shudder to think what the consequences would be if we stopped using 1080 because 80 percent of New Zealand's native birds are moving toward extinction. We need to reverse that desperately."

However New Zealand First is not so supportive, with a promise to investigate alternatives to 1080 being a part of their final coalition deal.

"This type of pest control doesn't particularly have full buy-in from across the public so what we need to do is urgently find alternatives that will have the right social license buy-in," says Jenny Marcroft, NZ First Conservation Spokesperson.

However, an alternative to 1080 will take years to be approved and DoC spokesperson Herb Christophers says we can't afford to wait.

"We've got a heart too, we're trying to save species and we're doing our damnedest. If another tool that could replace 1080 - which was as good as it - came along we'd be using it,

"But hey, that's not going to happen for the next 10 years. I can guarantee."

The Deerstalkers' Association and the SPCA both hold concerns for animal welfare.

"1080 is considered to have severe overall animal welfare suffering to the animals that ingest it," says Dr Arnja Dale, SPCA chief scientific officer.

"We don't have any preferential views on say a dog or a cat versus a stoat or a rat, we acknowledge they can all feel pain - what we argue is if they are going to be managed, they must be managed in a humane way."

However, Dr Jan Wright - who investigated 1080 in 2011 as Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment - says 1080 is classified as moderate on the humane scale of poisons.

"It's not pleasant, but it's relatively quick compared with many others. But it's also not pleasant when a stoat comes upon a mother bird in her nest with her chicks and eats the lot," she says.

The SPCA wants painkillers added to 1080 to minimise suffering, while the Deerstalkers Association want it imbued with repellent to prevent bykill.

DoC is looking into both of these options, but says that the costs are prohibitive.

Kill traps are recognised as one of the most humane methods of pest control, but even self-resetting traps simply can't cope with pest populations during a mast year, or cover difficult terrain like aerial 1080.

Watch the video for the full investigation. 

Newshub Nation.

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