Friday, July 29, 2011

Good Work, DoC - Good Nature Traps

It's great to see that the Department of Conservation is working toward targeted, more efficient methods of pest control.
A new, humane, instant kill possum trap has been developed by private enterprise - Wellington business, Good Nature. The story appeared on a TV3 news item last night.
The trap can reportedly, kill 12 possums, before its propellant canister is required to be changed.

DoC state they spend around 20 million dollars per year on pest control. However, when taking into account the amounts spent by the AHB, Regional Councils and other departments, the NRCPB (National Research Centre for Possum Biocontrol) places the total, annual figure, at over 110 million dollars.

The current 110 million is spent to waste the possum, and contributes to contaminating our forests with poisons, and poisonous carcasses.
This money would be better spent on targeted pest management, improved track networks, and increasing the number of trappers huts throughout our forests.

Currently, over 100 million in revenue is brought into New Zealand by private possum product industries.
With further support, it is estimated this figure could be doubled.

These new self setting traps could be used in rough areas, too, although rough terrain areas are probably not needed to be managed, because possums, like the majority of birds prefer to live where the food supplies are more abundant, and where the temperatures and forest cover is more favorable.

Great work by DoC, and Good Nature.
Be sure to watch Poisoning Paradise by clicking the link below. It raises the importance and effectiveness of targeted pest control...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Minister Quick to Attack Anti-1080 Community

(Hon) Kate Wilkinson was quick to seize the opportunity to infer that those opposed to 1080 were part of a growing "anti-1080 movement" which she suggests is becoming increasingly violent on the Coromandel Peninsula. 

Ms. Wilkinson was referring to a reported assault that took place at a marine protection meeting in Tairua on the weekend.

The incident was an act of aggression, and in no way reflects the behavior of the majority of those who oppose the use of 1080 poison to kill wildlife in New Zealand

However, a person who was present at the meeting said the assault was different to the perspective offered by the Minister of Conservation. The person stated that the dispute had been brewing for several years, and was over the killing of pig-hunters' dogs shot by the Waikato Conservation Board Chairman, Arthur Hinds, the victim of the assault. Whether you agree with shooting dogs or not, this is an emotive issue, and was what was behind the assault, the informant stated. 

Perhaps a better way to have commented on the incident was to simply condemn the assault on the respected member of the community, and then allow the Police to handle the incident..

But this is not the first time the pro-1080 lobby have taken advantage of an opportunity to paint people opposed to1080, in a bad light. In 2008 a 1080 contractor's dog was allegedly poisoned by "anti-1080 protestors". However, after the police report was completed, many months later, it was found that a likely cause of the dog's death was the dog coming into contact with traces of 1080 poison lying in the back of the contractor's vehicle. 

It is understandable that DoC wishes to stem the growing number of people in the community opposed to the use of 1080 poison, but this is not the way to do it. 
What happened on the weekend was an assault by an individual, and it will be dealt with by the police. To turn this into an opportunity to try to brand those who oppose 1080 as part of an increasingly violent "anti-1080 movement", is offensive, and provocative. 

The way in which 1080 is used is certainly emotive, and so it should be - it takes animals from hours to days to die from the effects of the poison. To watch your pet die is one of the most horrific events someone could witness
To have poison dropped around your property, and have your water supplies threatened with poison, is very emotive.

People are tired of having their pets poisoned, and their health threatened, at the same time as being told that it's for the greater good! 
It's time to stop the anti-social practice of aerially spreading 1080, and to use more targeted options of pest control - It's time to consider not only the welfare of the wildlife, but also the communities and the people that live around them. 
To watch the documentary on this issue, please click the link below


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hundreds of Endangered Birds Killed in Research

Are we too reckless when attaching tracking equipment to our native birds? Are we using our native species as expendable guinea pigs? It seems we are ...

The author of the book Kiwi Hunter, published in 2005, implies hundreds of our endemic kiwi are being killed due to poor methodology of researchers. His declaration is not an isolated occurrence.

There's plenty of evidence to show that radio-tagging birds is an invasive procedure that causes the birds stress and other physiological harm, and renders them less able to fend off predators. Some transmitters, after batteries run out, are left attached to birds, indefinitely.

Over 150 native birds are documented in Rare Bits (a DoC publication), as dying after being radio-tagged during research conducted between 2000 and 2004. In most cases there are no controls, so the results are merely observations, with no measurable comparisons. This assembly of information from Rare Bits is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few excerpts ...

"To date, 63 kereru (wood pigeon) have been captured and survived at least a fortnight after being radio-tagged. Of these, 28 (44.4%) have died, giving a mean life expectancy of just 0.9 years! Although the cause of death or species of predator involved is not always obvious, the following are the assumed causes:"

"kiwi: So far five of the 11 chicks have been predated, and all in the centre of the treatment area. Surviving kiwi chicks are being left in the wild in the hope that stoat density will not recover quickly enough to make their fate certain. Unfortunately only one of the 11 monitored chicks hatched early enough in the season to get the full benefit of the aerial knock-down."

"Last season we monitored 14 kiwi chicks. This work was to measure chick survival in the wild after a very effective 21,000 ha aerial 1080 operation. Eight chicks successfully hatched in the wild: four were predated by stoats, one dropped its transmitter at 1370 g and three are still being monitored. Six eggs were taken to Rainbow due to nest abandonment and were hatched successfully. The new chicks were then released back into their parental territory in Tongariro forest. Three were predated by stoats, one died of hypothermia and two are still alive."

It's convenient to suggest that these results are to be expected - to just assume the deaths are a result of predation - after all, predation is big business. The problem is, the birds are also dying after "successful" poisoning operations, and are being sent to the front-line to test the effectiveness of the poisoning operations.

So what determines whether a poison operation is successful or not, and how long does the full benefit of an aerial knock-down last? A successful drop may mean killing rats and possums, but the real predator, the stoat, appears to be largely unaffected - and he's switching his prey. Murphy et al produced this paper .... CHANGE IN DIET OF STOATS FOLLOWING POISONING OF RATS IN A NEW ZEALAND FOREST The researchers found that ... Although rats were the main prey item of stoats before the poisoning, stoat abundance was unaffected by the operation and there was a change in stoats' diet from rats to birds.

If aerial operations are "very effective" at killing pests, why are so many birds being fitted with radio-tags and effectively, being sent to the front-line to determine if predators remain in the drop-zone?

The number of radio-tagged birds that are assumed to have died by predation, is high.

If birds are declared to have been killed by a predator in poison operational areas, they are overlooked for testing for 1080 poison residues. Not surprisingly then, between 1999 and 2007, only one kiwi was tested for 1080 residues (revealed under the Official Information Act).

Documentation suggests hundreds of kiwi have died within this period. Why has only one bird been tested for 1080 poison residues? Surely, all native species found dead in poisoned areas should be tested, even where bait-stations are used?

In 2008 an endangered takahe died at Mt Bruce, and the following month 4 adult kiwi died at Mt Bruce. The cause of the 4 kiwi deaths was deemed to be predation.

It wasn't to be the last time there was a predator attack at the heavily bait-stationed Mt Bruce. 12 kiwi died there last year. Of the 12 birds found dead, within the 4 week period, none were tested for poison residues. The cause of death was determined to be predation. It was reported that 2 ferrets managed to cover 950 hectares, to hunt down the 12 kiwi. Impressive.

DoC state that adult kiwi can fend off predators. An OIA request revealed that 10 of the 12 dead kiwi at Mt Bruce were adult birds, in good condition..

More recently, 6 Kaka died at Mt Bruce. Surprisingly, 3 were tested and found to have died from eating poison bait. Not surprisingly, all our curious, endemic parrots - kaka, kea, and kakariki - are attracted to poisonous bait, and have been found dead with poison residues in their carcasses.

After the kaka deaths a news item stated "The kaka were eating the cereal pellets containing the poison and Mr Lester (DoC) said staff immediately began adding metal plates to the 1200 bait stations within the reserve to stop the birds getting into the plastic containers."

The decision to test these birds was a good one. It proved that kaka are prone to eating poisonous food and will even break into bait stations to access it. It is not unreasonable to suggest that when poisonous food is dropped from helicopters, as in the recent Project Kaka, in the Tararua Forest Park, that the birds will eat the toxic bait that's supposed to protect them. Especially when it's dropped into their nests.

We have filmed the impacts of poison drops, right across the country. We have found plenty of evidence of dead birds that have been scavenged. I suggest that if stoats are being poisoned in aerial operations, it is because they are predating on birds dying from 1080 poisoning and, or, scavenging on birds that have died from 1080 poisoning.

However, research suggests that stoat populations are not affected in poison drops.

Murphy et al found that ... Overall, rats and invertebrates were major components of stoat diet, occurring in 40.8% and 52.4% of guts respectively (Table 1). Mouse remains were found in 11.5% of guts. Lagomorphs and possums did not feature prominently in the diet. Bird remains were found in 19.3% of guts. Most of the bird remains that could be identified further were passerines, which occurred in 7.5% of guts (and included blackbirds Turdus merula and finches).

So is our willingness to sacrifice our native birds to measure predator populations, and the "success" of poisoning operations, something of the past?

It seems not. Just recently, 23 of 34 native Morepork (originally thought to be 31) died after being fitted with radio tracking equipment to determine the effects on the species after a 1080 poison operation in the Waitutu Valley, Fiordland.

And yesterday, we were informed that the Tongariro Forest is about to get another dosing of 1080 - 20,000 hectares! (Some of the excerpts above are from 10 year old research, from aerial poison drops in the Tongariro Forest). And to top it off, DoC are going to be presenting more young, radio-tagged kiwi to the predators to try to determine if the 1080 drops still aren't working.

DoC spokesperson Nick Poutu, in yesterday's news item, stated "the aerial bait drop was an important goal for DoC, reducing the rat numbers in the forest as well as reducing the ferret and stoat populations from secondary poisoning. These predators have been responsible for a great deal of the local kiwi population recently, with large numbers of monitored adult kiwi succumbing to ferrets in the last couple of years," Mr Poutu said.

He said DoC would be monitoring the survival of kiwi chicks after the bait drop to see if it gave them any respite from stoat predation."

This announcement by DoC yesterday, that "large numbers of monitored adult kiwi" are still being killed by predators, is more evidence that aerial poison drops clearly aren't working. DoC have been aerially poisoning the Tongariro Forest for decades. If aerial drops were working, these birds wouldn't be dying. All birds found dead in aerial drop-zones should be tested for poison residues.

We keep doing the same thing, year after year - and the results are the same - large numbers of dead, native birds, and no evidence of benefit. Research is important, but our willingness to use our native wildlife as bait - and our efforts to prove that the use of broad-spectrum, poison-laced food doesn't kill wildlife - needs to be stopped. It's time to stop risking our native wildlife to predation and poisoning operations, and to start targeting the pests in our forests, directly.

One of the most informative assembly of information and facts about aerial 1080 drops in New Zealand, in an easy to access medium, is the documentary Poisoning Paradise.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Science vs Truth & Courage

The following paper highlights the fact that being a scientist is much like being any other industry employee. You're restricted from speaking out, and to do so comes with clear penalties. This unwritten covenant is alive and well in New Zealand. 
It seems truth is elusive, and something we should never expect ...


Why environmental scientists are afraid to speak out


"Suppose that an environmental scientist uncovers a risk to the public or the environment, for example a hazardous chemical, unanticipated ecological destruction from a planned development, or a flaw in data presented in an environmental impact statement. What then? Surely this information, after verification, should be quickly communicated to responsible authorities so that appropriate action can be taken. But what if the 'responsible authorities' have different priorities - or even are responsible for the problem?..."To read more, click here 

To watch Poisoning Paradise, click the link below...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Snappy New Possum Trap Effective and Humane

Apart from the inclusion of the usual propaganda, this story is good news for the humane management of possums - (The propaganda ... "Possums damage native forests, spread bovine Tb among cattle and deer, and eat the eggs and chicks of native birds" - when, in fact, possums have done little harm to forests; cattle pass bovine tb (bovine tb is catle tb) to possums, and rarely; and it is extremely rare for possums to eat birds and birds' eggs)
Snappy New Possum Trap Effective and Humane

Watch Poisoning Paradise, free, online now, for a short period of time.  Click link below

Thursday, July 7, 2011

18 of 31 radio-tagged owls found dead day before 1080 poison drop

On October the 3rd, 2010, 25,000 hectares of the Waitutu Forest, in the Fiordland National Park, was aerially poisoned with 1080.
The following comment was posted by a Department of Conservation employee on June 28, 2011, which was far more revealing than the official DoC declaration delivered last year (see below)...

The following information is from a study undertaken during the 2010 Waitutu 1080 operation. The report is in the process of peer review and publishing. Note that bad weather killed 18 ruru (Owl) before the operation and the one that died after the operation was found cached underground by a predator and it tested clear of 1080.

Of the 31 radio-tagged ruru known to be alive at the beginning of August, transmitters belonging to 18 of these birds were discovered in mortality mode during an aerial status check immediately prior (3 Oct 2010) to the distribution of toxic baits (4 Oct 2010). Ground-based checks of these birds commencing 4 October confirmed that all of these birds were dead and had been for some days (≥10 days). Of the remaining 13 radio-tagged ruru, two transmitters appeared to have failed (intermittent or no detectable signal) leaving 11 radio-tagged ruru known to be alive or detectable within the operational area when 1080 baits were distributed. One of these 11 birds died within three days of toxic bait application. This bird was found cached underground but recovered intact (8 Oct 2010) and subsequently autopsied (Massey School of Veterinary Science) and tested for 1080 residues (CENTOX). No traces of 1080 were found.

For 18 of 31 radio tagged, native owls (Ruru - Maori) to die just prior to an aerial 1080 poison operation, in terrain that is easily traversable, is very disturbing.
Today I talked to Ross Campbell, owl expert, and owner of the famed OWLCATRAZ  tourist park.
I asked him about the Ruru. Ross stated that Ruru are very resilient in winter weather, and when I mentioned that 18 tagged birds reportedly died recently, in bad weather, he said he'd be surprised if even one had.
Ross went on to say that the Ruru lives up to 80 years, that they're bad breeders, and poor parents.
He pointed out that if Ruru are dying in large numbers, it could take a thousand years for the population to recover. He went on to say that when aerial operations were conducted in the Tararua Forest Park, he observed the native owl population slump by two thirds.

If the Department of Conservation managed to find 31 Ruru to tag, prior to this operation, the population was probably in good order, despite weather conditions over the last 1000 years!

However, in their summary of the poison drop, lats year, DoC stated ... "Local birdlife was monitored both before and after the operation including, tomtits, grey warblers, rifleman, mohua, kaka and ruru. No birds were found to have been killed by the poison, including 15 kaka and 11 ruru/morepork which were monitored. There was no detectable reduction in bird numbers as a result of the operation, and it is clearly evident that bird numbers are now on the increase due to the reduction in predators." 

The Department of Conservation stated they had only monitored 11 morepork in the statement above. However, at least 31 birds were radio tagged, and recovery of the dead - missing birds, didn't begin until after the drop had begun. Although weather is blamed for the deaths, a more likely cause is the radio tags interfering with the birds ability to move and hunt. 

It is common for radio tagged birds to die around 1080 poison drops. Often 50% mortality is observed.
These birds are rarely tested for poison residues - instead, their deaths are attributed to predation, and so testing is excluded.

1080 poison has no antidote, and causes secondary poisoning. Ruru have been found dead with 1080 residues in their carcasses before. The birds don't eat the baits directly, but target poisoned mice, small rats, insects, and even joey possums that leave the pouch after their mother eats the bait. The joeys receive the poison through their mother's milk, and can then poison the birds. Ruru are at high risk of poisoning in aerial operations, as are many other native species. To eliminate poisoning as a cause of death, even in scavenged birds, testing should be mandatory.

Due to the unusual nature of this event, I have submitted an Official Information Act request to the district office that managed this operation. I will post the result of that request when it is returned.

With increasing budgets, and the power that comes with those budgets, it's important that transparency is maintained within the public service, and that bureaucrats remain accountable to the public that fund them.  The Act requires a response within 20 days.

So what is the Official Information Act, and why is it important?

The Official Information Act was established in 1982. 
The purpose of the law is toincrease the availability of official information to promote more effective public participation in the making and administration of laws and policies.
Click here to view Poisoning Paradise ... 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Playing Politics With Poison Policy

The following story was printed in Hamilton News, yesterday, and is a summary of the recent PCE report...

Playing Politics With Poison Policy


In true Orwellian fashion, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has manufactured a faith-based pitch for saving New Zealand wildlife by expanded poisoning of our fragile bush ecosystems.

Billed as an “independent investigation”, the report by Jan Wright is an unapologetically political document designed to head off potential legislative controls or a parliamentary moratorium on use of supertoxin 1080.  With a $100m pest control industry under fire, Wright produced a lightweight document that is stunning for its lack of factual substance, its booster tone, and dismissive attitude toward those who disagree.

And it’s easy to see why the current PCE belched up the government line on 1080 policy.   Wright, a career policy analyst and consultant, is the consummate Wellington political insider, with past board positions at Transit NZ, ACC, and Land Transport NZ.   As for her advertised “independence” on the issue of 1080, one of Wright’s former clients was none other than the pro-1080 Environmental Risk Management Authority. 

The report lacks any new information but is most notable for what it fails to consider.  Wright refused to consider Maori cultural impacts, views of local communities, accidents and specifics of operations. 

The report makes numerous unsubstantiated claims giving the misleading impression her conclusions are fact-based.   After carefully referencing a single study on kiwi populations, for example, she makes a highly emotional warning that six vastly different species of native birds “will almost certainly disappear”.  In actual fact, there is nothing cited in the scientific literature to back up her assertion.

Even worse, Wright’s “Forests Under Attack” scare section features major factual error.  She highlights tui and bellbirds (korimako) as examples of native species certain to “decline further”.  However, a close reading of the 2010 Journal of Ecology predation study Wright uses to buttress her 1080 sales pitch reveals both tui and bellbirds are actually expanding their range across New Zealand and are not classified as threatened to any degree whatsoever.   She warns of “loss or decline” of these seed-dispersing species and “cascading ecological changes in native forests”, but the hard published data shows the exact opposite trend for these species.  It appears Wright has not read her own sources.

Furthermore, much of the so-called “science” and “research” upon which the PCE bases her opinions has been produced by individuals with direct or indirect financial and career relationships to DOC, tainting their findings with the potential for bias.

Readers searching the report for any new evidence to support her wacky conclusions find it’s simply not there.  Despite growing scientific opinion opposed to current 1080 policy, Wright ducks the issue, stating there simply are no good arguments against.   She makes an absurd claim that 1080 “scores surprisingly well” on humaneness. She ignores well-documented, disastrous explosions in rat populations after 1080 drops. She fails to seriously address rural community concerns.

The report is astounding in its failure to acknowledge well-established dangers of 1080.  Even the 2007 ERMA report concluded that the effect on non-target animals exposed to 1080 is significantly adverse.  A 2007 Landcare Research summary of 1080 possum and rat control warns of “negative long-terms consequences for robins and ground invertebrates.”  Wright’s report flies in the face of recommendations by the Nature Conservation Council and distinguished former PCE Helen Hughes.
As seen from popular destinations like the Coromandel, Wright is a one-woman wrecking crew for the multi-billion dollar tourism industry, as disillusioned tourists increasingly attack New Zealand’s fraudulent green branding.  Export industries from shellfish to timber to fur to meat face potential catastrophic losses as well.  But the PCE report fails to figure that in.

Opposition to 1080 continues to mount.   Regional councils and DOC are under increasing pressure from an informed public.  Despite a born-again pitch from PCE Jan Wright, the tide of public opinion can’t be stemmed.  Decades of 1080 drops with no net ecosystem benefit have simply poisoned the well.

For a short time, view the multi-award winning Poisoning Paradise documentary - click link below