Saturday, October 29, 2011

Message from a pest-control operator

The following is a letter from an experienced pest control operator, and refers to his experience with managing bovine tb without using aerially applied 1080 poison ...

My name is Martin Foote. I was Vice President of the New Zealand
Oppossum Fur Producers Association (NZOFPA) for a number of years.

Before my time and during that time possum trappers took on the 1080
industry...And we made life tough for them.

Myself and a number of possum trappers knew that if we set traplines
and kept them going (not lifting 1 trap until a line of at least 100
caught nothing for 3 nights in row) we could achieve a RTC of 0% or
very, very close to it. I and others have done this numerous times
(and were paid for it in the early contracting days). Sure, compared
to an initial 1080 knockdown, it costs more. However, when you take
the lower costs of keeping the possums below 1% for however long they
need to be controlled it is cheaper in the long term.

When I approached the powers that be (DOC, Wellington Regional Council
(WRC) and AHB) and said that I would lower possum populations to below
1% and keep them there for 10 years for the same price as they were
planning to spend on 1080 over that time (with no guarantees on their
1080) they turned me down. They told me that 1080 was more cost
effective. I've never been able to work out how a guaranteed job with
the same price tag as a hopeful job, can be inferior.

I also spent some time talking to Professor Roger Morris (Massey
University) about TB in possums and TB in the environment. Roger
believed in a theory of hot-spots whereby the TB bug stays active in
the environment waiting for a new possum to come along and be
infected. These hot-spots were geographically stable and were probably
related to den sites. I asked Roger how long he thought the TB bug
could stay infectious if a TB possum died in cool, dry, dark
den....His answer was 20 YEARS.

I then asked Roger if he was interested in supervising an operation to
eradicate TB using his hot-spot theory and my trapping skills. He said

The operation was paid for by myself (with the exception that the farm
paid for my fuel). I selected Glenburn Station. Glenburn was one of
the places in the Wairarapa where TB was first recorded. The coastal
side of Glenburn had never had TB while the inland side always did. I
spent some time with Roger's staff working out an autopsy technique
that would find TB possums without slowing my skinning too much. The
agreed method took me about twice as long to skin a possum and Roger
thought I would pick up 95% of TB infections.

I caught 18 TB possums (confirmed by Massey University) from 3 areas
on the boundary of the block I eventually worked. When I was sure that
I had achieved the result I needed to show that hunters could target
TB I asked Glenburn to bring some young cattle from the coast to graze
on my block. Glenburn did so and rigorous TB testing was done....NO

I then took my results to AHB and WRC. Who did their nana as I asked
for long term contracts and I wanted to only be paid if there were
clear herd tests. I remember one of the senior staff telling me that he couldn't
allow me to take a risk like that!!!!!!

After that things went down hill fast. Glenburn's manager was forced
(by politics) to let the test herd into a paddock that I had isolated
as having the largest number of TB possums coming from it. The next TB
test had reactors. 3 senior staff members started rubbishing my work at public meetings until I told them that if they continued to do so they would end up in court. 

They stopped talking about me, however, they weren't prepared to offer me any contracts and I had run out of money. This block is now planted in
pine trees with no cattle grazing and Glenburn is TB free. They put a
pine tree band aid over the problem and those infectious den sites are
still there." 

The Mapara operation...

The initial control was done by trappers. It was one of the first
trial contracts and was run by NZOPFA. The first trappers that went in
did enough work to get the first payment and then walked off. A second
group, of which I was one, went in and finished the job to the agreed
standard for the remaining money. We wanted the contract to continue
with the maintenance, however, Doc decided to follow up with aerial
1080. No good reason was ever given and we suspected that they never
expected us to succeed and DOC never had any intention of letting
hunters prove how good they were.

In the DOC ground control work, after the aerial 1080, a lot of
Brodificum was used and it was discovered that the native Falcon was
laying eggs but no chicks were hatching. Upon investigation it was
found that the eggs were contaminated with Brodificum and it was
suspected that the Falcons were catching sick and dying rats for their
prey causing sublethal poisioning that made their eggs infertile.

Malcolm Moore (Rotorua) managed the contract for NZOFPA, Ray Scimgeour
was the DOC Field Centre Manager for Te Kuiti (good bloke) and Phil
Brady was the scientist living on the job.

I've also noted that neither DOC, AHB or Regional Councils are giving
out post operation possum population figures. A few years ago we
always knew the poor 1080 operations as they didn't release the
monitoring results and they always released the results for successful
operations. I've visited ERMA's website and they have a watchlist
section for DOC and AHB to post their operations and results on. There
are very few operations there. Last years 3 Tararua blocks, including
"Project Kaka", are there, however, there are no post operation
monitoring results posted. What's the point of having a watchlist if
there is nothing to watch or evaluate? My guess is they didn't get the
possum kill they wanted. There have been a number of aerial 1080
failures in the Tararua's.

Martin Foote


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