Use of 1080 polarises opinions

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STEVE.ADDISON

@thenews.co.nz

1080 has been used as the first line of defence against New Zealand’s pests for decades. Its use is a polarising issue and there are passionate people on both sides. After protests at a recent aerial 1080 operation in Makarora, The News chief reporter Steve Addison takes a look at the poison.

The poison 1080 is used by the Department of Conservation (Doc) and regional councils throughout New Zealand to control possums, rats and stoats. It is used to protect our native birds and forests and to keep our farms free from bovine tuberculosis.

Aerial 1080 pest control operations are supported by organisations as diverse as Federated Farmers and Forest and Bird and tentatively by the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association.

However, the idea of dropping poison on our forests and waterways is deeply disturbing to many people and there is little trust on either side of the debate.

Asked about the case for 1080, Wanaka’s Doc office referred The News to Wellington.

The 1080 cereal baits contain just 0.15% of the active ingredient and are scented with cinnamon and dyed green.

The colour makes them less attractive to birds but the cinnamon is attractive to pests, says Doc Battle for Our Birds spokesman Herb Christophers.

He says just 2.25g of applied per hectare.

“Although 1080 baits can enter waterways during aerial applications, dilution will reduce 1080 quickly to very low concentrations in water. Once in water, 1080 is biodegraded into non-toxic byproducts within two to six days .. it does not leave permanent residues in water, soil, plants or animals.

“Depending on rat density, it can reduce populations to undetectable levels. This allows birds a chance to breed before any potential recovery of rat populations.”

The poison was chemically identical to the naturally occurring poison produced by some plants as a defence against mammals, he said.

According to The Facts, a Forest and Bird and Federated Farmers website to advocate for 1080, the need to use the poison is “pressing.” It says New Zealand has one of the highest extinction rates in the world of both plants and animals, citing an estimated 25million native birds killed by introduced predators every year.

The site says, at the Ministry of Health’s maximum level for 1080 in drinking water, a 60kg person would need to drink 60,000 litres of water for a lethal dose. The Facts acknowledges the poison can kill cattle and other animals, including dogs.

But what about the other side?

Wanaka anti-1080 campaigner Carol Sawyer takes issue with the information used by Government sources and says 1080 is toxic to all organisms that require oxygen to live, even plants. She says this is backed up by scientific evidence and cites the research of scientist Dr Jo Pollard, who is a prominent anti-1080 campaigner.

“Pests are not the menace they are made out to be. Look at the birdlife in our towns and cities, where rats and cats and mice and possums abound. It is much more prolific than in the forests of, say South Westland, where 1080 poison has been aerially dropped for year upon year.

“After 60 years of aerial 1080 poison in our national parks, I think we can say it is not working. Trapping by knowledgeable people in select areas is all that is needed.”

According to Dr Pollard, Doc’s methodology for counting bird numbers following an operation is unscientific and gives unreliable results.

Dr Pollard also takes issue with the position of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. In 2011 the commissioner “made false claims about the benefits of 1080 to bird populations,” she said.

When asked about the likely affect of 1080 on humans Dr Pollard said “sub-lethal effects include damage to reproductive structures, birth defects and organ damage and can be cumulative”.

“There is much unknown about 1080 poison but it is clear that the practice of aerial spreading it with food baits kills rare birds and causes severe ecological upheaval, favouring invasive, fast breeding pest species,” she said.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s 2011 report on 1080 said there had been many changes to the way in which 1080 was used to protect the conservation estate.

The commissioner found the case for the use of 1080 to be “very strong” and recommended against a moratorium on 1080.