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Keynote speech to National Possum Control Agencies

Hon Sandra Lee
1.15pm Tuesday
11 December 2001 Speech Notes

Keynote speech to National Possum Control Agencies' annual conference
Brentwood Hotel, 16 Kemp Street, Kilbirnie, Wellington
(Please check against delivery)

Thank you for asking me to open this seminar today. With our fragile forests and vulnerable wildlife as well as animal health risks, pest control issues unite us in a common struggle.

My home on Waiheke Island is possum-free, something I could hope for all New Zealand.

Unfortunately, visits to family on the West Coast of the South Island have left me with an all too vivid understanding of the magnitude of the issues that face us.

The destruction and greying of the rata and kamahi forests, and their recovery following possum control are graphic reminders of the challenge we face and difference that we can make.

I understand the focus of your seminar is making technology more effective. I applaud your practical focus.

Today I would like to talk about some of those technologies and encourage you to focus on the potential benefits of integrated pest management.

Possums are a major issue for Government and this Government is putting more resources into possum control than any previous Government – about $42 million in the past year through my department and the Animal Health Board.

The Government is also moving actively to control other pests that are important for conservation and TB eradication reasons.

I was pleased to be told that the NPCA is reviewing its strategic focus over the next year to look beyond possums and move towards integrated pest control.

Integrated pest control is the way of the future. There is no point saving forests from possums to lose them to deer or goats. No point in saving kiwi from possums to lose them to mustelids. The deer policy is in place and activity is being stepped up on stoats.

Your industry should be proud of its successes in using technology effectively.

The quality improvements in possum control, particularly in the technology being employed, such as the combination of calibrated bait spreaders, GPS navigation and refined bait loadings, have been a recipe for successful possum control with minimal adverse effects on the environment.

I am pleased to note that this has led to a reduction in application rates from the early days that saw up 40kg of bait spread on each hectare, to today’s rates of as low as two to three kg a hectare while achieving better results in possum kill.

It is essential that the industry works together to maintain very high standards.

Aerial application of 1080 is a key tool in the kit and every little error has the potential to undermine its future and the vital support communities give us.

After the Assignment programme that screened last Thursday I want to take this opportunity to talk about 1080, and the clear benefits. I’m sure you have all felt a similar frustration to myself with some misinformation about 1080.

We all need to acknowledge the concerns of those New Zealanders who speak out about 1080.

However, it’s clear to me that there is a great deal of misinformation, which clouds people’s understanding of 1080.

We must do a better job of getting the facts to the public, which is no easy task. The NPCA can play a key role in correcting this situation.

Without aerial 1080, our forests would be much poorer, greyer, and silent places.

1080 is an essential tool for pest control in New Zealand.

If we have 1080, we have a chance against possums both for our forests and native wildlife and for TB control. The alternatives just aren’t that viable for large-scale possum control.

Often the best approach will be a mix of traditional and new technologies. It is all about fitness for purpose.

Good operators will use traditional cyanide methods, encapsulated cyanide, bait stations with a range of toxins, traps of various designs and aerial bait applications in the best mix for local circumstances taking into account community views.

Research shows us that native birds benefit from the reduction in pests that 1080 brings about.

While individual birds have died in 1080 operations in the past, we have all improved our operations and now any individual bird deaths are minimal.

I am advised that research results from an aerial 1080 operation this August due out this week show no adverse effect on tomtits in Tongariro Forest. This is hopeful news given the concerns from Pureora Forest operations in the early 1990s.

Our rugged terrain and the large areas we cover mean that aerial application of 1080 is often the most effective option.

Between my department, regional councils and other operators, we have effective standard operating procedures, reporting and monitoring systems to ensure the safety of the public.

I endorse the way you are all working together to improve 1080 operations.

It’s crucial we take every opportunity, such as this gathering, to improve our understanding about pest control and the best ways to put it into practice.

My department’s mainland island nature recovery projects can give us good clues to learning about how pests impact natural environments.

In the Te Urewera mainland island, the team has worked on maximising effectiveness of snap trapping for rats. To its credit, the team has developed a snap trap operation for rats that in their situation is more effective than using poisons, for a similar cost.

I want to follow up on a speech my colleague the Minister of Agriculture gave recently on the Government’s attitude to deer.

Jim Sutton made the point that the government's Deer Policy is based on ecological realities. New Zealand's indigenous forests did not evolve with deer.

If a whole suite of important tree and shrub species palatable to deer are not to disappear from large tracts of native forest, then deer numbers need to be reduced to low levels. In some places such as the Kaweka mountain beech forests, the future of the forest itself is severely at risk, as beech seedlings are systematically removed by deer.

There is little long term benefit from the protection of forest canopies by possum control, if deer, goats and—in places—wallabies are disrupting canopy replacement.

Recreational hunting opportunities will continue to abound, however, as game animals are widespread over large areas including on private farmland and pine plantations.

The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy adopted last year and funded with an unprecedented $187 million over five years underlined the Government’s commitment, not only to halting the loss of indigenous biodiversity, but also to restoring natural habitats along with indigenous animal and plant species.

Implementing the Deer Policy is crucial and my department is already working with regional councils and the other players to eradicate feral deer from traditional deer-free areas, such as the great kauri forests of Northland.

There are now only five feral deer thought to be still in Northland. I am pleased to see inter agency co-operation in Northland making such progress and that the eradication of deer is now a real possibility. I commend this collective approach to you.

I would welcome the pest control industry developing skills, technology and techniques that could aid the more effective control of all pests.

A similar whole-of-industry response is required on mustelids.

Government has taken the lead in pumping money into stoat research.

Now in year three of a five-year programme, there have been some major breakthroughs.

We have been able to raise stoats in captivity – this means we can learn about their biology. This now opens the door to explore new control techniques.

Another area of promise is the development of new kill traps and new lures. A novel but highly effective field bait undergoing further development is freeze-dried rats.

And another lesson from mainland islands, this time Trounson reserve in Northland, is the use of trained dogs to find female stoats and kits in their dens. Female stoats in dens have been notoriously difficult to target with conventional techniques.

I want to praise NPCA's initiative in bringing together central government, local government and the possum control industry.

I’d like to acknowledge the long-standing efforts of John Simmons as the chair of NPCA and the progess made under his leadership.

I look forward to Peter Lawless taking the NPCA further with the support of you all here.

Thank you and enjoy the conference.


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