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Get Ruth-Less With The Painted Apple Moth

It’s Time To Get Ruth-Less With The Painted Apple Moth

From the Painted Apple Moth Community Advisory Group:

The Community Advisory Group expresses no confidence in Dr Ruth Frampton, head of the Painted Apple Moth eradication team in West Auckland, and believes that she should be replaced.

MAF's Technical Advisory Group must be reformed, and the members of the Operation Evergreen Science Group included, as a matter of urgency

A full public inquiry must be held into the conduct of the programme which has allowed the moth populations to explode.

The moth was originally identified in Glendene in May 1999. Since then Dr Frampton’s programme aimed at locating and killing moths has achieved little. This is not the fault of either Waitakere City or the team in the field but rather of the poor leadership and judgment of Dr Frampton. It appears to us that she has relied heavily on the flightlessness of the female moth without taking sufficient account of the high egg production and the ballooning of the caterpillars, which has allowed an exponential growth in moth numbers and spread.

Since its inception the PAMCAG has tried hard to cooperate with Dr Frampton, head of MAF biosecurity. The terms of reference for the group included the full disclosure of information to, and consideration of suggestions from, the PAMCAG by MAF. After continuing frustration of their efforts to gain information the CAG wrote to Dr Frampton on November 30th raising serious issues of concern. To date we have received no reply. Trap data is obscured and delayed; agendas, minutes and reports are not passed on.

Dr Frampton has not provided important information the PAMCAG has requested and her operational plan which was delivered to the PAMCAG Chair on Saturday 15 December offers little hope of success; and has not met undertakings given to the Advisory Group. This is despite the fact that the moth has spread far and wide during the two and a half years she has been in charge of the operation to eradicate it.

Most of the members of the successful Operation Evergreen Team have been left out of this operation despite the fact that that team successfully eradicated the white spotted tussock moth from east Auckland. Several members of that team are working closely with the Community Advisory Group.

We believe that if Dr Frampton had used Btk in ground spraying operations from the very beginning instead of the much more toxic and environmentally damaging chlorpyrifos and Decis, the moth would never have multiplied as it has. Using Btk would have allowed for much more liberal spraying to ensure that all populations were reached: Decis is too toxic to the marine environment to be sprayed along the riparian margins. Btk would have been able to eradicate the main infestations along these harbour and creek edges ­ instead they have multiplied.

For several months the CAG has requested that MAF replace the Decis used in the ground spraying operations with Btk, because Decis is also more toxic to human health. MAF have not done so, consistently saying that Decis isn’t toxic and that it is more effective at eradicating the moth. The results do not support MAF’s view.

Dr Frampton has not paid enough attention to conservation values either in her planning or in her estimation of the potential cost of the moth becoming established. The moth has been allowed to spread into highly sensitive areas including the Waitakere Ranges, the habitat of the Avondale spider, West Lynn Gardens and the Zoo.

MAF's apparent lack of urgency from the beginning in establishing pest rearing for pheromone research, trapping, host feeding and pesticide efficacy trials is directly responsible for the current 'emergency' situation.

The CAG has formulated a plan to attack the moth more vigorously with a range of strategies aimed at the safe eradication of the moth. Dr Frampton has dismissed most of our proposals without offering any alternative other than to continue down the path she has been following unsuccessfully from the beginning.

For three months she has promised to upgrade signs relating to plant movement in the affected area. The signs have still not been replaced. The existing signs are too small and refer only to taking plant material out of parks. Moving of plants, particularly garden waste, is quite likely to be one cause of the continuing spread of the moth.

We believe that the operation needs a new leader and a new technical advisory group built on the Operation Evergreen Team. We would suggest Gordon Hosking, who headed that successful operation, as a potential leader for the new team. This new team would need to work closely with the CAG to prepare an operational plan that addressed all the critical issues. While that is happening there must be an immediate upscaling of the present ground based operation with Btk replacing Decis as the primary spray for this operation.

For any plan to be implemented successfully there must be clear data about location and spread of the moth enabling accurate targeting of an eradication operation and prediction of its likelihood of success. This can best be achieved by employing the skills of Dr David Baird, an expert in statistical modelling. Dr Baird must be given full details of all trap data immediately and his results must be made public.

Time is running out for an eradication programme. Any effort to rely on a targeted spraying of 600 hectares without addressing the issue of what to do about the wider area of infestation is doomed to failure. It will in fact cause further delays while we wait for the inevitable declaration of failure.

The Minister has suggested that blanket spraying of the entire area of infestation may be considered. This option together with trigger points for other decisions needs to be reviewed and examined as soon as Dr Baird’s results are available. Any decision must factor in the feasibility, and health risks, of spraying the region’s water catchment areas, including the shorelines of the water reservoirs. If the moth cannot be removed from the Waitakere water catchment then that would doom any operation to failure because of the likelihood of reinfestation from the catchment into sprayed areas.

No aerial spraying should be carried out until these issues have been rigorously examined - and then, only implemented if there is a high chance of success and a Health Risk Assessment is in place that addresses all community concerns.

Ends

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