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Residents And Iwi Oppose Aerial Poisoning Of Sacred Mount Pirongia And Its Waterways

Lack of consultation regarding a proposed 1080 poison operation over Mt Pirongia and Te Kauri areas, including the waterways feeding residents’ drinking water, is another example of failed processes bringing communities into conflict with the Government.

Many residents and community groups claim that consultation regarding the controversial use of aerial poison did not take place, or where it did, there was no proper engagement with public concerns. The consultation documents distributed to residents contain dangerous misinformation that downplays the poisoning risks, including a claim that 1080 poison is ‘safe’ and does not harm fish.

The previous aerial poison operation, in 2014, raised serious concerns when many non-target animals were killed, as documented by Tv-Wild.com. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and the Ministry of Health (MoH) guidelines on consultation require risk mitigation measures to be fully discussed with residents and landowners. However the Waikato Regional Council (WRC) and Dept of Conservation (DoC) - partners in the proposed poisoning operation - ignore or dismiss any requests for communication from concerned residents. Instead they publish statements in local newspapers, claiming full consultation has taken place. Is this not dishonest?

Last weekend a traditional ceremonial Rahui was performed by kaumatua and hapu of Kawhia and Pirongia Marae to prohibit the poisoning of Pirongia, its water catchment and adjacent Kawhia, Aotea and Whaingaroa harbours. The Rahui was placed in order to prevent the desecration and damage to the sacred ancestral mountain's wairua, māhanga kai, and wāhi tapu. Te Hapu o te Wakamingenga Wahi o Maniapoto sent DoC and WRC a Notice to Cease and Desist poisoning and stated they fully support Kawhia and Pirongia marae and hapu with the placing of the Rahui.

However, these requests have been ignored by DoC and the Council, who insist they have consent from Maniapoto Maori Trust Boards Nga Tai o Kawhia Resource Management Committee and Waikato - Tainui. Government agencies involved with the proposed poisoning operation are using selective consultation and stalling tactics to delay answering urgent questions from Iwi and community stakeholders, by treating all enquiries as Official Information Act requests which have a 20-day response time.

Waikato Regional Councillor, Kathy White, shared her personal opinion and experience based on dealing with previous poison operations in the area. She says there were multiple compliance breaches by the contractors who carried out the operations. Farmers told her that DoC left poisoned carcasses on their farmland, despite the Safety Data Sheet for 1080 saying that carcasses should be removed, buried deeply at a site away from habitation or burned at a facility for hazardous wastes.

In 2019, she visited the Mapara farm where DoC had just buried eight 1080 poisoned cows and two aborted calves in the paddock where they died, one above a stream. DoC told the farmers they shouldn't graze stock in the paddock for at least the next six months to avoid risks of food chain contamination with 1080 poison.

"The landowners were never told about these risks before the drop, nor were they compensated when their stock were killed," she said. "There was no informed consent, and they've suffered terribly as a result."

"Finding out, in 2018, that my own council's pest contractor hadn't submitted a report when they killed sheep, deer and a cattle-beast in a Piopio East pest control operation, was extremely disappointing," she said. Her council called it a misunderstanding. The EPA later issued a formal warning to EcoFx Ltd, the contractor responsible for the Mapara poison operation, for not submitting a timely, accurate report. But that didn’t prevent DoC from awarding EcoFX the contract for other pest control work, including the proposed aerial poisoning over Mt Pirongia.

Within the last month, a Port Waikato landowner has also contacted Councillor Kathy White about the WRC’s pest contractor killing cows and two dogs, and narrowly missing a group of school-children in a previous 1080 drop on her leased farm. No one told them the date that the poison drop was happening. She asked about her rights, because she doesn't want 1080 used on her land again.

"I have sought a legal opinion and that says you can say no to 1080 being dropped on your private property," says Councillor White. "And in my opinion, you should say no. The risks to your animals are high. If 1080 is being dropped near your land, write a notice of objection to the pest contractor and the agency organising the drop and make it clear that you will hold them liable for the death of animals on your land, and any costs that you incur because of harm from the poison drop."

She went on to say "The EPA reports show a disturbing pattern of misapplied baits and/or unintended deaths of livestock and dogs. In 2011 and 2016, a third of all reported aerial 1080 drops included 'misapplied baits.’ Clearly, not all deaths are being reported, so those statistics are understated." The reality of the extent of poisoning incidents as a result of aerial operations is unclear; multiple organisations are involved in numerous operations every week and there is no nationwide independent reporting body.

Kathy White reported six incidents to the EPA last year, all of which involved livestock and dog deaths, but only one was investigated because the others were deemed ‘historical’. One incident was in Waimiha when the helicopter pilot reportedly breached two no-fly zones, killing pigs and sheep. In reports required for the EPA or the MoH,the pest contractor did not state anything about flying through no-fly zones

The continued failure of DoC to conduct fair and balanced community consultation, which includes accurate scientific information about the potential risks, and to engage Iwi and hapu interests, continues to be of major concern to communities around Aotearoa New Zealand. The People’s Inquiry 2020 is calling for transparency and a genuine dialogue between government departments and affected communities on issues of aerial poisoning.

Asha Andersen, of the Inquiry Executive Committee said, “The social licence to carry out these poisonings is certainly absent and community support is being manufactured by DoC. This is an affront to communities, it puts people into a conflict zone and furthermore it disrespects our obligations under The Treaty of Waitangi. Contractors, the Department of Conservation and Regional Councils all need to be held to account on these issues.”


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