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War On Westland Pests Hailed By Former Feds President

The $45 million predator-free project announced for South Westland today is a "massive" win for biodiversity and the local economy, Katie Milne says.

The former Federated Farmers President, who has taken on the role of chairing Predator Free South Westland, said the 50 jobs expected to be created during the five-year assault on possum, rat and stoat numbers was excellent news for a district hit harder than many by Covid-19 economic fallout.

"We’ll also be bringing back native birds to their former glory, protecting habitat for the rowi - New Zealand’s rarest Kiwi - and the recently rediscovered Ōkārito gecko. Essentially we’re out to create a predator-free mainland island of 100,000 hectares where previously we’ve only been able to do it on offshore islands," Katie said.

"Maybe in future we’ll be able to release the likes of takahē and kakapo, which would be pretty cool."

Farmers and other landowners have given their permission for land access. Iwi "and really the whole South Westland community are on board and engaged with this," Katie said.

Now that the intention was to go for eradication of possums rather than just suppression, "the threat of bovine tuberculosis can be lifted from the shoulders of farmers forever".

The project is an expansion of successful efforts since April 2019 by Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) removing stoats, possums and rats from a 12,000ha block in the Perth River Valley in South Westland. A range of approaches from ‘boots on the ground’ labour to innovative trapping, baiting and detection techniques will be used.

In the long-term it could bring to an end ongoing widespread use of aerial 1080 drops to control pest animals.

Katie acknowledged Conservation Minister Kiri Allan, who she said was "stunning" at today’s launch in terms of being right on top of the project’s details and sentiment in the district.

The five-year mountain to sea project, which encompasses the Whataroa, Okāritō and Franz Josef townships, is being supported by $3 million of Jobs for Nature funding in addition to another $9 million from DOC, and $12 million from Predator Free 2050 Ltd.

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