Peter Williams: 1080 most effective way to control our pest epidemic

Opinion 02/07/2019

Forest & Bird has come out today asking for yet more aerial drops of 1080 on our forests to stop the plague of rats and stoats. This is called a mega-mast season which means there’s more food around for the pests. But when the food runs out, they turn on our native birds.

This will upset many people this morning. It is a polarising issue. But too bad.

Like most poisons, 1080 and its use isn’t favoured by some of the public. But let’s not beat around the bush – 1080 is great and we need more of it. It is the best weapon we have to rid our forests of mammal predators right now.

1080 has brought many of our most vulnerable native species back from a dire situation – this is a fact.

New Zealand has one of the highest extinction rates in the world.

According to the Department of Conservation, in a remote valley on the South Island’s West Coast bird song has doubled over the past 20 years. Since 1998, an expert team of ‘bird counters’ has flown in every spring to measure the effects of long term predator control.

They found that most species increased year on year and overall native bird numbers doubled thanks mostly to two decades of aerial 1080 drops. It’s helped restore a whole community of native birds. So why would anyone deny the effectiveness of 1080? It’s working very well.

Let’s look at some of the figures. 1080facts.co.nz - a joint project between Forest & Bird and Federated Farmers - shows an estimated 25 million native birds are killed by introduced predators every year.

Stoats alone are responsible for up to 60 percent of kiwi chick deaths.

In ideal conditions, a rat can produce 10 offspring every eight weeks. And without predator control, nine out of every 10 kiwi chicks born in the wild die before reaching breeding age of 12 months.

In 2011, Dr Jan Wright - then parliamentary commissioner for the environment - warned that without increased use of 1080, our national bird, the kiwi could vanish from unprotected areas within a generation.

So here’s a question for you: what’s worse than extinction?

We have a pest epidemic. If we don’t take an effective approach we face, and we risk losing our unique, precious and most vulnerable native species.

Earlier this year the SPCA came out against 1080 and looked awfully foolish. The organisation published an article calling for a ban on the use of 1080, suggesting “humane methods” like trapping should be used to kill pests.

Trapping is not an effective solution.

There are an estimated 30 million possums in New Zealand - does the SPCA really think we can trap them all? I think they should just stick to protecting cats and dogs.

Some don’t like 1080 because it is cruel. But it is far crueler to do nothing.

Our native animals face obliteration at the hands, or mouths, of rats and stoats. If we want a predator-free New Zealand by 2050, then we need 1080 and more of it. Let’s not be naïve – all animals cannot live together in harmony.

Peter Williams is host of Magic Talk Mornings, 9am - midday weekdays.