Monday, 1 September 2014

1080 New Zealand 2014

From the Poisoning Paradise website
It’s September, and the annual 1080 poison aerial drops have kicked into high gear in New Zealand. This year, the Department of Conservation(DOC) is dropping 1080 on at least 500,000 hectares (1.24 million acres) of wilderness, with a further 190,000 hectares (470,000 acres) “on a watch list”. (Some sources combine these two figures.) It is, I believe, the most expansive and most expensive 1080 drop in New Zealand’s history.

1080 (sodium fluoroacetate) is one of the deadliest poisons on earth, and given there is no antidote, it’s not surprising its use is banned in all but a handful of countries. The World Health Organization labels it “extremely hazardous”. New Zealand uses about 85% of the world’s production of this chemical. 1080 is toxic to all creatures that need oxygen for survival: mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, and fish, although susceptibility varies between species (dogs are super sensitive; eels not so much). Death is slow and by all accounts agonizing. Sub-lethal doses result in endocrine disruption, heart problems, and fetal damage.

So, why do DOC, Forest & Bird (F&B), and the Animal Health Board (AHB) want to scatter this stuff over more than a million acres of “pristine” New Zealand wilderness? The answer seems to be a belief that it’s possible to return New Zealand forests to a pre-human landscape where the only mammals were small bats, and that the aerial application of 1080 is the only way to “save” New Zealand’s most endangered birds from animals that might feed on their eggs, chicks, and/or the adult birds. In addition, the Animal Health Board promotes the use of 1080 as a way to to limit the spread of bovine TB (very rare in New Zealand) by killing carrier animals such as possums.

Rats, stoats, ferrets and possums are the official primary 1080 “target” animals for 1080, but by-kill includes deer, wild pigs, feral goats, bats, feral cats, mice, and not an insignificant number of birds, especially insectivorous birds and meat-eaters such as owls, falcons, hawks, and weka that may be secondarily-poisoned when they feed on poisoned prey or the carcasses of animals killed with 1080. The cheeky kea (mountain parrot) who cannot resist the colourful bait is also a frequent fatality. Sometimes livestock and pets on farms near drop areas also become by-kill. Smaller animals such as insects and worms that reside on the forest floor and help in the breakdown of dead matter may also be affected.

It’s not just DOC, F&B, and AHB who are pro-poison. A recent article in the DomPost spotlighted the 30,000 hectare (75,000 acre) Aorangi Forest Park and adjoining private land in the Waiarapa under 1080 aerial bombardment this winter/spring thanks to the stewardship of Project Aorangi, a consortium—according to the article—of farmers, hunters, conservationists and government agencies. Hunters, usually venomously opposed to 1080, have been appeased with promises of deer repellent being mixed into the bait.

Deer--1080 casualty Note contorted position.
According to the article, this is “New Zealand’s pre-eminent and largest recreational hunting area”. Bizarrely, the article also noted that this area is also “officially TB-free” and that scientists report that in the park this winter “possum numbers are patchy,” “few signs of mustalids (stoats, ferrets) have been spotted” and “rat numbers are likely to rise” (but not that they have actually risen). Post drop, the use of deer repellent (reportedly blood and bone) appears to have been ineffectual in places where it has been used.

Politically, the incumbent National Party has pushed the poison-drop program with increased funding for the operation this year, and public support for the 1080 forest bombardment seems strong (or at least ambivalent), which is not really surprising given the push from conservation and animal health bodies as well as the government. (Ah, what power there can be in words like “conservation” and “animal health”!) Other political parties avoid the issue, although Richard Prosser of New Zealand First has spoken out against 1080. This year a new political party, the Ban 1080 Party, has sprung up in the Tasman and West Coast South Island region where opposition to the practice is strong. They have struggled to get publicity outside of the region.

Surprisingly, the New Zealand SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) also steers clear of this issue as well—I find no mention of 1080 on their website at all. More radical SAFE (New Zealand animal advocacy group) condemns the use of 1080 poison, but chooses to target their advertising dollars towards their primary (and commendable) campaign for the abolition of factory farming.

There are several anti-1080 groups that have surfaced this year, and they are growing. 1080 Eyewitness has more than 1000 members on Facebook and new members join every day. Desperate to break into the mainstream media conversation, anti-1080 folks continue to petition the likes of media news presenters John Campbel and Mike Hoskings, and expose news programs like 60 Minutes, and  3rd Degree to give this story its due. None have taken up the challenge so far.

Those of us who believe in a forest ecosystem that is self-regulating and decry the widespread dumping of highly toxic poison into natural environments to deliberately destabilize the ecosystem and cause untold misery to the inhabitants apparently remain in the minority. Most folks, I reckon, are so far removed from Mother Earth that they don’t know, don’t see, and don’t care. They put their trust into groups waving conservation and animal health and forest & bird banners, and the government officials who claim that 1080 is a “biodegradable…lifeline for New Zealand’s endangered native birds andforests.”

In my heart, though, I believe that most folks truly don’t want to live on a poisoned planet or in a poisoned ecosystem. We DO care to preserve our natural spaces for future generations—we just have completely different views about what that means and how to achieve it. I have huge faith in Mother Nature and her ability to create a fertile space for growth, evolution, and creativity. The current government and government-funded departments like the Department of Conservation, however, want to stifle Mother Nature's desire by trying to create an artificial ecosystem shorn of natural evolution and creativity. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad.

You can find out more about this year’s drop in my post Will DOC's Dumping of 1080 on New Zealand Forests Save the Birds?

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