Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Poisoned Possums in the Hutt River

I feel like I’ve written more than enough blog posts about 1080, a shorthand term for the toxic chemical sodium fluoroacetate, that is routinely and deliberately spread by aerial means across large expanses of New Zealand forests, ostensibly to “manage biodiversity” by killing pests, most specifically possums, rats, and stoats. Yet I am compelled to write yet another post.

Signs have just gone up (it’s the beginning of November 2014, but I think they appeared just in time for Halloween—a grisly “treat”) along the Hutt River that runs through my community of Lower Hutt and discharges into Wellington Harbour. They warn dog owners to keep pets on leashes to avoid contact with poisoned carcasses that may be washed down the river following rain as a result of an aerial drop of 1080 poison upstream. Dogs are particularly susceptible to 1080 poison, so any canine that might happen to find and chew on a dead possum is at serious risk of death. There is no antidote. 

While posted warnings for dog owners are prudent, I’m bothered by the fact that the Greater Wellington Regional Council has been so quiet about this 2014 drop over Kaitoke Regional Park and the Hutt River catchment area (some 10,000 hectares—25,000 acres—at a rate of 1.5 kg of bait per hectare) that I didn’t even realize was happening until it was all over, and I reckon most other folks didn’t know about it either. Indeed, it took a little bit of detective work on line to find this PDF file put out by the Greater Wellington Regional Council, and the fact the poisoning in this area began 30 September (see here).

The Hutt River catchment supplies about half of the public water for Wellington and the Hutt Valley. The above PDF file offers the rather limited assurance that public water will not be taken from the Hutt Valley catchment during the poison drop nor immediately after it. Presumably by the time the carcasses of dead animals might be washed far enough down the river to poison dogs, it will be okay for us to drink the water from this catchment again.

Hunters are also warned not to take game (deer, pig) from the drop area or within several kilometres of the drop area for at least four months. They haven’t mentioned trout from the Hutt River, popular with anglers, but elsewhere in the country, anglers have been warned to not eat trout caught in water contaminated by 1080 or 1080-poisoned carcasses. Presumably the same goes for eels.

People and dogs play in the Hutt River.
The beautiful Hutt River not only supplies our drinking water, it is a beautiful river running through the heart of a major suburban area. Families, kids, dogs, and anglers love the river as a place to play, picnic, swim, and fish. The water from this river runs through our taps. Assurances that they won’t use this water “during or immediately after the 1080 drop” isn’t very reassuring when anecdotal reports suggest 1080 baits can lay around for weeks after a drop.

Water quality in New Zealand is a hot political issue. With 60% of our monitored rivers deemed too polluted to swim in, let alone drink, and 2/3 of our freshwater fish at risk (see here), it seems daft that adding more toxin to the mix is not only done deliberately, but done without free public debate.

I think it’s sad that Hutt River users this spring need to be wary of poisoned carcasses washed downstream by the rains. I think it is worrisome that our public drinking water is potentially compromised. I think it’s concerning that this all happens seemingly on the quiet. And I think it is seriously time for out-in-the-open public debate about these issues.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your work, Susan. Good Stuff!


Thank you for your feedback. Allow time for it to be posted.