7 TROU­BLE IN PARADISE

YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIKE THE GOV­ERN­MENT’S 1080 PEST ERAD­I­CA­TION PRO­GRAMME TO KNOW IT’S STILL THE BEST DE­FENCE FOR NEW ZEALAND’S DWIN­DLING BIO­DI­VER­SITY. IN HIS NEW BOOK, PRO­TECT­ING PARADISE, DAVE HANS­FORD EX­PLAINS WHY.

North & South - - Contents -

1080 is still New Zealand’s best de­fence for our dwin­dling bio­di­ver­sity. In a new book, Dave Hans­ford ex­plains why.

You could call Dave Hans­ford an ecow­ar­rior. But he’s armed only with sci­ence and facts: the kind of ev­i­dence you get from repet­i­tive, rig­or­ous ex­per­i­ments, mon­i­tor­ing and anal­y­sis.

The facts will not pro­tect him, how­ever, from the de­nial and abuse that will be un­leashed when Pro­tect­ing Paradise hits the shelves in Oc­to­ber. The sub­ject of Hans­ford’s book is 1080 – sodium monoflu­o­roac­etate – the sim­ple or­ganic salt that re­mains our best weapon in the daily bat­tle to save our native species from the re­lent­less at­tack of pesti­len­tial “teeth and claws”.

For most New Zealan­ders, 1080 falls into the “nec­es­sary and notso- evil” camp. Like Hans­ford, we’d pre­fer it wasn’t nec­es­sary to spread a poi­son over our land, but we ac­cept that its use is jus­ti­fied. We like to think whiz-bang new sci­ence and trap­ping tech­nolo­gies will one day dis­patch 1080 to the pages of pest erad­i­ca­tion his­tory. In the mean­time, though, we’re re­as­sured by shelves of peer-re­viewed re­ports that have con­firmed both the safety and

ef­fec­tive­ness of the poi­son. Among those, Par­lia­men­tary Com­mis­sioner for the En­vi­ron­ment Jan Wright car­ried out rig­or­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions in 2011 and again in 2013, and de­liv­ered em­phatic en­dorse­ments for 1080’s con­tin­u­ing use.

Pro­tect­ing Paradise roams wider and deeper than Wright’s re­ports – de­bunk­ing the myths that pro­lif­er­ate about 1080, ex­plain­ing why fears about it are so per­sis­tent, and ex­am­in­ing the mo­tives of those pre­pared to go to ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths to ban it. And it’s no dull trea­tise; there are chap­ters packed with tales of das­tardly deeds and heroic der­ring- do.

When I first talked to Hans­ford about the book, I jok­ingly asked if he’d be go­ing into hid­ing. At the time I hadn’t read chap­ter 14, “There Will Be Blood”. It de­scribes how wildlife de­fend­ers and pest con­trol op­er­a­tors have been as­saulted and threat­ened by anti-1080 ex­trem­ists, es­pe­cially in hotspots like Coro­man­del, Waikato and the West Coast. One of the worst at­tacks left kiwi pro­tec­tor Arthur Hinds, then 65, with a frac­tured cheekbone after he was punched from be­hind by avid hunter Peter Find­lay at a ratepay­ers meet­ing in Tairua five years ago. And when ac­tivists like Graeme Stur­geon de­clare pub­licly, “1080 is war to us, and there will be no holds barred; the war will be won”, Hans­ford is right to be watch­ing his back.

Worse than the ag­gres­sion and threats, be­lieves Hans­ford, is the pseudo-sci­ence many anti-1080 ac­tivists ped­dle – in the case of hard­line hun­ters’ groups, of­ten to cloak their true pur­pose: they sim­ply want more deer to shoot. He says other 1080 op­po­nents claim the poi­son “does more harm – eco­log­i­cally speak­ing – than good”, even though re­search and mon­i­tor­ing con­tinue to show sub­stan­tive over­all ben­e­fit to our be­lea­guered birds, bush and other native species.

Although the book never seeks to den­i­grate gen­uinely held philo­soph­i­cal views about the use of 1080, it ex­poses both the disturbing level of sci­ence- de­nial and the com­mer­cial, re­cre­ational and po­lit­i­cal agen­das that have been pro­mul­gated, dressed up as sci­en­tific and eth­i­cal con­cerns. The poi­son’s role as a po­lit­i­cal foot­ball has no bet­ter ex­am­ple than in New Zealand First’s cyn­i­cal cam­paign to cap­ture the votes of the coun­try’s hun­ters – no­tably those who voted for the Ban 1080 party and who clus­tered around the former Out­door Re­cre­ation New Zealand party that in 2003 be­came af­fil­i­ated to United Fu­ture, be­fore dereg­is­ter­ing in 2007.

Hans­ford: “There are around 60,000 hun­ters in New Zealand and they’re cer­tainly en­ti­tled to lobby for their causes. But they have an in­or­di­nate amount of in­flu­ence over this coun­try’s en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies, even as they dis­sem­i­nate rank bull­shit about the dangers of 1080 use.

“With [United Fu­ture’s] Peter Dunne pos­si­bly out of Par­lia­ment next year, we see [New Zealand First’s] Richard Prosser bla­tantly court­ing the hun­ters’ vote, promis­ing to ban 1080. Too bad that ev­ery year more of our native crea­tures go on the threat­ened list – over 4000 at last count. Too bad that if the anti-1080 lobby got its way, we’d see ver­min run riot. Our col­lec­tive birthright – our na­ture – would sim­ply col­lapse into a me­nagerie of the apoc­a­lypse.

“But here’s Richard Prosser, pre­pared to trade in mis­in­for­ma­tion and scare­mon­ger­ing for votes.”

ONE OF THE WORST AT­TACKS LEFT KIWI PRO­TEC­TOR ARTHUR HINDS, THEN 65, WITH A FRAC­TURED CHEEKBONE AFTER HE WAS PUNCHED FROM BE­HIND BY AN AVID HUNTER AT A MEET­ING IN TAIRUA FIVE YEARS AGO.

The fol­low­ing is ex­tracted from the chap­ter “New Truths”: Peter Dunne has been the hunt­ing lobby’s de­fault mega­phone in Par­lia­ment since 2003, after the Out­door Re­cre­ation New Zealand party’s first and only foray into elec­toral pol­i­tics failed to land them a seat. The hun­ters’ party for­mally af­fil­i­ated with Dunne’s United Fu­ture party the fol­low­ing year, but the deal was short-lived, and the two split again a year be­fore Out­door Re­cre­ation’s demise and dereg­is­tra­tion in 2007. Nev­er­the­less, Dunne has re­mained a faith­ful emis­sary of the hunt­ing lobby in Par­lia­ment, press­ing for the cre­ation of yet more tax­payer-funded hunt­ing ad­vo­cacy pan­els, a Big Game Hunt­ing Coun­cil and a Wild An­i­mal Con­trol Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, in 2008.

New Zealand First leader Win­ston Peters senses that Dunne, one of Par­lia­ment’s vet­er­ans, will re­tire be­fore the next elec­tion, and sees a con­stituency ripe for the pick­ing. Out­door Re­cre­ation at­tracted nearly 26,000 votes in 2003. Peters rea­sons that the most pierc­ing dog whis­tle to hun­ters is a tirade against 1080.

[NZ First MP Richard] Prosser went on to ac­cuse gov­ern­ment an­i­mal health agency OSPRI of liv­ing a lie: “It would ap­pear,” he told the Otago Daily Times, “the preva­lence of bovine tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in pos­sums is very much less – many or­ders of mag­ni­tude less, in fact – than the pub­lic, and even the farm­ing sec­tor, have come to be­lieve. I would con­tend that this mis­in­formed per­cep­tion has been al­lowed to pro­lif­er­ate both through the rep­e­ti­tion of mis­in­for­ma­tion, and the fail­ure of the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties to alert ei­ther the me­dia or the pub­lic as to the truth of the mat­ter.”

In fact, Prosser with­held a bit of in­for­ma­tion him­self. He didn’t dis­close that the pos­sumtest­ing fig­ures he re­ceived from [Pri­mary In­dus­tries Min­is­ter] Nathan Guy were all taken from ar­eas where TB had prac­ti­cally al­ready been erad­i­cated.

“We rarely post-mortem pos­sums in ar­eas where we know or are con­fi­dent TB ex­ists,” thenOSPRI group man­ager Peter Al­sop re­sponded. In­stead, he pointed out, testers sam­ple rem­nant pos­sum pop­u­la­tions after con­trol to make sure the dis­ease re­ally has been beaten. “Put sim­ply, we ex­pect to find few pos­sums with TB from our wildlife sur­veys. This sig­nals the pro­gramme has been suc­cess­ful.”

“What’s miss­ing from [Prosser’s] num­bers is the con­text,” says OSPRI’S se­nior op­er­a­tional pol­icy ad­vi­sor, Nick Han­cox. “It’s very dif­fi­cult to prove the ab­sence of some­thing; you have to take a lot of sam­ples – big enough to give us con­fi­dence that con­trol has, in fact, erad­i­cated TB from the pos­sum pop­u­la­tion.”

Oc­ca­sion­ally, OSPRI will also test in the wake of any aber­rant out­break in an oth­er­wise TBfree re­gion. “That’s to make sure we don’t have some new source of in­fec­tion,” says Han­cox.

But anti-1080 cam­paign­ers still find fault. Har­i­hari’s Mary Mol­loy, spokes­woman for Farm­ers Against Ten Eighty, FATE, con­demns not pos­sums but OSPRI’S own method­ol­ogy. “The re­al­ity is, pos­sums are not in­fected al­most ev­ery­where. Re­mem­ber what came first, and what main­tains any TB in the wild, is in­her­ently farmed cat­tle and deer with un­de­tected in­fec­tious bovine TB.”

In fact, says Han­cox, roughly

PETERS REA­SONS THAT THE MOST PIERC­ING DOG WHIS­TLE TO HUN­TERS IS A TIRADE AGAINST 1080.

half of re­main­ing in­fec­tions, pre­dom­i­nantly along the West Coast, are due to vec­tors – pos­sums, pigs, wild deer or fer­rets. The rest have been traced to the move­ment of in­fected an­i­mals. Re­cently, OSPRI sur­veyed pos­sums along the Tara­makau River north of Hok­i­tika, and found TB in four out of 100 an­i­mals. “That’s a lot,” says Han­cox. “If you went down Lambton Quay at lunchtime and took a ran­dom sam­ple of 100 peo­ple and found that four of them had TB, you’d have a med­i­cal emer­gency on your hands.”

Mol­loy has been a vo­cal critic of OSPRI’S herd-test­ing tech­niques, in­sist­ing that per­fectly healthy young stock have been killed and found to have no TB, while in­fec­tious an­i­mals have re­mained un­de­tected in farm herds. “On top of that grossly in­ef­fi­cient sys­tem, the au­thor­i­ties, by spe­cious rea­son­ing, with sci­ence lack­ing, then turn to 1080 poi­son as the so­lu­tion.”

“To claim that the herd-test­ing pro­gramme is fail­ing when so few in­fected herds re­main sim­ply doesn’t make sense,” Han­cox re­sponds. And it’s disin­gen­u­ous to claim that OSPRI is some­how ob­sessed with 1080 when, in fact, only some 15 per cent of vec­tor con­trol is done by aerial 1080. “In any one year, we do pos­sum con­trol over about 3.5 mil­lion hectares,” says Han­cox. “Of that, about half a mil­lion hectares, at most, is done by aerial con­trol. The rest is done by trap­pers and hun­ters work­ing on the ground.”

Mol­loy, Prosser and a le­gion of other op­po­nents charge OSPRI with self-in­ter­est: that it con­sis­tently over­states the threat from pos­sums and other wild vec­tors to jus­tify the use of aerial 1080. A com­mon re­frain for years is that OSPRI is feathering its own nest as part of some all- of-gov­ern­ment rort. “The pub­lic of New Zealand will never trust as­ser­tions over the ef­fec­tive­ness of aerial 1080 while the whole regime re­mains so in­house,” blus­tered Peter Dunne in 2008. “It is crazy that those whose com­mer­cial in­ter­ests lie in the per­sis­tence of the sta­tus quo are the same peo­ple left to as­sess the ef­fec­tive­ness and fu­ture vi­a­bil­ity of gov­ern­ment pol­icy re­gard­ing 1080.”

Pre­sum­ably, Dunne has no is­sue with the Min­istry of Health gath­er­ing data to sup­port pub­lic health ini­tia­tives, or Fish & Game as­sess­ing trout num­bers to in­form fu­ture re­lease pro­grammes, but when it comes to 1080, it’s al­ways about cor­rup­tion – OSPRI man­agers per­pet­u­at­ing a prob­lem to pro­tect their pay pack­ets. There are no “com­mer­cial in­ter­ests”, as Dunne charged. OSPRI is a non-profit en­tity, a gov­ern­ment agency created and funded to man­age the TB is­sue.

“This no­tion that the whole 1080 thing is just a gravy train is sim­ply bizarre,” says Han­cox. “It’s like sug­gest­ing that be­cause I buy beer, I’ve got an in­ter­est in the brew­ery. 1080 is a pos­sum con­trol prod­uct that costs us money. So how do we make money out of it? It doesn’t make sense. Our share­hold­ers don’t want us to be a big­ger busi­ness than we need to be, be­cause it rep­re­sents a cost to them – there’s no profit in it. And we don’t have shares in the 1080 fac­tory. The only peo­ple who have shares in that fac­tory are tax­pay­ers like you and me.”

Apart from any­thing else, OSPRI is, at time of writ­ing, about to have its $80 mil­lion an­nual bud­get slashed by a quar­ter – hardly the act of a ve­nal rogue agency. That’s be­cause it’s fin­ished most of the job it was given. With in­fected herds now re­stricted to a few re­gions, it no longer has to op­er­ate over such a wide front.

A COM­MON RE­FRAIN FOR YEARS IS THAT OSPRI IS FEATHERING ITS OWN NEST AS PART OF SOME ALL-OF-GOV­ERN­MENT RORT.

Late in 2015, Prosser took his cru­sade on the road, ad­dress­ing au­di­ences in hot­beds of anti-1080 sen­ti­ment: Thames, Taupo (with hunt­ing lob­by­ist Clyde Graf and his fel­low Waikato Re­gional coun­cil­lor Kathy White), Takaka, Hok­i­tika.

One Fri­day night last Novem­ber, I sat in the Se­nior Cit­i­zens’ hall in Takaka to hear what Prosser had to say. Right at the get-go, he throws down his aces: “I wanted to kick this off by pro­mot­ing hunt­ing. That’s al­ways been my mo­ti­va­tion.” Then, with an apolo­getic glance at his midriff, he in­sists that he was once a hunter too, be­fore the de­mands of pub­lic life mo­nop­o­lised his wak­ing hours.

“The com­mon goal that binds every­body here is to get rid of 1080,” he con­tin­ued. Then came a pot­ted bio, re­lat­ing his days as a wine­maker and one-time ir­ri­ga­tion sales­man, and about how he once donned his “jour­nal­ism hat” to pen a col­umn for Ian Wishart’s In­ves­ti­gate mag­a­zine. The irony in that flew over ev­ery­one’s heads.

About 1080, he says, “There are lots of per­cep­tions that ev­ery­one ac­cepts that just get re­peated and re­peated.”

Well, amen to that. I lean for­ward in my seat. “I’m not a sci­en­tist,” he dis­closes, be­fore eras­ing any lin­ger­ing doubt by launch­ing into an alt-his­tory of New Zealand evo­lu­tion – seem­ingly lifted from the pages of [anti-1080 ac­tivist and au­thor Bill] Ben­field – that the joy­ous bird­song and ver­dant for­est of which Joseph Banks waxed so lyri­cal was in fact, a trav­esty; a sham, nay sham­bolic, fresco of fraud with­out its key­stone browsers, the moa.

Here it comes… “Two stud­ies show a 73 per cent over­lap in diet be­tween deer and moa. Short of bring­ing back the moa, we at least have deer.”

Then it’s for­est ecol­ogy 101: “Your fast-grow­ing un­der­growth shades out, crowds out, the other trees. The for­est will die. The set­tlers who let the goats and the deer go did the for­est a favour.”

This isn’t go­ing down as well as he’d hoped: these peo­ple are hip­pies, not hun­ters, and the si­lence is loud. Prosser hears it, and changes tack: he blames the col­lapse of North­land forests on two un­spec­i­fied “native in­sects. We’ll find that this canopy dam­age isn’t caused by pos­sums,” he proph­e­sies. Still no re­sponse, so he cuts to the chase we’re all wait­ing on.

“The writ­ing is on the wall. The day will come when this thing [1080] is no longer avail­able.”

Then he served no­tice to DOC, to OSPRI, to re­gional coun­cils, to con­ser­va­tion­ists ev­ery­where: “The day may come when we’re in coali­tion, and we’ll say: ‘That’s it.’ Don’t say you weren’t warned. We say... that this is a good time to think about em­plac­ing their own mora­to­ri­ums, while they still can.”

A few mur­murs of ap­proval now, but, like me, some are clearly won­der­ing how a mi­nor MP in a mi­nor party might claim the nec­es­sary heft to ter­mi­nate a 60-year pest con­trol pro­gramme that en­joys rock-solid cross-party sup­port.

Then there’s some damna­tion of the Ban 1080 Party – party co­founder Bill Wal­lace is sit­ting in the au­di­ence – with a bit more faint praise: “They did pretty well last elec­tion, for a sin­gle-is­sue party.” He re­calls it got 5000 votes, but points out that Wal­lace and his can­di­dates would need 20 times that en­dorse­ment if it were to stand a chance of get­ting into Par­lia­ment. “Real­is­ti­cally, it’s not go­ing to hap­pen.

“With­out get­ting overly po­lit­i­cal,” says Prosser, who then gets overly po­lit­i­cal, “give your vote to New Zealand First.” He of­fers Wal­lace a deal: Ban 1080 should con­tinue to cam­paign into the 2017 elec­tion, then with­draw, urg­ing its con­stituency to give their party vote to New Zealand First in­stead.

Pol­i­tics, he as­sures us, “is all about num­bers.” I wasn’t so sure, but the other 13 peo­ple in the hall seemed to agree.

Bill Wal­lace doesn’t, though. He was irked when I asked him about it later. At the pub­lic meet­ing, he’d al­lowed that, “We re­alise it’s naive to think we’ll get into Par­lia­ment.” Nev­er­the­less, he in­sists there’s no deal on the ta­ble. “There is no col­lab­o­ra­tion.” Ban 1080 will con­test the next elec­tion, he told me, with

IF NEW ZEALAND FIRST CAN PO­SI­TION IT­SELF ASTRIDE THE BAL­ANCE OF POWER AGAIN, PROSSER OF­FERS, THEN HE CAN MAKE A 1080 BAN HAP­PEN.

its own can­di­dates. When I asked if the party would, at the last mo­ment, de­fault and give New Zealand First its sup­port, he said that would be a de­ci­sion for the party ex­ec­u­tive, but it was “highly un­likely”.

Prosser wouldn’t com­ment on the cold shoul­der, but it doesn’t mat­ter. Peters means to starve Ban 1080 of oxy­gen in­stead. “We would re­search, de­velop and de­ploy a re­place­ment for 1080 and so phase out 1080’s use within New Zealand,” read a New Zealand First press re­lease early this year. “We be­lieve ground con­trol can be as ef­fec­tive as aerial drops. Sound pest con­trol would turn a prob­lem into an eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity.” Peters made the state­ment to an au­di­ence at biotech body Ag­carm, but it was aimed squarely at the hunt­ing fra­ter­nity.

“Ground con­trol will help to form the world’s only ‘eth­i­cal eco-fur in­dus­try’ within a global fur in­dus­try that’s worth $40 bil­lion,” said Peters.

Ac­cord­ing to the New Zealand Fur Coun­cil, an­nual na­tional sales from pos­sum fur prod­ucts (the bulk are made from a merino-pos­sum blend) amounts to $127 mil­lion. Hardly spare change, but for Peters to im­ply that we might grab a share in the bil­lions is mis­chievous. The Fur Coun­cil is seek­ing con­sents to dou­ble the har­vest of pos­sums – cur­rently around two mil­lion a year – and, to sup­port its case, asked the New Zealand In­sti­tute of Eco­nomic Re­search (NZIER) to model the ex­tra ben­e­fits to the econ­omy that dou­bling might bring. NZIER found that pro­cess­ing four mil­lion pos­sums a year would add $54 mil­lion to GDP.

Much of that im­pe­tus has come from a rec­om­men­da­tion in the 2011 re­port on 1080 by Par­lia­men­tary Com­mis­sioner for the En­vi­ron­ment Jan Wright: The Min­is­ter of Con­ser­va­tion asks the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion to pri­ori­tise the devel­op­ment of na­tional pol­icy and op­er­a­tional pro­ce­dures on pos­sum fur har­vest­ing.

“The think­ing be­hind that rec­om­men­da­tion,” says Wright, “was why not let them into an area where you weren’t do­ing drops? It doesn’t re­ally make any dif­fer­ence, but it seemed to me that be­cause there are so many places that they’re not treat­ing with 1080; where’s the harm?”

The Fur Coun­cil says the in­dus­try em­ploys around 1500 peo­ple, and many are ru­ral jobs – the most valu­able kind. Four mil­lion fewer pos­sums is clearly good for the for­est, and any ini­tia­tive that eases the rav­ages of pests de­serves sup­port. But fur, like any other

com­mod­ity, is sub­ject to the va­garies of sup­ply, de­mand and above all, price, and those forces are starkly de­cou­pled from con­ser­va­tion ben­e­fit. Sci­en­tific and anec­do­tal ev­i­dence, says a 2014 Fur Coun­cil re­port, shows that “Har­vesters can eco­nom­i­cally re­duce the pos­sum pres­ence to 10-15 per cent den­si­ties.” That’s a start, but get­ting pos­sums down even to those num­bers doesn’t do much for bio­di­ver­sity. In fact, 15 per cent is con­sid­ered suf­fi­ciently high to trig­ger an aerial pest con­trol oper­a­tion.

To do any ap­pre­cia­ble good, for con­ser­va­tion or TB con­trol, pos­sum den­si­ties need to be lower than five per cent, or five pos­sums per 100 traps. But to turn a profit – at cur­rent fur prices, at least – a trap­per needs to find at least 50 pos­sums in those traps each morn­ing. Most trap­pers pack up and move on once the Resid­ual Trap Catch drops be­low 30 per cent, still well above the thresh­old for net bio­di­ver­sity ben­e­fit. Trap­pers are busi­ness­peo­ple. They’ll al­ways go where the re­turns are bet­ter for their ef­fort – and why shouldn’t they?

Peters and Prosser have, in fact, of­fered no so­lu­tion to a pos­sum “prob­lem” that is fast com­ing un­der con­trol any­way. 1080 is ideal for re­duc­ing pos­sums to very low lev­els, and it will prob­a­bly play a big part in erad­i­cat­ing them within an­other decade or so. The more press­ing con­ser­va­tion curse nowa­days is rats, mice, stoats, weasels, fer­rets, cats, hedge­hogs. When I asked Prosser what he meant to do about those, he said in an email that his ground con­trol pro­posal in­cluded “all pest species”. That means he has to find more mil­lions for an en­tirely sep­a­rate con­trol net­work on top of his pos­sum pro­posal. When I asked him for de­tailed cost­ings, and where the money might come from, he did not re­spond (Peters has said it would come from “re­search and devel­op­ment tax cred­its”).

Some say we could make up the dif­fer­ence with a bounty. In 2013, An­drew Dixon, owner of the quirky Mus­sel Inn at Onekaka, in Golden Bay, of­fered a free pint to any­one who brought in a pos­sum tail as part of Pic­ton’s in­au­gu­ral Pes­ti­val, a fundraiser for the nearby Kaipupu Point Sounds Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary. The inn still puts a price on pests’ heads to­day: a mustelid of any species is worth two han­dles of beer or cider. So is a dead cat. A rat gets you a choco­late fish. The Pic­ton pos­sum bounty, though, was a lim­ited-time­only of­fer: back at Onekaka, the in­cen­tive was with­drawn when a tar­get of 5000 tails was hit in 2008.

“The folks that reckon they know say that boun­ties don’t work,” says Dixon on the inn’s web site. “Well, we reckon they have been of­fer­ing the wrong sort of bounty.” He could be right. New Zealand’s only foray into pos­sum boun­ties was an ex­pen­sive fail­ure. Be­tween 1951 and 1961, a shade over $63 mil­lion (in to­day’s money) was paid out for 8.2 mil­lion pos­sum “to­kens” at two shillings and six pence apiece. In those days, trap­pers could ei­ther claim the bounty or keep the pelt for ex­port. Around 4.3 mil­lion of the best skins went over­seas at that time. In 1951, only three per cent of pelts were pre­sented for the bounty. But by 1961, fall­ing ex­port prices saw 90 per cent take the easy money. The scheme was axed that year, after ad­min­is­tra­tors re­alised more than 75 per cent of to­kens had come from farms and easy front coun­try, or sim­ply picked off roads.

In Eg­mont Na­tional Park, bounty hunt­ing claimed an av­er­age of just a sin­gle pos­sum per hectare per year – less than the birth rate. Mil­lions of dol­lars had been paid out for pre­cisely zero con­ser­va­tion ben­e­fit, but it was worse than that. After the scheme was in­tro­duced, pos­sums started show­ing up in odd places, and spread down the West Coast much faster than nat­u­ral dis­per­sal should have al­lowed. The mar­ket had re­sponded. Peo­ple were sprin­kling pos­sums around like seeds – ef­fec­tively farm­ing the an­i­mal the au­thor­i­ties were pay­ing them to erad­i­cate.

Boun­ties – and New Zealand First’s pos­sum trap­ping pro­posal – are sub­si­dies in drag; mar­ket in­stru­ments that peo­ple will in­evitably find the eas­i­est and most prof­itable way to ex­act. With con­ser­va­tion spend­ing so miserly, there’s an obli­ga­tion to make sure tax­pay­ers’ dol­lars de­liver the max­i­mum bio­di­ver­sity or an­i­mal health ben­e­fit. And that clearly isn’t boun­ties.

Trap­ping, of course, won’t con­trol deer num­bers. “We don’t re­gard deer as pests,” Prosser told me, “and be­lieve they are well- con­trolled through hunt­ing.” Which is the whole point of his propo­si­tion. Just like a dog whis­tle, there’s a silent di­rec­tive in there, urg­ing hun­ters to vote New Zealand First.

MOST POS­SUM TRAP­PERS PACK UP AND MOVE ON ONCE THEIR TRAP CATCH DROPS BE­LOW 30 PER CENT, STILL WELL ABOVE THE THRESH­OLD FOR NET BIO­DI­VER­SITY BEN­E­FIT.

Edited ex­tract from Pro­tect­ing Paradise: 1080 and the Fight to Save New Zealand’s Wildlife, by Dave Hans­ford (Pot­ton & Bur­ton, $34.99).

Dave Hans­ford: “If the anti-1080 lobby got its way, we’d see ver­min run riot. Our col­lec­tive birthright – our na­ture – would sim­ply col­lapse.”

New Zealand First leader Win­ston Peters senses that Peter Dunne will re­tire be­fore the next elec­tion, and sees a con­stituency ripe for the pick­ing.

A rusted bull­dozer with an anti-1080 mes­sage at Ngawi, near Cape Pal­liser, south­ern Wairarapa.

“The com­mon goal that binds every­body here is to get rid of 1080,” Richard Prosser told a pub­lic meet­ing in Takaka.

In Eg­mont Na­tional Park, bounty hunt­ing claimed an av­er­age of just a sin­gle pos­sum per hectare per year – less than the birth rate. Mil­lions of dol­lars had been paid out for pre­cisely zero con­ser­va­tion ben­e­fit.

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