‘Blood will fall’: the bush Rambos at war with 1080

The threats over DOC use of the anti-predator poison reveal a crack opening up between urban perception and rural values. We need to grasp its seismic nature, before somebody gets hurt, writes Dave Hansford

In October, somebody let a herd of sika deer into north Taranaki forest. Then they sent the Department of Conservation a letter — signed, allegedly, on behalf of six Taranaki hunters. The writer told DOC they had released “at least 30” sika into the formerly deer-free tracts in reprisal for the Department’s use of 1080. They promised more would join them until the Department stopped using the poison.

Genuinely deerless forest is a rare idyll in New Zealand — seven species from all over the globe were introduced for bloodsport by European colonists. That too, was an act of rebellion, by settlers who had renounced Britain’s despotic class system. In their homeland, they’d been left to gnaw on rabbit meat and “coarse” fish — tench, perch, rudd — while the aristocracy held exclusive claim to the salmon rivers and deer estates.

In the absence of any other constitution, Aotearoa was conceived as a vast, egalitarian hunting estate, a leafy, living larder for peer and plebeian alike.

For the country’s urbanites, that’s a quiz answer. Around the regions, it’s a compact still binding. Some interpret this talk of getting rid of possums, rats and stoats as simple semaphore as a declaration of war on their way of life. We tend to forget that a supermarket is a 60-minute drive for many New Zealanders, and that they wouldn’t buy meat from it anyway. Thousands of men and women still feed their families on whatever they can draw a bead on — wild pork, venison, goat meat.

Possums are one thing, but as far as some are concerned, it’s only a matter of time before those bastards in Wellington come after their deer. In that sense, the first skirmishes of Predator-Free 2050 are already afoot: the hunting forums and Facebook pages are in high dudgeon: “They are deliberately killing off everything that’s edible in the bush so we cannot hunt it…” charges a poster on Facebook page 1080 eyewitness; “Its about the new world order, take the water, kill off all the wild food … and make all self-sufficient on the supermarkets where all the foods are poisoned!”

It’s just one more crack opening up in the broadening reach between urban perception and rural values, and we really need to understand its seismic nature. Quickly, before somebody gets hurt. The same day the poison pen letter arrived at DOC’s head office, a staffer’s vehicle had a window smashed in. Weeks before, a wheel flew off a pest control contractor’s vehicle after the nuts had been undone. Checks revealed two other vehicles had been sabotaged. Prior to that, DOC went to the police after someone left 1080 baits in an employee’s letter box.

None of this is new. Persecution is a deplorable workplace hazard for many front-line DOC staff and contractors. There’s something about hunting that seems to flatter the self-image of a certain kind of Rambo-channeling redneck. Maybe it’s the guns. Or the camo, or the machismo of killing your dinner. This was the demand made by leaflets left at an information kiosk on the Cobb Ridge, not far out of Takaka, in 2007:

DESTRUCTION OF THE 1080 POISONERS

TO THE HUNTERS AND EATERS OF VENISON, TO THOSE WHO APPRECIATE THE ROARING STAGS OF A MISTY APRIL MORNING LIVING AND BREATHING OUR HERITAGE, TO THOSE

WHO HUNT SAMBA RUSSA, WHITE-TAIL AND FELLOW AND ANTELOPE OF THE MOUNTAINS IT IS TIME TO FIGHT THE REAL FIGHT FOR OUR HERITAGE AND FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS

… WORLD-WIDE DIRECT ACTION MEANS THE DESTRUCTION OF ANY TARGETS AT ANY TIME ANYWHERE BY ANY MEANS AVAILABLE TARGETS MAY INCLUDE, ANY DOC STRUCTURES,

VEHICLES OFFICES OR SENIOR DOC OFFICERS PRIVATE PROPERTY, ANY FIRMS OR CONTRACTORS WHO PROFIT FROM TOXIC 1080 USE HELICOPTER COMPANIES THAT SPREAD THE SHIT TO THOSE WHO CART IT AND LAY IT … IF YOU WANT HUNTING FOR YOUR SONS YOU MUST FIGHT FOR IT, ITS IN YOUR HANDS DO NOT SAY LATER WE DONE NOTHING PICK

YOUR TARGETS AND PLAN CAREFULLY – BE STRONG IN YOUR CONVICTION OF YOUR BELIEFS.

ANTI-1080 ACTION ALLIANCE AOTEOROA [sic].

Yesterday, the Department received another menacing, if delirious missive, promising more deer liberations and declaring “a war like no other”. The writer warned that “these hunters have more guns than you or the police. We are going to bring you bastards to your knees. We will take down helicopters who support 1080 drops. We will take down people one by one, blood will fall. Watch this happen.”

They went on to claim a backcountry brothers-in-arms; a network of saboteurs in milk plants and abattoirs ready to slip a few 1080 pellets into the country’s primary exports.

1080 is an integral part of the Department of Conservation’s pest eradication programme. Photo: DOC

It’s unfortunate, but about the periphery of society orbits a personality type drawn not so much to a specific cause, but to the hell it offers some assumed license to raise — to renounce probity and unleash instead some pent-up compunction to violence and mayhem. The history of 1080 opposition in this country is a continuum of peaceful protest, punctuated by acts of violence by such outriders: the gunpoint hijacking of a helicopter by Chris Short in 1995; the bungled kidnap plot of anti-1080 activist and lawyer John Burrett in 2002. The shameful chronology of assaults on committed environmentalists, like the beating of Coromandel kiwi advocate Arthur Hinds in 2011 by Peter Findlay, and more recently, an assault on a Thames contractor by Graham Sturgeon, who once told the Waikato Times: “1080 is war to us, and there will be no holds barred.”

To Sturgeon, a Vietnam vet, aerial pest control may call to mind the helicopter gunships that terrorised another persecuted populace half a world away, the winged agents of venal government. Certainly, that’s a popular metaphor on social media, where a blogger on the New Zealand Hunting and Shooting forums expresses dismay at “New Zealand’s attempt to lead the world in a systematic program of species eradication. Our extremists … are going for the lot, it’s going to be a clean sweep. It is truly an eco-fundamentalist campaign of such sweeping magnitude, it would make Adolf Hitler look like a timorous wimp.”

Predator-Free 2050 was supposed to be New Zealand’s moonshot: a bonding national ambition, a green, group hug. But the comms plan has no contingency for conspiracy-fuelled false dichotomies. Wellington is not Westport, or Wairoa, and many consider that their birthright is bush meat, not biodiversity. Ngāti Tama have been clearing Parininihi forest, not far from the site of the illegal sika release, of pests for the last five years, in preparation for the reintroduction of kokako last July – an historic return after the birds were exiled back in 1999. Sika eat much the same foliage kokako need to thrive, but their mutinous liberators, apparently, don’t care.

Dave Hansford is the author of Protecting Paradise: 1080 and the Fight to Save New Zealand’s Wildlife


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