A NZ stoat with a chick. Photo: David Hallet/Department of Conservation
A NZ stoat with a chick. Photo: David Hallet/Department of Conservation

ScienceJanuary 11, 2019

The SPCA’s anti-1080 policy isn’t just naive, it’s dangerous

A NZ stoat with a chick. Photo: David Hallet/Department of Conservation
A NZ stoat with a chick. Photo: David Hallet/Department of Conservation

Banning 1080 would lead to the annihilation of nearly all New Zealand’s native land animals and birds, writes Forest & Bird’s Kevin Hague. Is this really what our leading animal welfare organisation wants?

On Monday morning the SPCA posted an article in which they called for a ban on 1080, suggested that introduced predators could coexist with native species, and also stated that no animal is more valuable than any other.

They seemed completely unprepared for the incredulous social and news media storm that followed.

What is abundantly obvious to most of us in the conservation world, but appears to have escaped the policy team at the SPCA, is that New Zealand’s native wildlife hovers scarily close to extinction. It is only through many millions in public funding, decades of scientific research, the efforts of thousands of underpaid professionals, countless volunteer hours, and literal blood sweat and tears that we have managed to gain any ground at all in the fight for our native species’ existence.

Banning 1080 would rapidly lead to the total annihilation of nearly all our treasured native land animals. Kiwi and most other birds, frogs, bats, lizards, snails and insects – all would disappear from forests within a few years. Subsequent generations of New Zealanders would be left a legacy of empty forests – bereft save for rats, possums and stoats.

This is not just a matter of opinion. The SPCA’s position relies on a number of badly informed and illogical ideas. They appear to have either not read, or dismissed, the highly credible work of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, the EPA, or the many independent peer reviewed studies into the relative effectiveness and humaneness of 1080 poison.

1080 is recognised as being moderately humane. Although there are more humane poisons, they are also more toxic (ergo, faster acting), and therefore worse for the environment and more dangerous for humans. In fact, 1080 is far more humane than the rat poison available in supermarkets and used commonly in homes throughout the country. It is more humane in many instances than hunting, where non-fatal shots lead to slow and painful deaths. Even trapping, where a less than clean capture can cause an animal to chew its own leg off, or be eaten alive by other predators, has a limit to its humaneness.

And 1080 is far more humane than allowing thousands of threatened birds and chicks be gnawed to death every night by introduced predators they have no evolutionary ability to protect themselves from. This is the disturbing alternative the SPCA is advocating for when they call for a ban on 1080: the slow death and rapid extinction of our native birds and wildlife.

In subsequent communications, the SPCA has sought to amend its position, calling for more research into alternative pest control before a ban is introduced. Broadly, this is an area of common ground Forest & Bird shares. No one wants to use poison, and if there were a viable, affordable alternative there’s no doubt it would be in use. But at this point in time that alternative doesn’t exist. The choice we have today is to protect our indigenous wildlife using precision deployment of biodegradable 1080 from GPS guided helicopters, or allow our native wildlife to go extinct.

The SPCA’s suggestion that trapping could replace toxins is totally naive. Let’s look at the logistics:

The Department of Conservation is looking at treating 1 million hectares of conservation land with 1080 this year. To do just 250 hectares of trapping, targeting multiple species as 1080 does, you’d need to cut trap-lines 45km long, in grids through the forest. Let’s multiply that by just the conservation land in Northland alone. (116,000h/250h) * 45km = 21,000 km of trapline – which is enough to wrap halfway around the planet. Then you’d need 420,000 rat traps, 280,000 possum traps, and 105,000 stoat traps. Then you’d need 3kg of lure per km, or 63,000 kg for a single round of trapping, done 12 times per year – 750,000 kg per annum – all carried in by hand. After all that, rats are unlikely to be reduced to the levels you’d need for kōkako to survive. So, extinction.

Using A24s (resetting traps that can be baited for rats or stoats) you would need 420,000 traps at $149.00 each, which is $62.5 million. Then you’d need to re-gas and bait them every 6 months, at a cost of $8 million per year. And that’s just Northland and just rats.

Maybe you’d also want to cost in some reliable monitoring so as to know if all that trapping is actually having the intended effect. Just sayin’.

But the reality is that we cannot trap steep ravines, rugged mountain tops, dense remote bush, and vast areas of wilderness. It is impossible to cut tracks for enough traps, and clear the traps fast enough to reduce the rat and stoat populations to a level where extinctions don’t happen.

On the other hand Russell State Forest Park rat population was brought down to zero following just three days of aerial 1080 pest control.

The question I will be asking Andrea Midgen, CEO of the SPCA, is what alternatives she is prepared to support. We know that trapping and hunting will fail on their own and lead to extinctions. The SPCA has said they don’t want this. But we don’t yet have the technology and are far from passing the ethical requirements for gene editing or Trojan female population control.

Ms Midgen and the SPCA need to decide how they are going to support research so we can get to a point where 1080 isn’t necessary. It isn’t good enough to call for a ban, or to say not enough research is being done, without addressing the hard issues the rest of us are working on.

I will be asking Ms Midgen to reconsider her organisation’s position, and to resile from encouraging ill-considered lobbying for the SPCA’s 1080 policy as it currently stands. Giving up 1080 now without an effective alternative ready to replace it would lead to an ecocide of devastating proportions in New Zealand. The SPCA needs to understand this is the logical outcome of its current pest control position, and is it not one the vast majority of New Zealanders will support.

Keep going!