Stop the chop! Save the RMA

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Michael Tavares with Forest & Bird CEO, Hone McGregor at the 2014 AGM.

At midday last Thursday, after three-and-a-half days high in the arms of an old Kauri tree, Forest & Bird member Michael Tavares descended to cheers and applause from the crowd.

Michael’s feat beyond doubt raised the media profile and contributed to a successful outcome, after a two-year battle through the formal process to save the Titirangi tree culminated in this last ditch effort by organisers and community at the site, on the day that the tree was to be felled.

The kauri was certainly pre-European, estimated between 200 and 500 years old. It was an echo of the tree occupation protests that had been successful in saving ancient totara in the Pureora Forest in the 1970s.

This kauri was, thanks to Michael and fellow protest organisers, one tree lucky enough to hit the headlines and capture public and media imagination. But it was just one of many notable trees, some of which would have been formerly protected by general rules in their local district plans, now at risk of a chainsaw massacre.

Kauri (posted on social media) photo credit Sarah Sparks @SarahPSparks

Photo: Sarah Sparks (@SarahPSparks)

 

Their fate now hangs on recent Resource Management Act (RMA) changes already made in 2009 and 2013, and further proposed changes foreshadowed in 2015. National’s government is taking an axe to the Act, in the name of development-friendly progress. Until the changes are stopped and reversed, trees such as these are part of the price.

It was great to see Conservation Minister Maggie Barry stepping up, in the face of the groundswell of support and vocal opposition: it took a day and a half, but the Minister did the right thing and asked DOC to find out what could be done to save the tree.

In the aftermath, Auckland Council and government are blaming one another for mistakes made on both sides. But with the real-life consequences of bad law-making now in the public spotlight, a new Environment Minister, and RMA reforms on their way – this is the time for Ministers to review what went wrong, and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

        READ: Frequently Asked Questions about the RMA 

We hope Maggie Barry is asking her colleague Nick Smith to revisit RMA rules relating to public notification and tree protection, and make sure that they are adequate.

After a first failed legislative attempt in 2009, a 2013 RMA amendment rewrote – on behalf of all councils – tree protection rules in district plans. Rules that had given local trees some general types of protection (eg, by district, tree species, height or girth) were no longer allowed.

It was the government, overriding communities’ rights to decide for themselves which trees should be protected, and how. Trees would in future need to be individually (in most cases) listed in a schedule to the district plan.

(4A) A rule may prohibit or restrict the felling, trimming, damaging, or removal of a tree or trees on a single urban environment allotment only if, in a schedule to the plan,—

(a) the tree or trees are described; and

(b) the allotment is specifically identified by street address or legal description of the land, or both..

(4D) To avoid doubt, subsections (4A) and (4B) apply—

(a) regardless of whether the tree, trees, or group of trees is, or the allotment or allotments are, also identified on a map in the plan; and

(b) regardless of whether the allotment or allotments are also clad with bush or other vegetation.

This put the onus on landowners and councils to individually protect trees – or at most by an “adjacent cluster, line or grove” – but certainly not overall green belts and zones (with significant other biodiversity). And inevitably, the result is that fewer trees will be protected.

Here’s another example by way of anecdote, that surfaced on social media during the week. In Kapiti, a kauri of very significant age and size was not protected by district rules; its neighbouring smaller two rimu however were, because they were locally native.

It’s this kind of anomaly which, of course, is now corrected post-2013 – by removing protection from the rimu! Could the commenter have had his kauri listed as a notable tree? They simply hadn’t considered it.

And for those other than landowners trying to protect notable local trees – it’s a complex and occasional process, in which a request or submission as part of the district plan review would be heard by RMA commissioners, weighted in favour of the landowner, and usually, rejected.

This week, we saw a community claiming back its power, after legislation and council process had locked them out of a crucial decision. We saw the power of people coming together and standing for something important.
Community protest leader and organiser Renee Annan, in an email to kauri supporters

We expect to see the situation with the kauri playing out a lot more often, with communities fighting, case by case, over notable trees.

If that’s not the situation we want (and I’m pretty sure it’s not the situation the government wants), it’s about the balance struck in the RMA and district planning and consenting processes, between private rights, the public interest, and community involvement.

Efforts to lock communities out simply do not work. But while we wait for Nick Smith to reveal his likely very comprehensive suite of further RMA reforms later in the year, it’s worth reflecting on the developers’ open letter, offering the kauri a reprieve.

The letter’s complaints, general tone, and glancing comments on local planning, processes and the RMA seem to say: this is a backtrack, but not a back down.

What you can do:

We’ve been campaigning to #SaveTheRMA for a while now, but we need your help to let the current government know that you want to see the RMA protected so native trees can also be protected for future generations.

Take action: send an email to Nick Smith and his colleagues. Any further change to the balance between private property, and other rights and interests – as has been signalled – needs to be staunchly opposed.

Ask them to “Stop The Chop” by: reversing the 2013 tree protection changes (which were a mistake); reviewing rules around public notification; and strengthening rather than weakening local and public involvement, and biodiversity and tree protection.

        READ: RMA – Our People, Our Place

ASK AN EXPERT: Were kiwi always flightless?

Hana (10 years old) asks:

I am researching Kiwi adaptations for homework. We have to come up with some questions about them and then find the answers. One of my questions was: were kiwis always flightless – if not, what was the benefit of losing the ability to fly? The internet didn’t have the answers to this specific question so I was wondering if you could help me understand this or help me research this further.

Dr. Mike Dickison, Natural History Curator at Whanganui Museum says:

Kiwi belong to a group of birds called ratites, which includes the moa, the ostrich, the emu, and some other giant birds.

Little Spotted Kiwi (Photo: Kimberley Collins)

Little Spotted Kiwi (Photo: Kimberley Collins)

Although they can’t fly, we know from the fossil record and DNA that they’re descended from flying birds. Not long ago we found fossils of the kiwi’s ancestor, from 20-million-year-old rocks in Central Otago. It was much smaller than modern kiwi, and probably could fly (although we haven’t found its wing bones yet).

Lots of birds become flightless, especially if there are no predators living on the ground: flying is hard work, and birds will stop doing it if they don’t need to. In New Zealand, eagles and hawks were flying around during the day, so there was space for a small nocturnal bird that lived on the ground.

Te Rere Reserve – home of the rarest penguin in the world.

Forest & Bird owns a number of important reserves around the country. One of these is Te Rere Reserve – a 70 hectare block of regenerating native forest located near the southernmost point of the South Island. It is home to about 70 yellow-eyed penguins – the rarest penguin in the world.

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A 2 month old Chick and adult penguin at Te Rere.

Every summer for thousands of years, these penguins have nested and raised their chicks in the depths of the rainforest. But their age old habits have been disrupted and numbers have declined as a result of forest clearance, fires, predation and changing conditions in their supermarket – the sea.

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Adult and young chick at Te Rere.

Monitoring the birds has become a significant annual job for the Southland Branch of Forest & Bird who are the guardians of Te Rere. I am the current caretaker for the Branch and over the past three years, Mel Young from the Department of Conservation and a number of volunteers have helped me.

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Te Rere chick weighing team, February 2015.

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Brian Rance of the Southland Branch of Forest and Bird with a wounded adult penguin taken for rehabilitation from Te Rere (Unfortunately after a month of surgery and then care, this bird still had not recovered from its wounds and had to be put down).

We locate nests when they are established in October before weighing and measuring the chicks just before they fledge in February. The results of this work show a seriously declining trend as nest numbers and chick weights fall. To add to this decline in nests, a significant number of adult birds have suffered life-threatening wounds from encounters with barracuda and other predators at sea this year.

These problems are not just confined to Te Rere and are reflected elsewhere on the Southland and Otago coasts. At present there are no agreed answers are the obvious question of why these things are happening. All we can say is that it is caused by something at sea. We can be sure about this, because the land habitat of the birds is generally in improving condition, with significant re-vegetation and predator control now being achieved on the coast.

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Te Rere penguin landing site.

Penguins are regarded by marine scientists as indicators of the health of the oceans in much the same way as frogs are seen as such on land. Is the health of the sea declining and if so, is this something we humans are responsible for?

At a total population on the planet of only three thousand or so, the yellow eyed penguins are extremely vulnerable and all the “penguin people” of the South: researchers, rangers, tourist operators, conservationists and animal lovers are hoping for a return to better marine conditions in 2016.

A frog blog for World Wildlife Day.

World Wildlife Day this week highlighted the desperate situation faced by many wild creatures around the world. It’s a good reason to look at a native species that few New Zealanders will have ever seen and some work being done to save it from extinction.

Hochstetter’s frog is one of our four native frogs, which all belong to a unique and ancient family. Sadly another three native frogs have become extinct since the arrival of humans.

It’s no wonder so few people have seen Hochstetter’s frogs. They are shy, nocturnal, and generally silent but unlike our other three natives, semi-aquatic and found near forest-shaded streams. Only around 10 isolated populations of Hochstetter’s frogs remain in the upper half of the North Island, so it is vital we protect them.

Our Te Puke branch in the Bay of Plenty and Central North Island Regional Conservation and Volunteer Manager Al Fleming have been doing just that.

They’ve been working for years trying to save a remnant population threatened by a stone quarry on conservation land near Te Puke.  The operations of the quarry and repeated breaches of conditions aimed at protecting the frogs meant the outlook was bleak.

The quarry operator had no sympathy for efforts to protect the frogs. On one occasion when Al went to check on a slip on a quarry access road that had silted the stream where the frogs live, the operator let one of his tyres down, even though Al was entitled to be on public land.

The good news is the mine has since closed and the mining licence has been revoked. But as often seems to happen with old mines, the public has been left to clean up the mess and restore the site.

The Department of Conservation and our Te Puke branch recently held a working bee at the mine site as part of efforts to revegetate the area.  So things are looking up for these frogs but a lot of work is going to be needed to ensure no more of our native frogs become extinct.

ASK AN EXPERT: Why does this tui have unusually fluffy collar feathers?

Mike Creed asks: Two Tui have been visiting our feeder over the past couple of days. They are very noticeable because of their unusually fluffy collar feathers. Are these old birds? Do the collar feathers normally develop like that? They seem to be a couple. Any info would be appreciated!

Tui A (Photo by MIke Creed)

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Tui B has a bad leg and can’t stand on it very well (Photo by Mike Creed).

Colin Miskelly from Te Papa says:

These do not look like normal tui, and are both probably partially leucisticBoth of them are young birds (as evident from the dull body plumage, lack of iridescence, plus small throat tufts, and absence of fine white filoplumes around the neck and nape). As they both have similar, aberrant plumage, it is likely that they have the same parents. This could mean that there is an unusually coloured adult tui around, or it could be that both parents are normally coloured but both carry the same recessive gene.

Colin is the Curator of Terrestrial Vertebrates at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa at Te Papa.

If you want to ask an expert, post your question on our Facebook page

The Batting Season

“The Batting Season” has nothing to do with cricket. It is the term used by chiropterophiles (bat lovers) to describe the busy summer weeks when bats are out foraging in the warm, insect filled evenings. Such days are so long, bat researchers often won’t get home to sleep until after midnight. This summer in the Catlins, the weather got warm, the bats got flying and people turned out to learn more about their conservation.

Batting Season started with a packed audience on an incredibly hot evening for a screening of the documentary, Battling Extinction, by Sarah Cull-Luketina. The film gives an insight into what is happening across the country to conserve our endangered bat species and educate the public on their very existence. Thanks to Owaka Museum and Forest & Bird for hosting the event and to all those who helped make it happen on the night.

Later, three evening bat walks were well attended by visitors and locals, despite the weather being less than “summery”. The only bat that were detected showed up along the Catlins River. Nevertheless, humans of all ages learned more about them and how to use bat detectors. A few borrowed the detectors and took them home, eager to find out if they had bats flying near their backyards.

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Around 20 keen volunteers have been involved in carrying out a series of surveys for long-tailed bats along 8 kilometre routes in the Catlins, Tahakopa and Owaka Valleys. While walking along quiet roads at dusk, volunteers use detectors to listen out for bats foraging or flying past. Two surveys each summer are carried out, which provide baseline data that is compared with data collected in other years. We hope that these annual bat surveys can be taken up throughout New Zealand to enable us to discover more about the distribution of long-tailed bats and any changes in their populations.

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Five routes have been surveyed so far with bats on four of them. This is heartening, especially considering there were no official records of bats in the Caitlins a year ago. Every time a bat is heard it is very exciting – these bats are rare and surviving here. We are so lucky! Thank you to all who have given up their evenings to take part.

The Kiwi Conservation Club kids have gone batty, too. The venue for the first session of KCC for 2015 was held recently at Earthlore. The bats & bugs theme was a hit with the youngsters, who searched every nook and lead for the baby (caterpillar) magpie moth. They also made colourful bat masks, listened to the ultrasounds made by raindrops and played games on the lawn. The next session is at Kaka Point on the 1st of March with a celebration of Sea Week as the theme.

Saving the Whales

Sixty of the 198 pilot whales that beached themselves in Golden Bay over the weekend have made it to safe water. Over 300 volunteers came from around the country to help stabilize the whales and keep them alive until high tide when they were re-floated.

One of those volunteers was Forest & Bird’s fundraiser, Adria Lopez Mackay. I asked her about the experience, what motivated her to train as a Marine Mammal Medic and the rewards of contributing to conservation as a volunteer.

When did you first hear about the stranding?

I saw it on Facebook on the Friday, but it wasn’t until 9pm that night when I got a text message from Project Jonah. They were putting out a call for trained Marine Mammal Medics to get down to Farewell Spit if they could.

What is a Marine Mammal Medic?

Project Jonah run a one day training course where they go through everything you might need to help whales or dolphins survive during a stranding. They go through the anatomy of marine mammals, the ones you will see in New Zealand, and what happens to them during a stranding. They talk about the reasons they may happen and how we can support them when it does. Part of it’s in the classroom, but then you go out to the beach and practice first aid on a blow up whale.

Was this your first time working on a stranding?

Yes – I did my training in November in 2013 and they told us that Farewell Spit was the most likely place we would be called to. This is the first time I received a call out text and I guess that’s because of the size of the stranding – there were so many whales. Usually, they might get all the help they need from Nelson and Blenheim medics.

How did you react?

Well, it was good timing! It was Friday night and I knew I had nothing on during the weekend, so it was just a matter of getting things together and finding transport. The InterIsland provides free transport for Project Jonah Marine Mammal Medics and you generally connect with other volunteers on Facebook to get rides from there. We went down and caught the 2.30am ferry then shared a van with a couple who had a few extra seats.

What was your first impression upon arrival?

Pouring water on whales

Volunteers work to keep the whales cool and calm (Photo: Adria Lopez Mackay)

It was pretty heart breaking and I felt a bit helpless at first, but then the adrenaline kicked in and it was all go. We were straight into it. A lot of people had been there all morning – since the whales first re-stranded at 5am.

It was the first time I had seen whales not doing what they’re supposed to do – being helpless, and not healthy. Some of them had some pretty horrific wounds.

The entire pod had originally stranded on the Friday. They were re-floated, but it was quite hot on Friday and there weren’t enough people to help them. They were badly blistered and some of them had open wounds. But luckily, on the Saturday that they re-stranded, the weather was overcast and so the wounds didn’t get any worse.

 What was the general feeling among the group? Was there hope?

Yeah – everyone was supportive and working together really well to make sure these whales got the best care. Everyone was just so focused on ensuring they were cool and calm. And looking forward to the possibility of re-floating them, which started at high tide about 4.30pm.

What was the process of re-floating like?

Well, we move everything around them away and take off the sheets they’ve spend the day covered in. We continued to keep them cool and calm and waited for the water to come in. I was working on quite a young whale and ours was one of the first to start to swim – just because it was so small. But for some of the bigger whales, high tide didn’t mean much, and they literally had to be pushed through the sand into deeper water.

Once you let go of a whale you join hands and create a chain along the shoreline to prevent the whales trying to come back in and re-stranding.

What was the biggest challenge of the weekend?

For me, it was just the emotional aspect of it. There’s no certainty that they would survive until the next morning when we could be sure they hadn’t re-stranded.

Did you form a bond with the whales you were working on?

For most of it, I was working on a juvenile whale. When I arrived, there were two young girls who had been looking after “her” for hours and they had named her – Lily. So I had to let them know I was going to do everything I could to get this whale swimming again.

It’s hard not to form a bond with them – part of keeping them calm is just speaking to them and counting their breaths to make sure they’re not stressed out. They don’t really open their eyes, but if you speak to them they’ll sometimes open one and look at you. It was really powerful.

In the end, I was exhausted. But waking up on the Sunday to hear that they hadn’t been seen again was a great feeling.

With "Lily" at high tide.

With “Lily” at high tide.

 

Otago Fish Floundering

This article was originally featured in November edition of the Forest & Bird Magazine. If you would like to receive a copy of your own, please consider joining us.

Otago’s native fish are in crisis. The latest Department of  Conservation-appointed review has found the region has the highest number of threatened native freshwater fish in the country. Of the 12 freshwater fish species under threat in the region, four are in the highest possible threat category.

Another six have been classified as nationally endangered and two are nationally vulnerable. Worse yet, three of these species are only found in Otago.

A Dusky Galaxiid (Photo by the Department of Conservation)

A Dusky Galaxiid (Photo by the Department of Conservation)

The news is not surprising given the barrage of threats: habitat loss, land use changes, water abstraction, degraded water quality and migration barriers. But according to DOC Otago freshwater ranger Pete Ravenscroft, it is the increased movement of trout into new sites that is having the most devastating impact.

“Trout habitat is still naturally expanding into new waterways, without human assistance … to the detriment of our native fish,” he says.

Unlike their whitebait counterparts, these galaxiids don’t migrate, which makes safeguarding their few habitats even more critical. Pete says it is even more imperative for the longer-living species, which can live up to 20 years. “They have big eggs and low fecundity. It doesn’t take much to impact on the species,” he says.

Otago has lost 20 per cent of its rare fish in the past 13 years. The Clutha flathead galaxias has been hit especially hard. Threats have reduced the population of this unique species by 60 per cent, and the survivors are limited to waterways across just 12 hectares of land.

Pete says if the current rate of loss continues, the Clutha flathead and the Central Otago roundhead galaxias could become extinct within the next 20 years. “Something has to be done now to prevent future losses,” he says.

One immediate solution for Otago’s endangered fish is to remove trout from galaxiids’ habitat and set up fish barriers to keep them out. Pete stresses this does not interfere with recreational angling. “We’re not talking about the wholesale removal of trout. Galaxiids are confined to the odd population in discrete locations. Most of these rivers are a metre wide … and have no value to recreational fishing.”

Six endangered Central Otago roundhead galaxias found in the belly of a brown trout. (Photo: Daniel Jack)

Six endangered Central Otago roundhead galaxias found in the belly of a brown trout. (Photo: Daniel Jack)

Fish and Game is working with DOC to create these trout free habitats. In fact, Fish and Game Otago region chief executive Niall Watson says the organisation has gone a step further and put forward its own proposals to DOC to reduce the possibility of reinvasion.

In addition, most of these streams pass through private land, which means rescue efforts cannot come from DOC alone.

Thankfully, word is getting around about Otago’s unique native freshwater fish and the increasing need to protect them. Community groups such as Otago Regional Council, water user groups, landowners and iwi are heeding the call to act.

Pete says without community support even more of our native freshwater fish would have disappeared, but insists a lot more needs to be done to counter the “biodiversity crisis going on in our rivers”.

DOC has proposed other measures such as protecting habitat, enhancing water quality and improving fish passage. The department has also undertaken a review of its three freshwater fish recovery plans and groups to pinpoint what is working, what is not and what can be done in the future.

Lan Pham, director of education and conservation charity Working Waters Trust, is keen to get more people talking about galaxiids. “These fish have their own unique stories and are found nowhere else in the world. The tragedy is we are losing these incredible species before we even get to know them,” she says.

A Good Year for Conservation?

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Seabird of the Year (with chick): David Hallett

Working in conservation is invariably busy. New Zealand’s natural heritage is under such consistent attack on so many fronts that there’s never time to put our feet up. So much so that sometimes it’s hard to see the wood … you know the rest of it.

So given the year is all but over, and before Forest & Bird launches into battle for the new year, I thought it would be worth considering what sort of year 2014 has been in terms of conservation gains or losses. Are there any lessons to be learnt for the New Year?

We began 2014 with a crisis that had its roots in the warm summer of 2013. All the signs were in January that there would be a particularly heavy beech seeding in autumn 2014, which in turn was going to lead to an explosion in rat and stoat numbers. The scientists said there was a serious risk of losing at least some local populations of our most endangered birds.

The Department of Conservation responded by launching the ‘Battle for Our Birds,’ which amounted to a massive step up in their usual aerial 1080 programme. At this stage it looks like it’s been a success, with some great figures coming out of the programme. For instance, rat tracking numbers in Fiordland’s Iris Burn were tracking at an extremely high 72 per cent before the 1080 drop there. Afterwards they were at zero. It can be assumed that a significant number of stoats will also have died from eating undigested baits from the rat carcasses.

Around Easter Cyclone Ita blew over a large number of trees on the West Coast. This set the stage for something the logging industry had obviously been itching to do for 30 years – since logging was banned on conservation land. They wrangled themselves a law change that was introduced and passed through parliament in an afternoon. Now logging (in the form of removing trees that have been blown over) has started. That’s despite the irrefutable evidence that rotting trees are vital to forest ecosystems.

In May we learnt that after years of campaigning to save Fiordland’s Snowdon forest from having a monorail and accompanying service road pushed through it, the then Conservation Minister Nick Smith had declined permission for the project (it would have used conservation land, which is also part of a World Heritage Area, no less).

In June the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment said in a report that it is easier to get permission to mine DOC land than use it for tourism – an unintended commentary on the times we live in if ever there was one.

In the same month we also celebrated the incredible work our branch members do all around the country in June, when Forest & Bird held its annual prize-giving for those members whose contribution went above and beyond. The Pestbuster award is a case in point.

The thousands of people (included many Forest & Birders) who put their name to the petition calling for a ban on shark finning managed to force the government to change the rules for the better in September. They’re still not perfect, but they are a lot better than they were.

The election came and went in September, during which conservation issues did not feature highly, mainly because of the focus placed on the relationship between the prime minister and a certain blogger. Forest & Bird’s activities in the run up to the election included the On the Block campaign, during which ‘for sale’ signs were put up in areas where the rights to mine, drill and frack were being sold off, and our well-attended ‘meet the candidates’ events, which branches hosted throughout the country.

On a lighter note, we had the best ever Great Kererū Count in September and November, during which flocks of up to 170 birds were seen.

As of November, Forest & Bird and several others – including Federated Farmers – are now officially working towards creating a Predator Free New Zealand. We marked the launch with a joint media release. The Predator Free goal may be ambitious, but it is just the sort of co-operative, nation-wide conservation campaign that is needed to compliment the intensive conservation work that already goes on in isolated pockets of the country.

In late November New Zealand’s first ever Seabird of the Year was found. The fairy tern took the title, perhaps on the strength – if you could call it that – of being fewer than 50 birds away from extinction.

In December the rights to drill and frack for oil and gas across even more of New Zealand’s farmland, conservation land, and deep-sea seabed, were sold off. You can view the maps of which areas are involved here. It’s a shocking to see the extent of the sell-off, especially when you consider this is just the latest batch, and that the process has been underway for several years.

Throughout the year Forest & Bird has been a part of the formation of a ‘marine spatial plan’ for the Hauraki Gulf. This will bring together all the various interests in the Gulf, with the aim of developing a management plan that works for all – including, for example, the extraordinary resident population of Bryde’s whales. We think the spatial plan approach has the potential to work all around New Zealand.

Sadly, work began on digging an open cast coal mine on the unique and precious Denniston Plateau this year. But there are serious questions around whether Bathurst will survive to see the project through.

It’s an obvious question, but would we have undertaken the huge job of trying to protect Denniston if we had known the outcome? Indeed Forest & Bird, and its branches, spent a lot of time and resources on the campaign. So the accountants might say no. And standing in for something DOC should have – and normally would have – done itself was a bruising affair. But if we hadn’t been involved, Bathurst Resources would never have had to commit as much as they did to predator control, or to protecting parts of the plateau as part of an exercise in offsetting (given the Denniston Plateau was the last remaining intact example of that particular ecosystem, this ‘offsetting’ is actually nothing of the sort).

Then last Friday we received what is undoubtedly some great news. Forest & Bird (the national organisation and our Hastings-Havelock North branch) had joined up with Fish and Game and the Environmental Defence Society to appeal the consent given to the Ruataniwha irrigation dam. We did this because the regional plan change that would have allowed the dam to be built was flawed, as it didn’t lay out the methods for ensuring the water quality standards it set could actually be achieved. The High Court agreed with us – we had won the appeal. The ruling creates an important precedent for the setting of water quality standards by regional councils across the country.

So is there anything else we would have done differently in the last year? Of course, we can always do things better. But it is clear that all the conservation issues we picked up on were vitally important ones. There are so many emerging all the time that arguably it’s impossible not to choose issues that are of real importance. But we will only ever have the resources to take on those that pose the greatest threat.

The next 12 months could well be the most important yet for the work we do. Every year we see an increased interconnectivity between the issues we campaign on; I am certain this will only continue to be the case.

On that note, I wish you and your family all the best for the summer break and the New Year. Hopefully you will be able to get out and enjoy some of what makes this country such a great place. And when you do, remember just how important those places are to what it is to be a New Zealander, and how their protection is something that must always be of the highest priority.

Ngā mihi

Honē McGregor
Chief Executive – Kaiwhakahaere Matua
Forest & Bird

Taking the bait

After a weekend doing ground-based pest control, I can better appreciate the value of aerial 1080. Mapara_Marina_r

I slid down a muddy bank with nothing to grab but a soggy tree fern stump that lifted from the soil like a mushroom. Through the rain and the supplejack lassoes I could see Ian and Merryl a few metres ahead. If they could hang on to the hillside, so could I.

And in truth I probably wouldn’t have died if I’d tumbled 20 metres into the stream below. Though it wouldn’t have been a good look.

Ian Flux and Merryl Park are as nimble as goats. They’ve skipped across hundreds of hillsides far trickier than this one in Mapara forest, near Pureora.

We were in central North Island kokako country and our job was to rid the forest of rats before they had a chance to feast on kokako eggs or chicks. We were the advance party of a rat control programme that kokako scientist Ian is rolling out on private land. Neighbouring DOC forest has pest control but the endangered kokako found there venture further afield so Ian is extending their pest-controlled haven.

Mapara_Andrew1_rWe had to staple to trees 50 metres apart small paper bags of cereal pellets for rats. The first afternoon four groups of Hutt Valley Tramping Club members worked across the hillside, each following a different line on a GPS screen. It should have been a doddle for anyone who likes to get outdoors and who can work a couple of buttons on a handheld GPS unit.

Mapara_John-Ian_rThis is the jolly alternative to dropping 1080 from the air, according to some. Kit out a directionless unemployed person with a GPS, some bait and a good raincoat, send him or her into our back country and our pest problems will be solved. Sounds simple.

And so it would be in a nice flat piece of forest – one not intersected by streams or steep gullies and without boulders or vines or inconveniently placed tawa trees.

Following a GPS line in terrain like our Mapara hillside was not like the usual tramping I do. Not only was there no track, there wasn’t even the option of taking the easiest route through the forest. We needed to stick as closely as possible to the GPS line to evenly space the cereal baits through the forest. Rats have small territories and we wanted them all to have a paper bag of pellets to sample.

Our cereal pellets were like the ones you’d feed a guinea pig. They were flavoured with cinnamon, which birds and insects don’t like, but they didn’t contain any poison.

Mapara_paperbag_r

Rats are notoriously wary of new food. They can’t vomit so they will nibble only a tiny amount of a new food to be sure it won’t make them sick.

Our paper bags of bait were put out to introduce the rats to a new food. A month later Ian led a second team of trampers to put out another series of paper bags, this time filled with bait laced with cholecalciferol and pindone toxins. The rats would this time tuck in to the familiar cereal pellets and swallow a lethal dose of poison.

After a lot of planning and hard work by volunteers – and a bit of luck – the rat numbers in this patch of Mapara forest should be low enough to give a few kokako pairs the chance to raise some chicks this summer.

Mapara_Andrew2_r

Finally caught up with Ian and Merryl – well, they waited – before we made our final, steep climb out of the forest.

Mapara_Andrew_rSome people might wonder how I contributed to the pest control expedition to create a haven for kokako. I didn’t. I succeeded in not falling into the stream and not getting hurt. Baits and GPS co-ordinates were peripheral features for me.

Bring on the aerial 1080.

Photos show Marina, Ian Flux, John Simes and Andrew Robinson. Photos by Marina and Michele Lythgoe.

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