The dead rat Labour and the Greens may have to swallow as they welcome new predator-control funding is putting up with New Zealand First pitching it as a win for anti-1080 protesters, writes Lynn Grieveson

Tired of being harangued by anti-1080 campaigners, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones is welcoming a $19.5 million Provincial Growth Fund investment to be spent on the development of new predator control tools and techniques as alternatives to the pesticide.

The funding will be used by Crown-owned Predator Free 2050 to encourage research and development of new tools, as well as to contract predator control projects for rural and forested land.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said it would help “stimulate rapid innovation” hopefully resulting in more effective traps, lures, remote sensing, surveillance and data management technologies. The Government hopes these new innovative techniques will reduce the need for 1080 to maintain predator-free status in areas where predators have been eradicated.

At the announcement of the funding at Wellington’s Zealandia ecosanctuary, Sage was keen to emphasise that the Government was not backing down on 1080, but looking for innovative alternatives to use in addition to the pesticide, which has been the focus of nationwide protests, marches and the reported abuse of DOC staff.

Sage said 1080 use was, in fact, about to ramp up as this year is expected to be a “mast year”, when large numbers of beech trees fruit heavily and native trees are expected to have heavy seedfalls providing abundant food for rats, mice and other predators.

Predator Free 2050 CEO Ed Chignell, who was also at the announcement watching single-use rat traps being demonstrated, said such tools were useful for areas such as urban centres, where 1080 could not be used.  

The message to anti-1080 protesters

However, comments by Shane Jones, and posts on the New Zealand First Facebook page, may give heart to anti-1080 campaigners that their protests have swayed the Government’s coalition partner – even though the funding of new pest-control technology is something that has long had all-party support.

On Facebook, the party is promoting the investment, with posts reading: “We’re doing our best to render 1080 redundant. New Zealand First has maintained its opposition to 1080 and that with adequate resources, research and development into alternatives, we can replace it.”

Northland is home to many of the anti-1080 protesters, as well as to Jones.

At the announcement he told reporters he couldn’t go back to Kaitaia without being cornered by campaigners, and finally decided “we need to do something about this”.

Describing a recent hui in Northland, he said the meeting “became hostage to the most conspiratorial perspectives” on 1080.

“If this [funding] is a step to defang the deeper misapprehensions then I am all for it,” Jones said.

“There will no doubt be teeth gnashing but I am disinterested in that.”

Spend it wisely

Forest & Bird, which has advocated for increased 1080 poison drops, is welcoming the funding and has little concern that the messaging being used by New Zealand First may convince protesters they have had a win.

Kevin Hackwell, Forest & Bird chief conservation adviser, said the three coalition parties and National all went into the last election with policies for the development of new ways of doing pest control.

“The reality is that all the major parties have had this as a major policy plank when it comes to protecting our biodiversity,” he said.

“That whole thing of Shane Jones being hassled by the ‘antis’, you know, the reality is we do need as many tools as we can get and so if that’s one way of saying to them ‘Hey guys, if we can find other ways of doing it that are as good or better, we’ll use them’.  

“Nobody is hanging out purely for 1080 use. It’s a case of ‘this is the best we have got, if we can find better, we’ll use it’,” Hackwell said.

“If, because of this money, for whatever reason the Government is spending it (and I think it is mostly about their commitment to finding new tools) we get new and better tools, then that’s brilliant.”

Hackwell said the key thing was that the $19.5 million was spent carefully and well, with good assessment made of the practicality of pest-control inventions and a focus on funding tools that were already well down the development track.

“We don’t want to see this wasted as it has huge potential to benefit the country but also to be valuable international intellectual property.”

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