What does it to take to plan and deliver a successful aerial 1080 predator control operation in one of the most remote parts of New Zealand? At the end of June we successfully delivered the Wet Jacket Peninsulas operation. Here, we’ll try and shed some light on the vast amount of work that goes into the preparation of such an event.
First things first – we know 1080 helps kiwi. Where aerial 1080 has been used to reduce stoat populations, kiwi populations have benefited at places such as Tongariro in the North Island. What we don’t know is whether the same great results can be achieved in the remote areas of Fiordland, and this is what this project sets out to confirm.
We chose the Wet Jacket Peninsulas/Shy Lake study area to learn more about protecting kiwi because it has the sea on three sides, and this forms a natural barrier to reinvasion by pests. It was also chosen because it has never received any predator control before, and it’s an amazing place! We wanted an area that represents the vast wilderness still untouched by conservation efforts but holds reasonable numbers of kiwi. For the past three years the kiwi population we monitored at Shy Lake, previous posts on this blog (Fiordland kiwi diaries) tell the horrific story – over three years of monitoring not one kiwi chick has survived beyond a few weeks, with stoats preying upon kiwi after kiwi at Shy Lake. It’s clear that we needed to do something to prevent the eventual extinction of these kiwi from that study area, and large areas of Fiordland. We received funding through the Save Our Iconic Kiwi programme to initiate predator control in the area. Wahoo!
The timing of the 1080 operation follows the dispersal of juvenile stoats across the landscape and is prior to the breeding period for kiwi. If successful, this gives adult kiwi the best chance of raising a new generation of kiwi.
Site selected, what happens next?
It is a bit like the painting a house analogy, in that 95% of the work is preparation followed by a small but concentrated effort to physically deliver the predator control operation.
Now comes the grunt work. With a site chosen, the operational planning phase begins. This is our step-by-step process to ensure the best possible results for our taonga species. This is the most intensive part of the operation and we have strict guidelines we need to follow. Following these rules means wherever we are in the country, no matter the size or scale or method of control, there is continuity across all operations.
We also set goals and outcomes during this phase. Our aim is to understand whether we can reduce stoat predation on kiwi chicks over multiple seasons on a remote Fiordland peninsula with one large-scale aerial 1080 operation. Previous studies at sites where North Island kiwi live have shown that predator control over larger areas reduces the re-invasion time for stoats and gives kiwi a longer period of protection. We hope these remote peninsulas, surrounded on three sides by water, will give kiwi an even longer period during which to safely raise their young.
Matching kiwi breeding outcomes to results from an aerial 1080 operation will tell us what is required to be successful across other parts of Fiordland, allowing the sustainable conservation of the species throughout its range – that’s the dream right?
The nitty gritty
There are then several official consents to obtain. There are multiple pieces of legislation that govern the safe use of 1080 in New Zealand and a strict set of guidelines that must be followed (how 1080 is regulated).
Consents for this operation include:
- Consent from Public Health South to aerially apply 1080 to conservation land. This is not unlike the consent required to do commercial possum fur recovery using cyanide on conservation land, for example.
- A permission to use toxins on public conservation land is also required from DOC itself. The Environmental Protection Authority delegates this work to DOC. Even though the operation will be carried out by the Department, we are subject to the same regulatory controls as any other organisation wishing to use toxins and must adhere to the same standards
- Depending on the location of the operational area, loading site and access there may be other local body and landowner consents required. For this operation an official road closure will be required at the helicopter loading site which is on conservation land.
Consultation with partners and affected parties is an essential part of the operation planning process.
First and foremost, we discussed the proposal with our Treaty Partner and sought their feedback and input on the possible effects. The response from them has been supportive of our intention to protect our taonga species and the overall health of the ecosystem.
Other parties who may be immediately affected by this operation may include concessionaires and tourist operators, local fisherman and representative organisations who use the area. Our DOC staff or our contractor has spoken to all of these parties either in-person, by telephone or via email during the pre-operational consultation phase. Key stakeholders all received a Consultation Fact Pack and associated map of the operational area via a mail-out. We received many supportive and encouraging comments for this work to protect kiwi.
Working with stakeholders
Consultation, notification and communication continues throughout the planning, operational phases and beyond.
Below is a good example of the ways we work with stakeholders to ensure any potential effects of our conservation work don’t cause them headaches:
Only one concern was raised through this process, and that was related to the potential impact the aerial operation may have on the perception of overseas markets for crayfish. Cereal pellets containing the 1080 toxin do not pose a risk here (see using 1080 safely) but it is important to also consider food quality perceptions. At certain times of the year, fishermen keep holding pots in the Sunday Cove area, next to where bait application was proposed. We mapped the holding pot location and placed an aerial treatment buffer on the neighbouring mainland. This also created a buffer for a permanently moored barge in an area next to the operational area and its water supply. Just to be super careful, we created a ‘no fly zone’ in the area above the bay, to ensure no helicopters will even fly above the area of concern, and all flight paths will be logged with GPS and provided upon request.
Prior to the operation taking place, we also place public notices in local newspapers to keep our partners, landowners, stakeholders and the general public informed of the timing of the operation. We follow this up with 48 and 24 hour notifications when we have the right weather window to get on with the job.
All this planning can take anywhere from 6-12 months depending on the complexities involved!
Planning, planning and more planning.
Just when you thought it was getting easier, along comes the actual planning and logistics of carrying out an operation in deepest Fiordland. Much poring over maps and looking at boundaries and bait exclusion areas will already have taken place by this stage. The mapping analysts will have mapped flight lines and provided helicopter operators with these files to enable them to pilot their machines exactly where they need to be. The scale of the operation, which covered approximately 40,000 hectares, meant that 7 helicopters were required. Each helicopter carries a large hopper for distributing the bait, and along with the helicopters come fuel trucks, loaders and support vehicles and support staff. On top of these around 60 tonnes of bait were transported by truck to the load site for each of the non-toxic pre-feed and toxic applications. During a large predator control operation like this there may be up to 40 people involved on the day, or days in this case. Thankfully, we have some very well organised and experienced contractors and helicopter operators who run this part of the operation with guidance and input from us. The scale and complexity of the operation means that a lot of weather watching takes place. We need a few days of fine, clear days with minimal wind. A professional meteorologist gives us detailed forecasts on weather conditions at the loading site and in the operation area, which is slightly better than watching the TV weather the night before! When the green light is given it is all hands-on deck!
The business end…
On the days of the operation, each helicopter will carry between 300 and 900 kg of cereal pellets per load in a specially constructed hopper carried beneath their machines. Each hopper is fitted with a device that allows bait to flow out of it and through a ‘spinner’ at a uniform rate – see this video on how 1080 baits are distributed. This method allows the helicopter to distribute the bait at an even rate per hectare.
Pilots maintain a constant speed and height to achieve this as well. The GPS units in their machines allow them to fly the required lines very effectively and tell them where the boundaries stop and start. The nominal rate of bait applied per hectare for this operation is around 1.5kg of pellets per hectare. This equates to approximately 250 baits (weighing 6gm each) per hectare or around 4-6 baits in an area the size of tennis court
The final step
Has it worked? Did all our planning pay off? What next for the Shy Lake kiwi? We’ll monitor the initial results of operation using ink card tracking tunnels that record the presence of rodents and stoats, and a network of auto-detect trail cameras throughout the area (more on this in later posts) but proof of this operation will be in the “pudding”. The pudding in this case is a marked increase in baby kiwi surviving in that area. We won’t know the results of this until the breeding season commences and Tim gets back out there to monitor his feathered but flightless charges through their season. We will hope to have some confirmation of whether we have been successful earlier than this by monitoring rat, stoat and possum numbers in the weeks and months following the operation. Any notable reduction in the numbers of these animals, particularly stoats, will be good for kiwi. Overall, a reduction in all of these will have a positive benefit on the ecosystem in general, allowing other species to also flourish. We wait with much anticipation and will keep you guys posted here! We will also continue to keep our Treaty partners and affected parties up to date on results for both predator reduction and native species monitoring.