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Eight DOC staff are currently in Australia helping with the bush fires. You can read updates from John Barnes, Manager Rural Fire in Christchurch, below.

The DOC firefighting crew with a couple of Tasmanian mates that have been working with them.

The DOC firefighting crew with a couple of Tasmanian mates that have been working with them

Thursday 10 January

Just to let you know we all arrived safely in Hobart at 2130 hours last night. We were met by Tony Blanks from Tasmania Forestry who has worked with many of us in the past. Tony was meant to have retired over New Year but has remained on in the mean time to help out with the fires.

Our two flights over from New Zealand were very interesting. The crews and passengers picked up very quickly that we were heading over to help the Tasmanians. On both planes we received  loud cheers and clapping from the captain, crew and passengers.

We are heading to the Forestry offices this morning for a briefing with Tony. At this stage it looks like the two New Zealand crews may be working in different areas. I will report back on that later.

Tony was saying there are no rentals available in Tasmania as the fire cut the main highway and cars were left abandoned and a lot of tourists were taken back to their ship by another means. We are getting a number of retired 4×4 for transport; some may be missing a few things but are road worthy.

Clinton Lyall hard at it with a McLeod Tool.

Clinton Lyall hard at it with a McLeod Tool

Friday 11 January

The two New Zealand Response Teams from Northland (made of DOC staff) and Nelson (two out of six are DOC staff) have been deployed to two separate fires and will be starting their first day this Friday. The team from Nelson including Dave Newton (Crew Leader) and fire-fighters Aston Oliver, Stuart Saunders, Stephen Wilkins, Matthew Page and William Franklin are deployed to the ongoing fire at Lake Repulse approx 1.5 hrs North West of Hobart. This fire is a threat to the National Park at Mt Field and has burnt through approx 11,000 ha. The crew will be working with chainsaws, handtools and pumps and hoses in very steep rocky and broken country where machinery can’t access. They are staying at a homestead.

Matiu Mataira taking a break.

Matiu Mataira taking a break

The Northland Team of Glen Coulston (Crew Leader) and fire fighters Clinton Lyall, Matiu Mataira, Paul Cornille, Clea Gardner and James McLaughlin have been deployed to the Montumoa Fire in the North West. This is an ongoing fire that has burnt through approx 3000 ha. They are presently staying in motels in the NW at Burnie. They will be deployed to the fire early Friday.The teams have been given the name of unusual name of RATS–(Response Attack Teams) by some of the Tasmanian fire fighting personnel.

Sunday 13 January

I’m presently up in Burnie (excuse the pun) in the north of Tasmania with the Northland Rapid Attack Team (RATS) with Glen Coulston (Crew Leader) and fire fighters Clinton Lyall, Matiu Mataira, Paul Cornille, Clea Gardner and James McLaughlin. We are staying at the Seabrook Hotel in units close to the beach.

A friendly frog.

A friendly frog

One or two of the crew have been taking a dip in the sea each morning – the sea temp is apparently very cold. The hotel staff have really gone out of their way to accommodate the crew and look after them. While we were having breakfast this morning there was a loud roar and the hotel shook. It has been confirmed it was an earthquake (something the locals say never happens here).

I managed to drive up some steep firebreaks and tracks to meet up with the crew yesterday at the Speedwell Fire. They were working very high up in the hills dealing to spot fires that are still burning in bush. Helicopters were also being used by the crew to drop water from Bambi Buckets on to the hotspots.

The prevention measures to take when working around snakes.

The prevention measures to take when working around snakes

The team from Nelson including Dave Newton (Crew Leader) and fire-fighters Aston Oliver, Stuart Saunders, Stephen Wilkins, Matthew Page and William Franklin have been redeployed from the Repulse fire to the Fawcet Fire located near Hobart out on the Peninsula towards Port Arthur. They will be working in very tall timber that has a heavy understory of scrub. They have managed to score an equipment trailer to carry all their gear on. They are staying at some motels near the beach front at Cambridge that has a great view and reminds them of home. I hope to catch up again with Dave and his crew in the next couple of days and get some photos to send back to New Zealand.

Regarding the arrangements over the next few days it is proposed that both crews will travel to Hobart on Tuesday and have Wednesday as a day off. Another weather event that may have an impact on the fire is expected around Thursday next week. The two teams are expected to be in Hobart during this period. It will then be easier to deploy them to any fresh outbreaks of fires.

A couple of the Northland crew taking a break.

A couple of the Northland crew taking a break

Tuesday 15 January

Both Kiwi “RATs” are working on the Repulse Fire today and after their shift they will be heading to Hobart for a break on Wednesday and possibly Thursday. They will be staying at Rydges Hotel for the next couple of nights. I met up with the Mayor of Hamilton yesterday at the staging area for the Repulse Fire. She has asked me to pass on the thanks of the local community for the assistance and hard work the Kiwi teams have been involved at.

I have arranged for their washing to be picked up tomorrow morning and returned tomorrow night; they are possibly starting to smell a bit by now. Forestry Tasmania are also arranging for a meal tomorrow night for the two crews where we can all dine together and meet up with New Zealand National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield and Forest Fire Management officer with Forestry Tasmania Tony Blanks.

There has been some good feedback from the Incident Management Teams on the work carried out by the two Kiwi teams. Apparently our teams are doing the work that has been planned for them in half the time required.

There is a chance they may have to go back to work this Thursday. This is very dependent on the weather event that is forecasted to come through on Thursday. At this stage weather indicators are showing it may be not as bad as first thought however, the crews will need to be ready for any breakout of fire or any new fire incidents.

When I meet up with the two Kiwi teams tomorrow I hope to get some more photos from them to be included with the updates.

Dave Newton's fire crew in action.

Dave Newton’s fire crew in action

Thursday 17 January

Both Kiwi “RATs” are heading back to the Repulse Fire today after a much needed break. They managed to get their washing done and to also have a look around some of the tourist sites in greater Hobart. Dave Newton receives the award for the day for leaving his camera in his overalls that went to the laundry. Not sure whether it still works but managed to get the card out of it okay.

Tony Blanks Tasmanian Forestry hosted us all for the night along with National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield and a couple of retired Tasmanians who were part of the first deployment to the United States – Dick Chuter from Parks and Wildlife and Tony Davidson from Tasmanian Fire Service.

It was great to catch with some of our old mates.

Today is meant to be a lot warmer and windy but fire dangers are not expected to get to the highs of a couple of weeks ago.

Murray and I are to meet up with a TV crew from New Zealand (Campbell Live show) today. They are to do a story on the Kiwi crew’s deployment.

At this stage it is planned for the crews to return to Hobart next Tuesday for a debrief and then return home to New Zealand next Wednesday 23 Jan 2013.

Our firefighters are looking in pretty good condition after some very hard and arduous work after their first week in Tasmania. They do have a few cuts and bruises. We and the Tasmanians are very proud of them.

Dave Newton's fire crew in action

Dave Newton’s fire crew in action.

See updates from the National Rural Fire Authority here.

By Paul Jacques

2011-12 has been another successful season of rat trapping in Mason Bay, Stewart Island/Rakiura. Rat capture dropped steadily from 165 in August down to just 8 in December, providing a welcome break from rat predation for breeding birds such as red-crowned kakariki (pictured), bellbird, brown creeper and Stewart Island robin. By the end of the season the rat tracking rate was 0% within the trapped area compared to 30% in un-trapped forest nearby, good evidence that the 331 kills this season have again reduced the rat population significantly.

Red-crowned kakariki

NZDA trappers re-baiting a trap at Mason Bay

Between August and December each year five teams of keen NZDA volunteers head to the Bay to check, re-bait and maintain the network of over 300 traps. DOC helps out with travel costs and also provides technical assistance such as running tracking tunnels to measure rat abundance at the start and end of each season.The Mason Bay rat trap network is a co-operative project between the Southland Branch of the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association and DOC Stewart Island Field Centre. The traps are run during the bird breeding season with the aim of increasing the productivity of native birds by reducing rat numbers at this crucial time of the year.

The traps protect about 200 ha of coastal podocarp/broadleaf forest situated between the nationally important Mason Bay sand dunes and the freshwater swamp. While controlling rats in this spectacular environment the volunteers have the opportunity to hunt both red and white-tailed deer and also have an excellent chance of spotting a kiwi.

Looking South across the trapped area from the Big Sand Pass

This season’s trapping will begin again in August. This year we plan to trial a bird monitoring method used by other community groups around New Zealand, to measure changes in bird numbers over time in response to trapping. We will also be looking into options for feral cat control to run alongside the rat network.

For more information about the project please contact the Southland NZDA or DOC Stewart Island Field Centre.

The DOC website has the latest updates on the Ulva Island rat eradication.

A few days ago I promised an update as soon as I had the figures from the last trap check and I indicated that we were close to a decision on which method we would choose to pursue. I’ll cover both of these topics in this update.

Latest trap check

Staff were out checking the traps on Friday and caught another 26 rats. This brings the total caught since Christmas to 96. As discussed in the last update, the rat traps have gone past the point of preventing population growth. The rat population has reached a point where its growth will no longer be influenced by any efforts that we put into trapping – even if we were checking traps daily. Therefore, the rat traps have now been closed so that the three days of effort per check can be used elsewhere. The traps will stay in location and will form part of our biosecurity network on the island when we have removed the rats.

Rat eating Fantail chicks at nest


Biosecurity is the term that we give to all of the actions that we take to keep an island pest free. On Ulva Island it consisted of traps and bait stations on the island, traps on people’s boats, quarantine procedures for gear going to Ulva, signage and regular publicity. While the biosecurity network on the island was effective at preventing a rat population establishing for 15 years, it has failed this time round. This has prompted lots of people to have ideas on how it could be improved to further reduce the chances of this situation occurring again.

We would like to capture all of these ideas, so are planning a public meeting in the next few months to get your input into how to keep rats off Ulva Island. We don’t yet have a set date, but will let you know as soon as we do.

Aerial view of Ulva Island

Method of eradication

After considering the advice of the world experts and the feedback from the local community, the Department has made a decision on which method it will pursue in our attempt to eradicate rats off Ulva Island. It has become apparent in the last few weeks that the only method that gives us any hope of achieving eradication is an aerial spread of bait containing rat poison (brodifacoum). The decision was made as an aerial spread will be the quickest to achieve the result and has the highest chance of succeeding. It is the best tool for the job and we would be complicit if we attempted anything else. This was re-inforced in recent days when we read up about the Fregate Island eradication failure being blamed on the use of bait stations.

Aerial bait spread has been extensively used so we have a lot of information about its effect. It is the method that has resulted in most of New Zealand’s key wildlife sanctuaries (e.g. Codfish Isl/ Whenua Hou, Kapati, Karori, Campbell Island, Taukehepa, Maungatautiri, Orokonui, Little Barrier Isl.).

The Department, in partnership with the Hunter Family, will be lodging a resource consent application with Environment Southland in the next few weeks. Environment Southland will notify this consent allowing anyone to make a submission. Environment Southland run a good process and we think they will be a good independent evaluator of our proposed methods and controls. We encourage you to make a submission (in support or expressing your concerns), so that ES can fully evaluate this application.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Why an aerial drop? Surely the ground based approach is the safer option?
R. We have now completed many island eradications using aerial spread of bait that has resulted in some of our most unique and valuable pest free sites, including Codfish Island / Whenua Hou and Campbell Island. Ulva Island is at threat from rats. We only have a limited range of tools to deal with this. We need to use the best tool for the job that will save Ulva from rat-induced devastation. The Department’s preference is for an aerial operation as this has a greater chance of success than a bait station operation and can be completed much more quickly – effectively restoring Ulva Island to a rat free state before too much damage is done by the rats on the wildlife or the businesses that rely on this wildlife. Unfortunately a ground based eradication is far from a “safe option”, with bait available in the environment for a whole year and a much higher chance of failure. It is also a much more expensive option. With an aerial operation, bait will be taken to where the rats are so that they don’t have to move any distance to find some bait to eat. A bait station operation would require rats to travel some distance, through areas of high natural food abundance, to obtain a meal of rat bait – increasing the risk that they simply won’t encounter bait.

Aerial drop on Campbell Island (2001)

Q. Has this been done before?
R. While there have been many eradications worldwide, almost all of these have been with established rat populations that have reached peak numbers and exhausted the food supply. The situation on Ulva is very different where rats are newly invaded and have unlimited food supplies. This situation has only been encountered once before, on Fregate Island in the Seychelles where rats invaded in 1995 and they attempted to eradicate them using bait stations. This failed and the recommendations from this attempt were that the rats weren’t using the bait stations and if the situation was encountered again then bait should be presented to the rats in a way that didn’t use bait stations (e.g via an aerial application). Rats were eventually eradicated from the island 5 years later by an aerial baiting operation after the rat population had peaked.

Q. Will this work? What are the chances of success?
R. This is new ground and, even though we are using the best tool in the box, we may still fail to eradicate these rats. The rats have unlimited food available and may not have any interest in eating the bait. Even though there is a very real risk of failure, there is also a good chance of success and this, coupled with the current value of Ulva Island, make us think that an attempt is worth it. The alternative is to wait until rats have reached peak numbers and exhausted the food supply.

Q. When would an aerial drop occur and how long would it take?
R. An aerial drop would occur sometime between May and September. The exact timing depends on obtaining a resource consent and then having a four day fine weather forecast. Four days of fine weather will keep the bait in good condition for enough time for rats to find and eat it. The best practice for eradications is for two bait drops to occur about a week apart. The bait drops will only take a few hours on each of the two days.

Q. Will the island be closed? When? How long until Ulva could be used as normal again?
R. It is likely that we would close Ulva Island on each of the days of the two bait drops. Bait will be cleared from tracks and beaches early the following morning and the island will again be able to be visited. Signs warning that bait may be present will be present and visible until such time as we are sure there is no further risk of bait being present. As long as people don’t let children go unsupervised and avoid eating or handling any baits they encounter, then the island could be used as normal from the day immediately following each bait drop.

Q. What is the effect in the coastal marine area. Will you poison people who fish in the area?
R. In reality the risk of this is very low. Some bait will indeed enter the marine environment. This will be in the order two pellets per metre of coast, or less than half a kilogram of bait in a 100m stretch. The well monitored Kaikoura bait spill dropped 18 tonne in a 100m stretch and effects were limited to that 100m stretch. While the marine reserve is obviously not the local food basket, we will be discussing concerns about bait entering the marine environment with the Mataitai committee. One option that has been raised has been for a Rahui to be placed around Ulva Island to completely eliminate any possibility of eating fish that may have had contact with bait. Exploring potential solutions such as these may pave a way forward. We are also seeking advice from national marine and fisheries experts.