TBfree disease chief invites operational discussion

Date 17 August 2018

As the TBfree programme’s proposed possum control operations open for consultation this month, OSPRI Head of Disease Management Kevin Crews says this important disease eradication work is essential for New Zealand’s farming future.

New Zealand’s TBfree programme begins a consultation on its proposed possum control activity this month, an opportunity for New Zealand land users to have their say on the shape and timing of aerial 1080 operations.

Effective control of bovine TB is essential to protect the quality and value of New Zealand’s dairy, beef and deer export industries.

The brushtail possum – imported from Australia more than 150 years ago – is the proven main ‘vector’ or transmitter of disease between wildlife and farmed cattle and deer. Eradicating TB from possums is the key to eradication the disease from New Zealand. By reducing possum populations to low levels for a period of about a decade, the disease cannot persist and dies out.

The goals of the TB eradication programme are to prove freedom from disease in livestock by 2026, in possums by 2040 and biological eradication of the disease from New Zealand by 2055.

Alongside TB testing and stock movement control, these goals will be achieved by wildlife control and surveillance operations, which affect more than five million hectares of New Zealand habitat is covered each year. Most of TBfree’s possum control work – 90 per cent – happens on the ground; 10 percent of the work requires aerial 1080 baiting. Helicopters enable work to be done in remote or rugged terrain where ground work would be impossible or impractical.

OSPRI, which manages the TBfree programme alongside the NAIT traceability scheme, undertakes these possum control operations on behalf of the government and the farming industry, for the good of New Zealand’s agricultural exporting economy.

It’s important work that protects the reputation for quality of New Zealand’s meat and dairy exports, especially in an international atmosphere of uncertainty and political change. It directly protects farmers’ livelihoods and brings environmental benefits that support the recovery of native bush and birds from predation by introduced pests. For that reason, TBfree’s work is major a contributor to the national Predator Free 2050 strategy.

So it’s really important that farmers, recreational hunters and anyone affected by these operations has the opportunity to signal how the timing and boundaries of operations might impact on their activities. This might be a request to change the timing of an operation to fit in with farm management – for instance a planned seasonal stock muster or topdressing schedule – or a suggestion to stagger an operation across a popular hunting region to enable hunting access during popular times, such as ‘the roar’ when trophy wild deer are traditionally stalked.

The consultation over pest control activities is restricted to these operational details. The wider mandate for the use of aerial 1080 for pest control is established and required by the National Bovine TB Pest Management Plan under the Biosecurity Act and is not part of this consultation.

Aerial operations are undertaken to the highest standards of safety, and individually consented by landowners and the Medical Officer of Health. The use of 1080 has been approved and encouraged by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and is still the best tool for large-scale possum control.

It is acknowledged that aerial 1080 pest control is controversial and is sometimes the focus of a vocal minority of dissenters. In many cases, opponents of pest control operations are misinformed and pushing false information.

Threats, abuse and sabotage of staff and contractors legitimately carrying out crucial TB eradication work is disruptive and, in some cases, illegal. It cannot be tolerated and can never be condoned.

OSPRI is committed to working with affected interest groups to minimise the impact of its operations. Last year, after consultation with hunting groups in the Central North Island, an important control operation was altered to enable hunting in different areas at different times. This year, talks with representative hunting groups in Central Otago led to the use of deer repellent on cereal baits to limit the by-kill during an alpine operation.

There are seven aerial operations proposed for 2019, outlined in a consultation document available at ospri.co.nz. The consultation period runs from 1 August and closes on 30 September. You can have your say here.

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