Sunday, November 27, 2011

Okarito Mussels

I''m just back from the beach with a bag of kutai (50 individual mussels) for my 68th birthday dinner, "tom yum mussels".  

What a taonga are our green-lipped mussels!  Fortunately, they are an acquired taste, leaving plenty for us addicts.  While the farmed product is by and large excellent, nothing beats getting a wet backside gathering your own wild mussels. At Okarito we don't get the former with the main supermarket being 120km away.

Mussel gathering is not easy at Okarito. It is such a wild seacoast churned by large rollers from the southern ocean. Mixed in the turbulent surf are vast amounts of sand and gravel that comes from the glacial rivers. The net result is that  mussels can gain a foothold only well out from the shoreline where they escape the worst of the grinding gravel.  

Humans can only risk access to the mussel zone when calm seas coincide with the lowest of tides.  Even then don't take your eyes off the sea. Tangaroa (the Maori God of the sea) tries to swallow you every seven waves or so.  You work perched on boulders with white-water surf swirling all around. I wear non-slip crocs and a life-jacket to give me some chance in a worst case scenario. The plainly obvious danger protects the mussels from over exploitation.

Once on site there is still no guarantee of satisfaction. Mussels are at their tastiest just before spawning which appears governed by the season and nutrient supply. But there is no way of knowing this without cracking and eating a raw mussel. If it tastes bitter then go back home.

How you pick is also important. Select individuals that are prominent in the clumps or are slightly isolated to get the best. Mussels compete for nutrients so the sweetest and fattest are those that filter the currents first . 

Get all these ducks lined up and you're rewarded with plump orange or cream coloured mussels that taste best immediately after steaming - YUMMMMMM!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wheels falling off the ETS wagon?

Why on earth did NZ follow the Europeans and choose an ETS scheme rather than a simple Carbon Tax option. The logic escapes me.

Two recent articles confirm my opinion and illustrate the "Law of Unintended Consequences".

The first was a Piers McLaren's piece highlighting the planting boom hangover NZ has created in forestry:

"New Zealand’s problem is that we had a massive planting boom in the 1990s followed by very little planting in subsequent years. Steve Wakelin from Scion has calculated that we would need to plant about 50,000 hectares of new land every year, starting in the winter of 2012, to avoid our forest estate becoming a massive carbon source in the period 2023-2038. Why will it become a source? Because this is the logical result of a harvesting boom following one standard rotation after the planting boom of the 1990s. Our forests would pump out up to eighteen million tonnes of CO2-equivalent per year for some of those years. We will curse our forest “sinks”!

The second is a fundamental flaw in our ETS legislation revealed by Rob Stock:

"Motorists are paying up to $25 a tonne for carbon at the petrol pump while the price of carbon credits on the open market is just over $13, leading to windfall profits for petrol companies. New Zealand emitters are able to buy and surrender dubious, but cheap Eastern European "industrial gas" credits, banned or limited in other carbon markets, under New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) at prices far below the expected $25 level when the scheme was established.

What was supposed to be a tax has morphed into a source of revenue for the oil companies! A host of unintended consequences is inevitable when you let bureaucrats loose to create complicated "market driven regulations".

What was wrong with a simple tax on all energy-based carbon emissions? The tax could be raised or lowered as required to change consumer behaviour. It would be a far simpler and justifiable source of revenue for the consolidated fund than the transaction and capital taxes being debated.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Digger and the Dotterel

Who said you can't disturb nesting birds? Yes you can when heavy machinery and Banded Dotterels clash. Read on:

Okarito has a typical West Coast river bar that often closes during dry periods. Residents then have  wait patiently while the lagoon steadily rises to a seemingly alarming height when our local Council takes action and arranges for a digger to reopen the bar.

It just so happens that the beach is home to many Banded Dotterels who nest precariously in small scrapes in the sand.  Every spring they successfully raise pairs of chicks despite the mortal hazards of rogue waves, falcons, gulls, whitebait fishers, dogs, quad bikes, 4wd's, playing children and beach walkers.

Well a couple of years back the digger had begun the work to open the bar when I discovered a Dotterel nest right in it's path. Bugger! What to do? Contact DOC? Nah! Shift the digger?  Hell no - he'd been going for two hours!  I looked down on the poor wee bird sitting on her clutch of two eggs and said "lady your only chance is to move home".

So I made a little scape in the sand a metre away and picked up her eggs, plus the few sticks she had as furniture, and relocated her nest. I stood back and sure enough she trotted over and settled down again. "Good girl, now we'll do that again".

I repeated the process and the bird complied again. Well after a few hours and many more moves I moved Mrs Dotterel and her brood over 50 m out of harms way. Amazing. Towards the end she was clearly getting grumpy with my interference. She'd run between my legs with her wing down with a rather pained look in her eye "surely this is far enough?".

 Lesson is that birds are far more tolerant than what we are taught to expect, especially species that live amongst our daily activities.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Okarito 1080

Personal assessment of the success of an aerial 1080 operation at Okarito to protect kiwi (rowi) from stoat predation.
By Ian James

Executive summary:

1.  Small mammal tracking data indicate successful control of rats and stoats.

2.  Seven tagged Kea losses is a serious problem.  Other native birds seem not affected and all will benefit from rat-free breeding season.

3.  Fresh possum sign post 1080 cast doubt on control success.  A few rabbits killed but hare numbers seem unaffected.

4.  The 1080 operation may have been done one year too soon as another rimu seed-fall is coming next year. Rat, then stoat, numbers may recover fast.

4.  Deer losses are unacceptable to local hunters.  Independent study of deer numbers, before and after 1080, suggest 45% of deer herd was lost.

5.  Deer losses could have been minimised had a deer repellant been used.  DOC policy and action does not recognise yet the change in legal status of deer to "game animals"  Lack of action is fueling the fire of opposition to 1080.


It's now four weeks since the Okarito 1080 operation, time enough for some conclusions.

The good news is that DOC reports success in achieving their goal of protecting kiwi. Their small mammal tracking index showed rat and stoat numbers declined from 29% and 48% respectively, before 1080, to 1% and 0% afterwards.

 On the negative side, DOC has recorded 7 kea losses from a total of 32 tracked birds. That is a serious loss as an unknown number of other kea, not tracked, were likely lost as well?   Kea are as threatened as kiwi.

 How did the other birds fare? As far as I can judge pretty well. Tui, bellbird, morkpork, falcon and pigeons remain around the village in the same numbers as before. Grey warbler, fantail, fernbird, brown creeper and tomtit can still be heard along bush tracks but numbers are desperately low.  But they were like that before 1080.  The status of kakariki, riflemen and robins is unknown.

 All birds should benefit from a breeding season without rats and stoats. It is a pity that early 5-min bird count data was not repeated as long-term small bird monitoring data is available for both north and south Okarito forests.  That would have demonstrated that the wider avian ecosystem benefitted, not simply kiwi.

I am not sure that possum numbers have been effectively controlled.  Live possums can still be seen at night along the Okarito road and there are fresh possum tracks along the beaches south of Okarito. Perhaps the low bait sowing rate (< 2kg/ha) allowed the rats to quickly hoover up the baits before some possums got the chance. Hares were largely unaffected and 3 rabbits were found dead.

I do have concerns that the 1080 operation was done one year too soon.  I understand that rat numbers were barely high enough to ensure a successful 1080 control after a rimu mast last autumn. Normally rimu has two concurrent mast years followed by 3 years with little or no seed.  This year is no exception as rimu seed is ripening on trees at the present time (see image above).  This means that surviving rats will have a stoat-free holiday in a coming mast year so numbers should rebound rapidly.  That in turn will facilitate a rebound in stoat numbers - not the result hoped for.

The "numero uno" for local hunters is number of deer poisoned.  Sadly, no data was collected, more than an oversight in my opinion, given the level of concern amongst local hunters.  Deer are now legislated as "game animals" but this change appears yet to be fully implemented in DOC policy, or practice.  

To rectify matters, I have made a personal study by visiting 16 localities (good hunting spots) pre-1080 and made an assessment of the number of deer using the area i.e. the level of tracks, droppings and browse. I then repeated the assessment three weeks post-1080.

While observational studies can never be as scientifically rigorous as collecting hard data, I made special effort to avoid bias. In cases of doubt I erred on the side that no change in deer numbers had occurred. To protect local hunter's favorite spots the areas are not described. The results of my study are tabled below:

 Area.       Deer numbers before.       Deer numbers after.

A                           1                                      2
B                           2                                      0
C                           1                                      1
D                           1                                      0
E                            1                                     0                          
F                            0                                     0
G                           0                                     1
H                           2                                     2
I                             2                                     1
J                             2                                     1
K                           2                                     1
L                            5                                     1
M                           1                                     0
N                           3                                     1
O                           3                                     3
P                            5                                     5

Totals                   31                                   17

The last two areas where deer numbers are the same may not have had been directly poisoned. P is near a major river and O is adjacent to the poisoned area. A few other records from after 1080 observations were tracks of indeterminate age but included as a positive.

The result indicate net 45% reduction in deer numbers. Comparative published information show red deer losses of between 5% to 93% (Technical Review of Sodium Monofluoroacetate, Table 5; Eason, 2002) ).

Why were so many deer killed at Okarito given the dense vegetation and low sowing rate?  It was not the result we expected.  The timing was not good coming at the end of winter just before the first spring grass growth. However, that time is ideal for maximizing the rat and possum kill.

The 1080 loading in individual baits is high given that the small size of the target animals.  DOC staff supplied the following commentary:

"One 12 gram 0.15% 1080 bait contains 18 mg of 1080. Deer require 0.5mg/kg body weight for a 50% chance of death. Therefore a deer weighing 36kg live weight needs one bait, a deer weighing 72kg live weight would need two, etc etc. So if an adult hind eats three full size full strength 1080 baits she is in trouble".

So few baits are needed to kill a deer so each bait contains many times the lethal doses for a rat or possum, the target species. That surely is an area DOC can reconsider. If it took 10 or more baits to kill a deer then less may be killed. 

These deer losses are unacceptable to the hunting fraternity and, in their eyes, are as bad as the kea killed.  For locals for whom venison is the main table meat, the deer losses are a serious disappointment and were avoidable.  Local hunters support the kiwi recovery as strongly as any folk but the cost to their sport is too high.

The deer numbers will recover over time.  However,  putting the same hunting pressure and natural mortality rates as inputs to a simple population model shows deer numbers will not fully recover for at least five years.  In the interim, 1080 may need to be used again if rats recover quickly.

The obvious need is for DOC to use a deer repellant as standard practice.  A successful repellant was developed and tested in New Zealand in 2003 (Speedy, 2005).  Why is it not used?  Deer are not a conservation problem in lowland South Westland.  DOC staff offer excuses such as patent problems, difficulty of application, cost, etc. But excuses simply imply inertia.  Deer repellants are used worldwide and many are blood based, a product available cheap from NZ freezing works.  Given the angst the department suffers and the legal status of deer a change of policy and action is way overdue. Their current inaction is fueling the fire of opposition to 1080.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Landrover to Lexus

I've just bought a 10 year old Lexus 470 Landcruiser. MAN, I LOVE THIS TRUCK. It makes a gravel track feel like smooth tarmac. Many vehicle reviews say it's the best 4WD ever made and I heartily agree. I see on TV that Tony Blair has one to cruise between Israel and Palestine, no doubt bullet proof. Hence, it is not surprising that my "so-called" mates say, "that truck is above your allotted station in life, James".

You may ask how the hell did a bloke from South Westland afford it? Well blame the global financial crisis. Those financial scoundrels in Auckland dumped their fancy toys at near firesale prices. I just happened to see one when looking for a standard VX Cruiser. Why have a VX when a newer Lexus is cheaper?

Wind back the clock (time not the odo) to the 1960's. The only available 4WD was the Series 1 Landrover. The Forest Service had dozens of them along with Bedfords, Commers and Vanguards. The short-wheelbase, canvas-top Landrovers rattled us out to work along miles of dusty gravel roads towing a one ton trailer trailer with the packs and food. We'd arrive at somewhere like Kuripapanga or Makahu Saddle bone shaken and covered in road dust for a fortnight's work in the mountains.

Fast forward to the 1970's, the damm Landrovers were still there. We worked them to the max; broke axles, drowned the motors in mountain rivers, tore off the aluminum panels on logs, but no matter how badly abused, the Forestry workshops would rebuild them back roadworthy.

By the 1980's the British fleet had vanished and the Mazda ute and Toyota Hilux held supreme, thank God! The Japanese trucks were indestructible! I remember the first Mazda arriving at Harihari workshops. Giving it the once over, the mechanics discovered it had no grease nipples in the suspension (all joints were sealed unlike the British trucks which dripped oil and grease). That was a serious fault, so they drilled holes in every joint and screwed in a grease nipple. Not long after most Forest Service mechanics became redundant.

Now 4WD's are as high spec'd as luxury sedans and Lexus is the pinnacle of this trend. Sorry to the climate doom merchants but this truck is my bliss despite it's gas-guzzling ways (16 litres/100km). Apparently one pet dog has the carbon footprint of two Landcruisers so I'm unrepentant. As yet no freshly-shot deer carcass has been heaved onto the cream carpet in the boot. We'll cross that hurdle soon but in the meantime I glide along the bush tracks in supreme comfort looking for some unsuspecting Bambi.H

Friday, September 16, 2011

More thoughts on 1080 kea deaths at Okarito

What happened at Okarito with kea deaths brings into sharp focus the main issue with 1080. Yes, it is the best way to kill possums and other predators, but is the inevitable collateral damage to wildlife acceptable?

From a practical standpoint using aircraft to scatter 2kg of bait over a hectare with GPS navigation certainly beats walking. The problem is that baits fall anywhere in the forest and that makes it impossible to control who eats them. Unless baits either contain a poison that wildlife are resistant to, or have an added compound that repels wildlife but attracts the pests, then birds will be lost. In reality, neither alternative is foolproof.

Remember 1080 has been used over 50 years in Westland and collateral losses were just as concerning 50 years ago. I personally assessed the aftermath of the early 1970's operations in the Taramakau valley when possum number were extreme. Three weeks after the drop, the bush stank of dead possums and deer as well. Deer carcases were easy to find because they had a different rotten odour. Dead birds were also a feature though the majority were blackbirds. Initially, it was thought that too many small pieces of carrot were the cause of bird losses so the carrot cutters were redesigned. Research over subsequent years has brought many other changes including green dye, repellants, grain baits etc. But 50 years later we're still killing birds.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Kea losses to 1080 at Okarito

DOC have just announced that seven kea have been likely poisoned by the recent Okarito 1080 drop. Bugger! In the current political climate that's not a good look. My previous comments about kea deaths from 1080 carrots in the 1960's and 1970's were prophetic indeed.

Believe me, I personally knew the Okarito kea that died. On occasions, these particular birds and I would verbally abuse each other. Why? Because they'd announce my arrival in their territory to all other wildlife, including the deer. Nothing is more annoying to a deer hunter than a squawking kea, or a honking paradise duck, just as you arrive at the most likely spot for a deer. However, please don't assume I'm pleased about their demise. Far from it.

Kea are endearing because they're so damm curious. They just have to investigate anything new in their territory. Poison pellets arriving on bare ground would be irresistible, especially after a non toxic prefeed a week or so beforehand. Losses are inevitable bar using a poison that doesn't kill birds or perhaps poisoning at night if kea are not nocturnal.

The local DOC staff will be gutted as they have made genuine efforts to avoid this scenario. However, kea are not the only birds at risk. Morepork, falcons, harrier hawks, kaka, kakariki, fern birds, robins, and especially introduced blackbirds and finches, are all at risk. Certainly, using cinnamon repellant plus sowing a very low density of baits on the ground minimises losses but as is now aptly demonstrated it does not eliminate them.

DOC has difficult choices with the 1080 issue. Will the post-poison breeding success of birds make-up for those lost? Many bird species are in such low numbers now that any more losses maybe critical to their survival. A big re-think of the predator control strategy is unavoidable. In the meantime, DOC have a public relations crisis to cope with.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The use of 1080 in Okarito Forests

Today several helicopters have spread 1080 laced baits over the forests behind our village. It's all part of the DOC programme to kill the rats, possums, and stoats which threaten the survival of the Okarito brown kiwi "Rowi".

It's fair to say most people in Westland oppose the use of 1080. They have a variety of reasons; some passionately argue on the grounds of the inhumane treatment of animals - being poisoned by 1080 is not a pleasant end for any living creature. Others worry about their dogs, chemicals in water supplies, chemicals in the environment, so called "ecocide". Hunters object to the collateral loss of deer. I support the goal of destroying the pests but red deer are now officially a "game" animal. I wish DOC would take appropriate action to minimise deer losses.

To put this blog in perspective, I should disclosure that my early science career, in the 1960's and 1970's, involved calibrating how badly possums were destroying our rata and kamahi forests. The end result of this work was justification for sowing 1080 laden carrots over vast areas of mountain lands. The 1080 cetainly decimated the possums. The bush would stink of dead animals for weeks afterwards. But I fear how many birds, especially kea, we inadvertently wiped out. Since that time science has certainly refined the use of 1080 with the use of grain baits, cinnamon bird repellant and very low application rates compared to the old days.

Well after today's aerial action I took a walk in the bush to count baits. First impressions are that the sowing rates are really low. On an old trail which was still clear I found 13 baits over 500m distance. However, in undisturbed forest the baits were quite hard to find. They disappear into nooks and crannies under the fern cover. By the look of it I would expect rats and possums will be the main mammals affected. Where deer will be at risk is open ground such as well grazed grassy clearings and shingle river beds.

I've taken the trouble to count deer numbers from sign on a number of clearings over the last few weeks prior to poisoning. In a few weeks I'll return and try to estimate how many have survived. Watch this space.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tax New Zealand's 5 million pets.

Lol,  New Zealander's collectively own over 5 million pets!  A survey by New Zealand Companion Animal Council says we have 1,400,000 cats and 700,000 dogs, the remainder being birds, rabbit, fish, etc etc.  I'm amazed!

The Council's report emphasises the benefits to humans of this hoard of rovers, moggys, bunnies etc.  We enjoy having them in our homes (some of us don't). They apparently give us "therapeutic and physiological benefits and help children develop respect, a sense of responsibility, cognitive skills, sensitivity and self esteem".  All good stuff but what about the costs?

The dogs and cats alone support an $1.5B industry providing for food, veterinary and health care products.  That doesn't include the costs of pet housing, sewage, policing, SPCA, and hospital care for people injured by pet attacks - probably at least another $500M.

But here is the real cost.   Each dog is estimated to have the eco-footprint equivalent to the impact of building and fueling two toyota land cruisers.  A cat equates to a VW Golf (  Crikey, dogs and cats well exceed  the eco-footprint of our 2,232,915 car fleet ( in New Zealand).

This situation is ridiculous and too much to bear for those of us who don't have pets. This a world of polluter pays. I propose a  pet tax (the PT) to cover their eco-footprint and other costs to society.  The PT should be levied on every can of pet food and set at a rate at least equivalent to the 3c/litre tax on vehicle fuel.  Based on NZ's annual consumption of 5300M litres of petrol and diesel, the PT should generate $159M ( Now, I haven't thought about ACC.  I hope Phil Goff reads this - the Labour Party wants new taxes.

The next time some dog owning do-gooder criticises my cherished land cruiser, they'll get an instant retort.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ho-Hum Rupert Murdoch

The fuss over Murdoch's papers is a bit ho-hum really. To titillate the public with ever more jucy tabloid headlines in an intensely competetive environment, the newspapers are too often forced to either pay for or steal salacious content. Phone tapping, cash payments, and cosy relationships with the pollies, sadly are simply the tools of trade and I bet News Corporation isn't alone We are witnessing the endgame for newsprint. The real news is available for free on the Internet.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Labour's dumb Capital Gains Tax Policy

A big thumbs down to Goff's CGT. Taxing capital without a comprehensive review of our whole tax system is both dumb and dangerous. Even more dumb is to begin your election campaign by promising more tax.

It couldn't be a worse time than the present to talk about taxing assets, especially property. Since the global financial crisis, NZ home and farm values have been treading water, kept alive mainly by the grace of the Australian banks in controlling the rate of morgagee sales and Mr Ben Benanke's money machine keeping global interest rates artificially low. We've been collectively kicking the can down the road seeking time for rising incomes or inflation to restore some semblance of balance. So far the strategy has worked but it is highly at risk should unemployment or interest rates rise.

Along comes goofey Goff and his mates who think they can fix the original property bubble by a new tax long after the horse has bolted. They'll fix it alright! The tax will likely destroy market confidence and unleash a wave of deflation of house and farm values. Look at what is happening in the USA and then consider how inflated the ratio of income to house values is in NZ. What would a 30 - 50% drop in values do to our economy. Those most affected will be the labour supporters themselves, and the battlers, as they struggle with their underwater mortgages.

I'm not against comprehensive tax reform but Labour's policy is a very dangerous attempt to harness the green eyed monster of the left.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Its time for New Zealand's frontier-forestry to grow up.

New Zealand needs more trees, whether native or exotic, because forests benefits the environment in so many ways.  Most important is their ability to reduce flood flows and soil erosion on our steep unstable hill country.  There are many striking examples that aptly show how effective forests can be reducing the extent of landslides when compared to pasture on the same topography.

The problem is that the way we harvest our exotic forests destroys these protective functions. Despite the existence of an "Environmental Code of 'Best' Practice" too great an area of steep forests end up as a trashed landscape littered with slash, log ends and bare soil.  Radiata pine takes 30 years to mature. Therefore roughly 1/30th of the NZ's area of radiata plantation (nearly 60,000 hectares) is clear-cut every year. The landscape remains stark and vulnerable for at least five years until a new forest is established.  Any high rainfall storms on hill country can cause more erosion in logged forests than pasture because so much soil and debris is exposed.

In the past year China's demand for timber has reinvigorated forestry, not before time, as the previous years of dismal returns nearly crippled the industry. Unfortunately, the renaissance has coincided with a period of exceptional storms. The inevitable result has been landslides of forest debris flooding rivers and silting local estuaries.  The damage is all too visible around Nelson and the Coromandel hill country.

Surely it's time the forestry industry lifted its game.  The logging of whole hillsides in one swoop is frontier forestry. Our forest owners could show a little more sophistication on sensitive landscapes by better applying their own code of practice.  Additional techniques such as using smaller felling areas, and even maintaining a continuous forest cover, are standard practice overseas but are implemented here by only a few enthusiasts. They may cost a little more but the environmental gains would be enormous. Better the industry takes the initiative itself than wait for local Councils to force more inflexible rules.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Restructuring the Public Service

Before the Labour Party came to power in 1984, a job gained in the public service became a career for life unless you committed some henious crime. Richard Prebble, Roger Douglas and Phil Goff destroyed that security for ever. Whole departments, such as the NZ Forest Service, were disbanded. The way the staff were treated, especially those who lost out, was abysmal. The legacy was a cohort of embittered former forestry people, many of whom still struggle with modern life.

Another round of wholesale job losses occurred when the Labour Party came to power in 1999. Helen Clark was determined to end native forest logging on the West Coast. The forestry staff and contractors made redundant were treated as pariahs in an ugly political fight. The irony is that in both instances the Labour Party, the supposed "workers advocate", acted so callously towards their own.

Now we are about to see another wave of job losses as John Key's National Government takes it's turn to trim the public service. As New Zealand struggles to cope with the Global Financial Crisis, a reduced public sector is inevitable. Let's hope the Tories show more compassion than the Socialists. Workers who loose their jobs deserve the decency to be told how much their service is appreciated even though that work will not continue. Then help them to establish new careers elsewhere within or outside the public sector.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Carbon Tax or ETS

Why on earth did NZ follow the Europeans and choose a ETS rather than a simple Carbon Tax option. The logic escapes me.

In my former industry, forestry, the scheme is a continuing disaster. First, thousands of hectares were clear-cut to beat the legislation. Now the ETS distorts sensible market and land-use decisions and, worst of all, creates complex compliance issues - fodder for a growing army of carbon measurers, consultants, auditors and bureaucrats. Soon there will be auditors to audit the auditors!

Believe me whenever government intervenes in forestry the market reacts in quite the opposite way to what the government intends. They get it wrong every time. Think Helen Clark's campaign to stop logging private native forests. In three years she caused a logging bonanza as landowners raced to beat her draconian legislation. By the time the Governor-general signed her law there were few intact forests left.

What was wrong with a simple tax on all energy carbon emissions? For petrol and diesel, combine all the other fuel taxes (excluding GST) into one super "carbon" tax. The revenue can then be apportioned to roads, ACC, research, etc, and the surplus skimmed off to support better energy alternatives plus lower personal and/or company tax. The latter gives the government the means to change behaviours while compensating the cost to consumers.

Forget livestock burp and fart taxes - absolute political stupidity that no other nation will copy. Farmers have enough market forces already. And finally take away the idiotic carbon sequestration payments to foresters before we loose more land to manuka, gorse and planting designed to create derelict exotic forests.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Freedom Campers

New laws proposed to control freedom camping are welcome but how will they be enforced away from the big towns?

By my own estimate Okarito hosts over 30,000 visitors a year. Their welfare and enjoyment are important to us as they provide a living for several small businesses. The community itself operates a small DOC campground and all funds generated fund community work like providing toilets and potable water for visitors. They also fund projects like restoring Donovan's Store, the oldest wooden building on the West Coast.

Over 99% of visitors treat our environment with respect, use the toilets provided and we hope enjoy their stay. As always, it is the ferals that cause all the aggro. They are often SKIMS, "single kiwi males", in old vans who hide in the carparks late in the evening.

Asking someone to move on is not a pleasant experience neither for the local nor the offending visitor. Who wants an argument with strangers just before bed - a poor nights sleep is almost guaranteed. But how else will the new law be enforced? Our local policeman is 30km and Council is 120km north at Hokitika. Perhaps I'm missing some innovative proposal in the legislation that will solve our problems

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ducks aren't dumb.

Two pair of paradise ducks live in Okarito village. They are the originals or descendants of birds found as abandoned ducklings and lovingly reared by some of our "earth-mother" residents. All four are unnamed but still important sentries in the village.

Our ducks recognize faces, I'm sure, because they virtually ignore me as I potter about our garden on my daily chores. The old hen looks at me "oh him again" and carries on grazing. But strangers that pass are watched closely. If the strangers show interest then the "honk, honking" begins as the ducks show their suspicion and displeasure. Unsupervised young boys are especially a risk.

There are many other hazards. While the local canines are benign visiting mutts don't show the same respect but so far the ducks have survived. Then there are the cars, trucks, and camper vans that visit daily, some at speeds that threaten not only the ducks. One visiting boy racer in an act of defiance deliberately flattened five ducklings. A week later he flattened himself in a high-speed crash - UTU.

The four ducks tolerate each other except for the mating season when the peace is shattered by violent battles over territory. Eventually, after many fearsome feather pulling fights a truce is achieved along a boundary established around the main road intersection. Each pair nest high in rimu trees with the hen duck sitting, leaving the drake to wander aimlessly about waiting for the hen to make brief feeding visits.

Not all the ducklings survive despite our best efforts of care. Usually between two and six reach maturity. They are then shooed away by their parents and we never see them again.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Game animals

I never thought I would see this day. For some of us it is like the fall of the Berlin Wall. At long long last, the government has begun the process to treat our wild animals, deer, thar, chamois and pigs, as game rather than simply a pest to be exterminated if at all possible. There is to be a new Game Council that will advise DOC on wild animal management. They have yet to repeal the Wild Animals Act but I expect that will follow.

What a relief for the hunters and all credit to Peter Dunn for gaining this first step. The Conservation Act was drafted in the midst of a conservation campaign by Forest and Bird to get rid of the NZ Forest Service and Lands and Survey with their "multiple use" polices for NZ's wild lands. Several prominent "greenies" had major say in the wording of the Act and they made sure large mammals maintained their "unwelcome" status. The NZ hunter was left out in the cold with no say in the management of their sport and this reality is behind the negative attitudes many hunters have for DOC.

Hunting has become incredibly popular, to my surprise, and wild food feeds many rural families. A change of attitude by our government is very welcome, the only pity is I'm nearly past enjoying the benefits to come.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Boating and alcohol

I am the proud holder of a Queensland Government Marine Licence issued in 2006. This permits me to operate all recreational boats powered by a motor over 6hp. It is a lifetime licence. To obtain this licence I had to attend a full day of lectures and then pass both written and practical exams. As a matter of interest Jet ski drivers require the above plus an extra day of assessments.

Two lessons stuck in my mind. The first was that Australians have water police who check boaties leaving port. No licence or incomplete safety gear then back to port you go.

The second was a zero tolerance of alcohol if you are a skipper. If you cannot pass the road breath test while on the water then you loose your boat licence and your car licence. Ditto if you are caught over the limit driving your car you loose both licenses. No ifs and buts. The only time a skipper can drink on the boat is when tied to a wharf, not simply at anchorage.

Why I mention these details is to comment on the recent tragic collision between a jet ski and jetboat in Queenstown. Apparently alcohol was a factor as well as no lifejackets, speed, and lack of knowledge of navigation rules on the river.

Water safety is yet another issue where we are way behind Australia

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Christchurch Earthquakes

At 12.51 on Tuesday the 22nd of February 2011, I was standing in front of the computer checking my twitter feed. Then began a gentle swaying motion that lasted about 10 seconds. I immediately posted a tweet recording the event and clicked to the quake drums on the Geonet website to find the epicentre. I always do this as our big worry here is the risk posed by a tsunami triggered by a nearby local earthquake. Geonet took until 1pm to update their drums, longer for the Christchurch drum. But within three minutes someone from Christchurch posted on twitter.

Within the next few hours the true scale of the event unfolded, a catastrophe for the city. The loss of life and devastation are just terrible. We wait with trepidation for the casualty lists as although we live five hours drive away it is without doubt we will have lost friends and acquaintances.

Those of us in the science community were well aware of the potential risks to buildings and infrastructure posed by the soils of central and eastern Christchurch. The localities at risk are displayed on hazard maps. However, all of New Zealand faces a tectonic or volcanic threat of some degree so we tend to ignore the dangers in day to day living.

The quakes impact is very relevant to Okarito as we too live with the potential for liquefaction. Okarito lagoon features several circular islands that may be the result of large scale sand blows.

During the development struggles 10 years ago, the Community hired a geotech scientist to advise whether the easternmost undeveloped sections were suitable building sites. He concluded that the land was no better or worse than most of eastern Christchurch. It wasn't a yes or no answer, simply saying they do so over there so why not here?

Fortunately, the majority of Okarito houses are built on gravel and coarse beach sand, a more stable substrate than the saturated fine sands under the undeveloped sections. The global financial crisis has taken care of Okarito's eastern sections in the short term but the issue remains.

Everybody is chastened by the tragedy unfolding in Christchurch. Our local risks seem more real now and we wonder how we will cope during and after an event. I expect our civil defence preparations will become a little more polished in the near future.

Friday, February 11, 2011


We have just returned from an brief (overnight) visit to Akaroa. It takes just over an hour of travel from Christchurch via Waihora, Lake Forsyth and Little River. We loved the place with it's numerous Catagory 1 historic buildings and various cafe's. Luckily, the village has escaped serious damage from the recent earthquakes largely because most buildings are of wooden construction.

As I always do I headed up for the hills along a walking track that assends directly behind the village on Rue Bulgarie. The trail rises up steep roads that eventually give way to a grassy trail that heads up to a saddle pass over to the next valley. What superb scenery! The run-down farmland has clumps of reverted kanuka and ngaio that create a park-like landscape. I saw rabbit, hares, geese, a hedgehog and a few woolly sheep. There are also healthy numbers of kereru, tui, and bellbirds.

If you were looking for viable farming ventures, forget it. These farms can't even be paying their Council rates and are nothing more than large life style blocks (life sentence more likely). Closer to the village are the remnants of many failed alternative life style ventures, especially protea groves?

It is tourism that provides today's economy at Akaroa. My thoughts were that the Akaroa environs are typical of the wider New Zealand scene. Beautiful scenery and pleasant villages but few signs of viable enterprises.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wilding Pines

You cannot drive the Arthur's Pass Road to Christchurch without noticing the spread of wilding pines between Craigeburn Cutting and Broken River. They now cover thousands of hectares on both sides of the highway from heights of the Craigeburn Ranges to the far side of Flock Hill.

What an absolute disaster in the making! Debbie has heard me grumbling about the lack of action for the past three decades. Where on earth have DOC been? I know of report after report but f'all else! You can see pitiful efforts at clear-cutting the original planted forest, mowing along the Flock Hill flats and a few patches which look like spraying trials.

The situation is now lost, in my opinion. Seedlings will continue spreading across the landscape and only well grazed pasture will be spared. Most seedlings are Pinus contorta which grow to virtually useless forest. There are Douglas fir and Larch seedlings as well which may create an economic forest where they dominate. What alarmed me most were the scattered bushes of Alnus viridis, a shrub introduced to stabilize scree slopes on high slopes. I remember being assured that there was no way they could spread.

I have a personal interest in this wilding issue as I once risked my job in the 1970's by publically questioning the revegetation polices of the Forest Service and Ministry of Works. Being a whistle-blower in those days was not without its risk. Readers may not be aware that wilding pines are a scourge in several other areas on both islands of NZ.

All came from a decade when Forest Service managers believed they could save NZ from "deer-induced erosion" by revegetation of the barren mountains. I know of a helicopter being used to scatter contorta seed along the Tararua, Ruahine and Kaweka Ranges. Just a man sitting with the door off scattering seed from a bag over the slip-faces. Fortunately, the seed cannot have been viable on that occasion.

Now we are left with several major ecological disasters with no feasible solution.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Bush

From the time I was a small child I have spent a lot of time both working and just being in native forest. Now when I walk into the forest it is though I wrap a warm blanket around my shoulders. The sights and smells are so familiar as are the calls of the birds. Whether it be a solid rimu or a spindly kamahi every tree plays a unique role creating a vertical column of life over the mossy forest floor. You can sort of visualize the forest as a living cloak over the landscape.

One great advantage of New Zealands forests is that you can sit or lie on the forest floor without being attacked by unfriendly little critters. The exception is of course the mozzies but they only appear after dark. There are no other hidden dangers such a snakes, spiders, leeches etc. The worst that can happen is getting yourself lost and having to spend the night out.

On occassions I have been caught out after some higher being turned out the lights, as they do early in the bush. Then you are in for a long night sitting and trying to keep warm as the hours slowly tick by. You go through a process of deduction - yes I'm still in the South Island, between this and that river, probably so many kms from the road end. GPS has reduced the uncertainty but people will still get lost.

Our forests vary greatly in openness. The densest places are the coastal forests of the Kaimais and Westland where travel is limited to less than one kilometer per hour. There are masses of kiekie, supplejack and Gahnia grass to severely try your patience. At the other extreme are the beech forests which are pleasantly open for travel.

Once the Forest Service had responsibility for most of our forests and it took it upon itself to count and measure all the variants of forest as the most important function of management. Then came DOC and now threatened species are the go. Birds such as Kiwi and Kakapo take an inordinate amount of resources while nobody worries about the trees.