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.