Politics

Govt puts extra $80m towards eradicating pests

Efforts to eradicate rats, stoats and possums are set to get a boost of $80 million in next week's Budget. Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage made the pre-Budget announcement this morning. "We need to invest in comprehensive predator control in order to save special wildlife like kiwi," Ms Sage said. "We have a biodiversity crisis, where 82 percent of native birds are threatened with or at risk of extinction." The extra $81.3m over four years will allow the Department of Conservation to carry out sustained predator control over more than 1.8 million hectares. The area - about the size of Northland and Auckland combined - will be the largest ever covered. DOC currently targets possums across 1m hectares around New Zealand. "For the first time, predator control funding will be locked in," Ms Sage said. "Budget 2018 means DOC won't have to divert funding from other priorities or scramble to get one-off allocations from government in order to do this essential work." Labour's agreements with New Zealand First and the Green Party to form a government both commited to increasing conservation funding. The details of the full conservation budget will be released along with the rest of Budget 2018 on Thursday. "When 4000 of our native plants and animals are threatened or at risk of extinction, every single conservation dollar counts," Ms Sage said. "This injection of $81.3 million is only the start of this Government's investment in nature."

New Zealand

Use of ‘extremely toxic’ fumigant avoidable – inventor

A United States-based chemical engineer has rubbished claims that no safe alternative exists for fumigating export timber and logs. New Zealand's Environmental Protection Authority has recently allowed the industry to apply to have a critical deadline extended on the use of methyl bromide. The Authority said eight years ago that users would need to have new technology in place by 2020 to collect and store the used gas after fumigation, preventing its spread into the atmosphere. Methyl Bromide is described by the EPA as an "extremely toxic and ozone-depleting substance" and is banned except for use on logs and timber products for export, as part of quarantine requirements. The group representing logging and timber exporters, and which has been trying to find an alternative, has convinced the authority it cannot meet that deadline. Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction chair Don Hammond said that when the 2010 decision was made there was an expectation that technology would have been created by now to recapture methyl bromide and, most importantly, destroy the used material. But chemical engineer Peter Joyce said he had created an alternative fumigation system for which he held patents in Australia and New Zealand. He said New Zealand, Australia and the United States remained big users of methyl bromide - particularly New Zealand for its log exports. The EPA's decision, released in late April, noted that New Zealand's use of the fumigant had increased from more than 400 tonnes a year in 2010 to more than 600 tonnes in 2016. Mr Joyce told RNZ that two commercial facilities he designed to capture and destroy the methyl bromide after use in fumigation had been up and running in the US for the past five years. He said the systems were used on export of broccoli to Taiwan from California, and imports of grapes and blueberries into the Port of Miami. "My systems have scrubbed over 100,000 pounds [45,000kg] of methyl bromide covering more than 1500 fumigations." He said two independent "source tests" that measured the methyl bromide entering and leaving the system were sanctioned by the State of California. Mr Joyce said the equipment was able to be built to suit the scale of that required to fumigate logs. Mr Hammond said logging ships were typically fumigated at sea once they left port, except for those logs on top of the ship which were fumigated under tarpaulins while in port. North Port (Whangarei), Tauranga and Napier still allowed methyl bromide fumigation in port, he said. The tarpaulins are able to contain most of the methyl bromide, but some methyl bromide was vented into the atmosphere when the tarpaulins were removed. Mr Hammond said. Mr Joyce said that on average, his system would raise the wholesale price of logs between three and six percent, but the cost of doing nothing was greater. He said politicians had done little to find an answer. "We have determined as a society that we don't want to throw pollutants into our rivers and streams and into our air. That's really what the Montreal Protocol was set up to do, yet somehow these politicians are able to just whistle past the graveyard and not engage in trying to solve this problem." Mr Joyce said he submitted his idea, still in development, to the EPA hearing in 2010. "I didn't have any commercial facilities up and running but I was building them at that time, and I told them that." He said there was initial interest, no nobody followed up. The industry in New Zealand said it maintained a goal of wanting to reduce methyl bromide use and improve environmental targets, and was still looking for a viable alternative.

New Zealand

Native bush keeps asthma at bay – study

New Zealand children who spend more time in parks and surrounded by nature are less likely to develop asthma, a study has found. The Massey University research followed nearly 50,000 children who were born in 1998 until they were 18, using satellite images and land-use data to assess how much they were likely to have been exposed to the natural environment. Study lead Jeroen Douwes said children living in areas with more green space were less likely to be asthmatic, with rates even lower for those exposed to native plants. "If you increase that exposure by living close to parks and so on then you may exceed that threshold level and reduce the risk of allergies and asthma," he said. About 15 percent of children have asthma and it causes 163 hospitalisations per 100,000 people. The study did not measure geographical differences but Professor Douwes said there was a pronounced difference in urban spaces. He said not all green spaces had the same effect however, with some plants increasing children's asthma risk. "The strongest protective effects were found for native green space, whereas we found that living close to areas where there was a lot of gorse or a lot of pine trees, that are exotic to New Zealand, those are actually risk factors." He said that may be because those types of vegetation had low levels of biodiversity around them. It did not have to be dense bush to help reduce the risk of asthma. "We don't necessarily all have to move out of the urban areas ... if we create sufficient green space within existing urban areas that may be sufficient to reduce that risk. The study was not able to determine whether exposure early or later in childhood was best in protecting against asthma. Prof Douwes said green space exposure also helped increase microbial exposure and gut health, promoting immunities. "Our finding that antibiotics, which are known to reduce gut microbial diversity, increase the risk of asthma, points towards the same underlying mechanism. "Reduced stress and increased physical activity, associated with living close to green space, may be another reason for the observed protective effects."

New Zealand

DOC to work with iwi over wild pig problem

The Department of Conservation says it will consult its iwi partners on what to do to about wild pigs in a Northland kauri forest. Conservationists raised the alarm this week about pig damage in the remote Warawara and Herekino forests. The forests contain some of the largest stands of ancient kauri in the north. DOC's Kaitaia operations manager David Neho said he would talk to tangata whenua about a possible action plan. But he said the matter was reasonably complex: the wild pigs were kai for locals, yet the area they were destroying was taonga - a cultural treasure. Mr Neho said DOC would need to talk to a variety of people about the best option. The question would be how to cull the pigs without spreading kauri dieback even further.

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