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Published: 2004-08-09 00:00:00

A joint Environment Waikato and Department of Conservation funded aerial possum control operation in the Hauturu - Honikiwi area (west of Otorohanga) undertaken in April has reduced possum numbers dramatically.

The operation has achieved a 2.8 percent residual trap catch which was well below the five percent target. In most areas no possums at all were found after the operation. One area in Te Rauamoa Reserve had higher numbers, which Environment Waikato Biosecurity Operations Manager Peter Russell said could be caused by bait shyness in remaining possums.

“This may be the result of private possum hunters poisoning in the area in the past. The possums may now be wary of any poison bait and we need to do some more survey work to try and pinpoint the problem.”

A group of 44 landowners approached Environment Waikato in mid 1998 wanting help with a community possum control scheme because of damage to forest ecosystems and the risk of bovine Tb becoming established in the area. The land and vegetation in the area provided an ideal habitat for a high possum population and widespread possum damage was visible.

The area included seven DoC administered reserves which were treated for the first time in June, 1999.

A three way partnership programme, including DoC, neighbouring landowners and the Regional Council, was the only logical way to control possums, Mr Russell said. Much of the area is steep, difficult country and aerial baiting with 1080 cereal pellets over 11,000 ha made it one of the biggest possum control operations undertaken in the Waikato Region. The control work was carried out by Taupo-based pest control company Epro Ltd.

Landowners filled bait stations in ‘easier’ farm country and around the edges of the bush areas and an aerial operation was done once every four or five years to ensure all the sections were covered. The three groups had put nearly $1 million into the overall operation since 1998.

Areas of easier possum habitat were left to landowners to control, with advice and co-ordination assistance from Environment Waikato under a Community Possum Control programme. EcoFX Pest Solutions Ltd of Otorohanga undertook this aspect of the programme, visiting each landowner up to three times a year and developing effective control programmes that suited farming operations and budgets.

It would now be up to landowners to continue the work achieved and ensure that the possum numbers stayed low in the area for at least the next four years, when another aerial control operation would be considered, he said.

Landowner steering group chairman Murray Brandon praised the outcome of the operation.

“I have one property in the scheme area and one just outside it. On the outside farm I could shoot over twenty possums a night. Inside the scheme I would struggle to see a possum let alone shoot one.”

Environment Waikato had an agreement to provide ongoing assistance and co-ordination and would be working closely with the scheme members to ensure gains being made were sustained, he said.