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Published: 2013-03-05 00:00:00

Multi-million dollar savings could be generated by taking a new approach to possum control in Waikato, says a report to the policy committee.

The report, considered at a meeting today, said such a change could see costs drop to about $29 million over 10 years, compared to a potential $40 million under the current pest control model. It follows a staff review of the regional pest management plan.

Under a “maintain the gains” approach, current council policy is to continue pest control for biodiversity purposes in areas where the Animal Health Board has ceased doing pest control to fight bovine tuberculosis.

However, council staff have been questioning whether that approach allows flexibility for strategies that deliver the best value, said biosecurity group manager John Simmons.

Continuing to treat former AHB areas as per current policy meant there would be large areas of the region, with ecological or production values, that will miss out on possum control, his report to the committee said. Also, funding constraints meant treating all ex-AHB areas might not be possible.

Instead, all potential possum control areas should be evaluated equally using consistent criteria and there should be a focus on “landscape scale” control that creates large areas with low possum numbers. “This increases the interval between re-treatments and so reduces costs over the long term,” Mr Simmons said.

“Over ten years, the estimated $10 million in savings would come as possum control costs fell because of larger, more defensible boundaries, longer re-treatment times and the re-prioritisation of some former AHB control areas.”

The greater flexibility also would allow other predators like rats and stoats to be controlled in some high value ecological areas in addition to possums. Multi-year contracts are also being trialled in some areas to see if they can reduce costs.

The report noted the council’s ability to undertake “landscape”-style control depended to some degree on the participation of other parties, such as the Department of Conservation.

If the council endorses the proposals stemming from the staff review, they will be put out for public consultation later this month, with final council decisions due in June.