Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Compliance: Tricky Business

Dust, fragments and baits spilling from a hopper during the Waitutu drop..
Photo courtesy of the Southland Times.
One of the roles of local government is to ensure compliance with all resource consent decisions and to do so without partiality. In Environment Southland’s (ES) Waitutu Decision notes it is stated that “bait would be covered in transit to the operational area”. One would think that this would refer to the covering of 1080 bait placed in hoppers under helicopters on their way to the place of application while flying over areas for which consent was not granted. It is clear, however, from the photograph shown above that hoppers were not fitted with covers.

While to our knowledge 1080 baits were covered on their way to the loading zone, which was the Thicket Burn picnic area, once they entered the hoppers they were not covered at all during the flight over native bush on the eastern side of Lake Hauroko and over Lake Hauroko itself.

So how did DoC get away with this and where was ES when it came to ensuring that DoC complied with the conditions of the resource consent?  ES did, in fact, have a representative on site at the loading area, so why did he not insist that covers be fitted to the hoppers? Did someone just forget to bring them and he was kind enough to say, “that’s OK boys. Look, we’re all here now and for the sake of a couple of covers it’s unreasonable to make you wait. Go ahead and do it anyway”? We don’t know, and who really would like to try to stand up to DoC anyway, but the fact remains that they were not fitted on the way to the operational area, which allowed dust, particles and baits to spill from the hoppers onto bush and into the lake on the way to the “operational area”.

So how did they get away with this? Apparently DoC arranged for a HSNO Officer to designate the loading zone as part of the operational area and allow the helicopters to fly to and from the drop zone over nonoperational areas via a designated corridor. Nice... but to our way of thinking this does not comply with the condition that the bait be “covered in transit to the operational area” and is typical of the irresponsible attitude that DoC and other government agencies have with regard to this lethal Class A poison. It’s starting to look like some laws don’t apply if you have a Get Out of Jail Free card.

As if that wasn’t enough, when DoC received the first set of conditions from the HSNO Officer they included a stipulation that 1080 should not be applied within 20 metres of waterways. This would make complete sense in terms of protecting aquatic life — not to mention whitebaiters or anyone drinking water downstream — but would unfortunately have made it impossible for DoC to do the drop in the Waitutu because in this the “ultimate forest”, as referred to by David Bellamy, there are so many waterways. The ultimate poison in the ultimate forest. Nice touch.

So, instead of going through what we would consider to be the proper procedures and legal channels,  we are reliably informed that DoC simply phoned the HSNO Officer to have the condition deleted.  Thank you HSNO Officer for cutting through all the red tape and saving time and money, but we think this kind of behaviour is highly irregular and undermines the democratic processes that we all pride our country for.

It is also our understanding that the HSNO Officer allowed DoC to apply an “average of 3kg per hectare” rather than the 2kg per hectare stipulated in the resource consent by ES because of “heavy forest canopy”, even though the HSNO Officer was not the consenting body who gave resource consent. When we checked before the drop, the relevant department in ES knew nothing of this or any other changed conditions. It appeared to be news to them but they were of the opinion that the original conditions would still apply. Did anyone check?

We know from observers on the ground that DoC then appeared to apply 1080 heavily on the ridges  and lightly if at all in other areas. It begs the question as to how much they applied in the areas where they did the subsequent bird monitoring. As we see it, there are monitoring and compliance related issues concerning these drops that we think require a national standard overseen by a truly independent entity without any conflicts of interest i.e. no money changing hands. The only way we can see for this to work is to adopt the juror system and select people at random with no conflicts of interest and to then train them to monitor what they are seeing, with the applying entity footing the bill.

What do you think?

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