Tuesday, February 1, 2011

DOC Closes Family Picnic Area

Lillburn Valley resident Tamsin Scott at the Thicketburn Picnic Area, upset that it has been closed to the public until the end of January.
Members of the public were left with more questions than answers after last October’s 1080 drop by the Department of Conservation (DOC) in Fiordland’s Waitutu Forest, none the least of which is why DOC ploughed up the Thicket Burn Picnic Area immediately afterwards as shown in this photograph. The site was used as the staging area for the operation in which 50 tonnes of 1080 bait was dropped over a 25,000ha area and has not once in the last 35 years ever been closed for maintenance. 

“Their original plan was to hose the site down, but now it looks like they’re trying to bury the contamination,” said SEEC representative Tamsin Scott. “Either way, it seems to be a pretty irresponsible thing to do to a family picnic area. Can DOC really guarantee that children playing in the area in the future will not be poisoned by 1080, given that 1080 can take months to break down even in ideal conditions? After similar drops on the West Coast, fragments of 1080 bait as large as 1cm in diameter were found as shown in the accompanying photograph.” 

1080 fragments as big as 1cm left on the ground at the end of a public road after a recent 1080 operation on the West Coast.

DOC’s Colin Bishop, the ranger responsible for the Waitutu operation, could not be reached for comment when this article was originally  written in mid-October. However, according to comments from a DOC spokesperson at that time, the picnic area was closed for standard maintenance until the end of January for resealing and growing grass. “We thought it was time to do some work on it.” When asked whether there was any danger from residual 1080 poison the response was, “I wouldn’t have thought so”. 

Another aspect of the operation that surprised many was the heavy Police presence in the area on the day of the operation. According to witnesses, as many as eight Police vehicles were present in addition to security personnel, despite the fact that no protests were expected or carried out. “The threat here is not from the public who are rightly standing up against this madness,” said Tamsin Scott, “it is from those that are indiscriminately killing our wildlife and contaminating our waterways. If we don’t stop this now, we risk losing everything.”

Local concession holders were also unimpressed by DOC’s flaunting of the resource consent requirement to provide five working days notice prior to the drop. “They reneged on what they were saying,” said South Coast Jet operator Vaughan Reynolds. “It’s difficult to plan ahead when you don’t know what’s happening from day to day.” 

Jock Saunders, a well-known local farmer who has used the Waitutu area for 37 years, was also unimpressed with DOC’s actions on the day. “We were assured that we would have access to the caravan on the day of the operation to monitor the drop. Jessyca Bernard even went so far as to say to me, ‘we would like you to be involved in the 1080 operation — for the sake of our credibility we want you to come.’ However, when it came to the crunch they refused, so what was on the flight plans and weight dockets that they did not want us to see?”

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