Rakitu/Arid Island Rat Eradication

by June Brooks

 

The GBIET Environmental News last visited the subject of Rakitu/ Arid Island in the 2012 summer edition. Since then there has been a significant Dept. of Conservation Ministerial announcement concerning the ecological enhancement of Rakitu – the proposed Rakitu Rat Eradication Programme.

The former Minister of Conservation Nick Smith announced a pest eradication programme initiative for Rakitu/Arid Island in a press statement dated 8 September 2013. Rakitu was recognized as a tremendous opportunity for island restoration which even the Government seemed to support. The announcement was welcomed by many people. It was anticipated at that stage that there would be 2-3 years planning for the initiative. The Minister also stated he would be “….making a commitment with $190,000 from the Nature Heritage Fund to rid Rakitu of rats.”

The pest eradication programme planned for Rakitu was confirmed by the Department of Conservation in 2014 in public forums and planning seemed to be well under way.

It now appears that the planned DOC pest eradication programme for Rakitu has been significantly delayed. The causes we have managed to confirm are:

The 2013 Restructure and June 2014 Storm and Floods
The 2013 DOC restructure and the June 2014 storm and floods which caused severe damage to the DOC infrastructure on Great Barrier made planning for the rat eradication program “challenging”. It is understandable that there would be some delays after an event of this magnitude, which has necessitated a major effort to repair and replace DOCs assets on the island.

Staffing
The Department has lost some outstandingly enthusiastic biodiversity staff over the last few years:Halema Jamieson, Joanna Sim, Amelia Geary, Adam Willetts and George Wilson spring to mind. One of the three DOC biodiversity protection positions on Great Barrier has been vacant since March 2014. The reason given for this is the shortage of staff housing and damage to the DOC office complex in the storm. A consequence appears to be that the remaining biodiversity staff are not available to further a pest eradication programme on Rakitu.

Consultation With Affected Parties
The Government purchased Rakitu/Arid Island from the Rope and Foster families in 1993—1994 for $1.8 million. As part of the sale agreement, nominated family members retained residual temporary occupation rights to the houses on the island and accordingly must be consulted by DOC about the proposed rat eradication programme. One of the family members with occupation rights has raised objections to the methodology proposed for the programme and the Department is having to work through this issue.

The Department has also been carrying out consultations with Ngati Rehua about the rat eradication program. These consultations have been carried out verbally, and there is no public record of the details. The Dept. of Conservation has not carried out any consultation with the Great Barrier community or the wider public to date and has given no indication when they will do so.

Weka Removal
The main issue which appears to be delaying the implementation of the Rakitu rat eradication programme is the difficult issue of the removal of the North Island weka population present on the island. North Island weka were translocated to Rakitu/Arid Island in 1951 when they were under threat on the mainland. There is now a sizeable population of these birds on the island. Weka predate the eggs and young of seabirds and other birds, as well as lizards, skinks, land snails and invertebrates. Their presence is incompatible with the proposed restoration of the island for seabird breeding habitat. They will definitely be put at risk from any aerial rat eradication programme.

DOC Whangarei have been unable to provide any information (as of July 2015) as to when a decision will be made about this issue. Agreement has been reached with the Weka Recovery Group to remove 50 of the birds to an alternative site but no suitable site has been found. It now also appears that the considerable cost of the weka removal is a salient factor in the delay in decision making, and/or that the resources may be employed in other ways.

* Weka, Maori hen or woodhen (Gallirallus australis) N.Island subspecies



Scientific and Technical Issues
DOC advised in June 2015 that it was seeking further scientific and technical advice regarding the proposed rat eradication, particularly with regard to methodology and likely success of the programme. Any planned programme implementation will be on hold until this (unspecified) advice is received.

I have been assured by the Director of Conservation Services (Acting), DOC Northern North Island, Andrew Baucke, that the promised funding of $190,000 for the Rakitu Rat Eradication Programme has been kept aside by the Nature Heritage Fund specifically for this project. This is reassuring to hear.

Planning and implementation phases for the programme were originally to have been completed by the 2014/15 financial year. Planning (and implementation?) has now been deferred until the 2016/17 financial year. However the Department noted that this date is dependent on:

• The relocation of weka

• The assurance that all relevant consultation had been undertaken

• The new DOC office at Okiwi being completed (June 2016)

• The recruitment of a full staffing structure (approval obtained for Supervisor role including biodiversity responsibilities)

• The priority given by DOC to the rebuild of the Aotea Track (planned completion June 2016).

If planning for the removal of weka is halted now, and not recommenced until 2016/17 we are likely looking at further delays. The weka question can surely be addressed now, and a new biodiversity ranger appointed with responsibility for planning the eradication, even if he/she is not immediately based on Great Barrier. The eradication of rats from Rakitu, associated with improved access will have enormous spin-off for conservation on Great Barrier and should not be put on the back-burner.

Environmental News Issue 35 Summer 2016