Insects Zapped by 1080 Blitz

By Ben Hope

An unique New Zealand native butterfly, the forest ringlet or Dodonidia helmsi, is on the brink of extinction, according to experts back in 2016. Keen observers say a major cause could well be 1080 poison. Further explanation shows it could be the harsh reality.

Not openly admitted by the New Zealand government,1080 was developed in 1927 as an insecticide.  Soon after its first use, it was then found to kill everything that ingests it. A less than lethal dose i.e. sub-lethal, impairs the health and probably reproductive ability of species, whether insects, birds or animals, known as an endocrine disruptor.Yet in New Zealand it became shortsightedly used as a pest poison.

Up until the 1970s, forest ringlet butterflies were found throughout New Zealand districts, ranges and regional parks. However, over the last few decades the elegant butterfly has experienced a major decline in both numbers and distribution – the cause of the decline in the species has been under much debate and speculation from expert entomologists.

Author and conservationist the late Bill Benfield pointed out in his book “The Third Wave” that insects had a vital role in the ecology of any forest. New Zealand’s two 1080 users the Department of Conservation (DOC) and OSPRI the latter concerned with eradicating bovine Tb, have denied any effect on insects and told a government review of 1080 in 2007 that “there was no evidence” to support the effect on insects.

Yet DOC  and OSPRI claim that insects are not affected by 1080, but DOC has a registration for 1080 as an insecticide for use as a wasp paste, said Bill Enfield at the time.

Tony Orman, outdoors book author and conservationist said the narrow, myopic view of DOC was astounding.

“They know it kills insects but they blatantly deny it. 1080 is not a ‘pest’ poison – it’s an ecosystem poison.”

He said the decline of the butterfly and the department’s denial about 1080 recalled the research an entomologist the late Mike Meads did on 1080’s effect on forest ecology in the early 1990s. Mike Meads warned about the destruction of important forest floor organisms vital in the soil-making process of forests. Another entomologist Peter Notman also warned of the lack of knowledge of the detrimental impact of 1080 on insects. Both were ignored by DOC.

Both OSPRI and DOC aerial spread 1080 poison over hundreds of thousands of hectares of public lands.

But keen observers say the decline of insects has only become evident in the last twenty or thirty years. As insects and invertebrates diminish in number so too do birds.         There is frequent anecdotal evidence that bird species like kingfishers, starlings, German owls and the migratory shining cuckoo have declined to the point of rarely being seen or heard.

As one conservationist said “Isn’t it remarkable, it coincides roughly with the formation of the Department of Conservation and its unleashing of the aerial poison policies, more recently boosted by pipe dreams such as “predator free by 2050″?  Surely 1080 wouldn’t affect butterflies? Well it’s an insecticide. End of story.”.

Despite the strong probability of a major cause being 1080, the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust back in 2016 asked a Senior Conservation Officer, to advise on how best to the decline of the butterfly, which is New Zealand’s only true forest butterfly.

At the time, a spokesperson for the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust said , “the forest ringlet is quite unique in that it is only found in this country, and it’s the only one of its species in the world. It really is a New Zealand icon.”

But in the three years since there has been silence.

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