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    Can we turn them into jobs??

    from The Jobs Letter No.8 / 9 January 1998

    How can we turn our 70-million-strong possum pest into a job creation strategy ?
    That was the question we asked in the Jobs Letter 4 when it was becoming clear that the possum challenge was going to become more of a controversial jobs issue. Our Media Watch has researched many creative ideas for turning the possum pest into an opportunity for enterprise and jobs ...

    Some of the money spent by Social Welfare, Justice and Labour departments should be used to provide jobs for unemployed people in a national strategy to eliminate possums from New Zealand. This is the view of Jenni Bennett, a researcher from Makara, who says that the present $58 million each year being spent on possum control will only keep the possum population at about what it currently is: at 70 million animals.

    Bennett advocates a national strategy on possums and government funding for it. Ms Bennett has developed an eradication plan which would systematically sweep both islands over a four year period, then start again. Her research indicates that in 20 years the possums would be no more plentiful in NZ than people.

    Fashion houses of the world are pushing up the prices for possum skins, and Christchurch's Rocke United skins dealer is taking as many skins as it can get. The company is handling 15 thousand skins a week, and pays up to $14 for 1st-grade skins. In the North Island, however, prices are lower with top grade skins reaching no more than $7 each.

    Tourism opportunities in possums : On the East Coast, entrepreneurs are calling the pest 'game' and tourists are being lured out onto spotlighting hunts.

    Auckland company Arex International is exporting possum carcasses to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia, where possum is known as kiwi bear. The meat is being promoted in Asia as a healthy, low-cholesterol dish. Diners at the new Legend Hotel in Kuala Lumpur can choose from stewed or boiled possum with taro, garlic, waterchestnut, black fungus, or ginseng, with dishes costing between $13 and $65 each. The export possums come from special farms in Northland which are under strict Agriculture and Fisheries control.

    The laws controlling the use of possum meat have recently been changed, although they are still subject to strict conditions. Agriculture and Fisheries policy manager John Hayes says that possum is now classified as a game animal and could be harvested for people and animals to eat. The catch is in the conditions : that there be no poison residues, and that the killing be humane. The possums cannot be shot.

    The 1080 poison debate is as much an employment issue as an environmental one. The issue centres on whether DOC should employ local trappers to cull the possum pest rather than spend the money on air dropping poison pellets.

    Last month saw protests and resistance against the DOC poisonings from the largely Maori communities within the Hokianga. Protesters say they want to negotiate other options with DOC and want ground-based possum control methods used to create jobs. They also fear that the 1080 poison drops have damaged the forests - an untenable option for the Ngapuhi people who look to the forests for Maori traditional medicines. Huhana Oneroa says that residents have submitted many proposals to the Conservation Department for trapping and shooting, to no avail. They have also proposed linking up with a big pet food maker.

  • The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Helen Hughes, says that ground control alternatives are feasible for many areas. In a letter to the protesters, she criticises DOC for making its decision on possum control methods, and setting its budget before telling the public. Hughes : " by the time people in the community opposed to aerial 1080 could come forward with alternative proposals, the department was committed to a certain course of action and did not have sufficient funds in that year's budget to change to other control methods. "

    DOC already employs many trappers, but has long held the belief that the trapping solution has been shown to fail as a complete solution, and is far more expensive than poisoning. Their argument, based on previous experience with rabbits in the South Island, is that trappers tend to cull the pests to levels aimed at maintaining a readily accessible and healthy population from which they can gain an income. Less accessible areas tend to be avoided by the trappers because they prove less cost-effective for them.

  • Possum control in the next 20 years will depend on a variety of methods, and not just one technology, says the annual report of the Possum / Bovine Tuberculosis Control National Strategy Committee. The committee, which co-ordinates research programmes between government, farmer and conservation groups, says if the problem is to be controlled then research dollars need to be put into developing control options.

    Before and during the 1080 drops in Egmont National Park, the Taranaki Regional Council hired Taskforce Green workers for possum control. When scheme funding ran out, and also after an extensive programme of 1080 poison drops, the Council was aware there was public interest by farmers and other landowners in continuing eradication. The TRC encouraged some of the workers to undertake business skills training, and go into business as contract poisoners. Some of them now run their own commercial pest eradication businesses based on the experience they obtained on Taskforce Green.

  • see also Jobs Letter No.48

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