BAY OF PLENTY TIMES, TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2008 pg 9
Forest project showing results
BY PETER WATT
AFTER nearly 18 months of hard work by conservationists, there are slow signs of recovery in an area of the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park devastated by pests.
But the group of about 100 volunteer workers know their efforts at Aongatete are a token gesture and a monumental change in management will be needed if the park is to return to its lush, bird-filled glory.
There is also a fear that if the forest is allowed to continue dying at its present rate it will ultimately have a serious effect on the Bay of Plenty water supply.
The Aongatete Forest Restoration Trust hopes that its tiny project will provide the evidence and impetus for a full-scale pest-eradication programme in the park. Trust member Basil Graeme believes it might also need a major transfer of responsibility in the park for that to happen.
The trust programme, a joint effort between Tauranga Forest and Bird and Katikati Rotary, covers about 200 ha of native forest near the Aongatete Lodge. The trust has just begun its fourth pest control programme since the project started in September 2006.
Mr Graeme, who with wife Anne is one of the leading lights of the project, says the group urgently needs more volunteers - mostly to lay bait for possums and ship rats. Those two main pests, plus animals like deer, stoats and feral cats, have turned much of the 45,000 ha forest into a silent graveyard, full of rotting trees and empty of birds. "Native forest that's not being managed is in a really bad way," Mr Graeme says. "It's silent, there just aren't the birds there."
In its little island of bush, however, the trust has seen a gradual increase in bird numbers and emerging plants. "We are finding that some of the bird species are increasing but it's a lot slower than we thought."
One example is the bush robin, a sociable bird that spends a lot of time on the forest floor. Their slow return could be because most of the survivors have been male, the nesting females more vulnerable to rats.
"Last weekend I was very pleased to see two young robins come and look in the disturbed litter where I was digging steps."
The trust has also been encouraged by the large number of seedling on the forest floor and a big increase in the number and variety of insects.
Mr Graeme says that when the project started, there was a huge number of rats in the area, eating seeds and insects as well as attacking nests. The possums, meanwhile, had practically eliminated some tree species like raukaua and kamahi and much of the kohekohe.
While things have improved, the programme area is under constant pressure from reinvasion. The trust is experimenting with long-life bait which come in a gel form and can last up to two years, to help create a buffer zone. Mr Graeme believes the answer to pest control must eventually lie in aerial poisoning, and says tackling the problem should be the public focus, not a debate over toxins.
That problem includes a threat to the water supply and serious erosion risks caused by the death of large parts of the forest. Loss of forest canopy is drying up areas where vast amounts of water would normally be stored underground, and Mr Graeme says those areas will one day present a serious erosion and flash flood risk from weather "bombs".
'It's not a biodiversity issue in the Bay of Plenty it's a catchment issue" Mr Graeme says.
"We are considering whether catchment protection is a function of the Department of Conservation. The Kaimai Mamaku Forest was formed as a catchment forest. There should be a separate government function to look after these catchment forests, and the regional councils are probably best placed - they were the old catchment boards."
To help the Aongatete Forest Restoration Trust, phone Basil or Anne Graeme, 576-5593.
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