1080 poison for pest control

What is 1080?

1080 (sodium fluoroacetate) is a poison that is mixed into baits and used to control a range of pests, especially possums, rats and the stoats which eat the poisoned rats. 

1080 is biodegradable, dilutes quickly in water and does not build up in the food chain. The active component of the poison occurs naturally in many plants found in Australia, South America and Africa. These plants evolved the poison as a defence against browsing animals. 

Infographic showing approximately 5% of public conservation land is curently treated with 1080.

Why do we use 1080?

The main threat to many of New Zealand’s native plants and animals comes from  introduced predators such as possums, rats and stoats. New Zealand has no native ground dwelling mammals so native species like birds, snails, lizards and insects are particularly vulnerable to these imported tree climbing predators.

1080 is very effective in controlling these introduced pests and well suited to New Zealand conditions. It can be safely applied by air and it is the most cost-effective method of providing landscape scale pest control over difficult terrain.

A fast, tactical knockdown of possums, rats and stoats is often needed in the spring to protect birds during the nesting season. This is especially important in ‘mast years’ when some native trees (especially beech) produce huge numbers of seeds. This abundance of food can lead to a plague of rats, which in turn leads to an increase in stoats – both of which eat vulnerable native birds, insects and lizards.

Infographic showing $17 is the average cost per hectare of aerially spreading 1080 to control rats, possums and stoats across large areas of often difficult terrain. Costs for ground control, like trapping, vary but can be more than 3 times as much.

Is 1080 safe?

1080 does not bio-accumulate – it naturally breaks down in the environment and does not leave permanent residues in water, soil, plants or animals. All 1080 operations are also strictly controlled by health and environmental regulations to ensure its safe use. 

The  management regime set by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and regional health authorities requires detailed operational conditions and regular reporting including  water quality monitoring. 

In December 2013 the EPA released a review of aerial 1080 operations over the past five years which found that these management controls are working well and there was no evidence of adverse impacts on water quality. 

In 2011 the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment investigated the use of 1080 and strongly endorsed the ongoing use of aerial 1080 operations. 

Do 1080 operations put water supplies at risk? 

Infographic showing traces of 1080 have never been found in reticulated drinking water supplies, in over 500 samples tested over the last 5 years. 1080 is readily soluble and dilutes quickly to low concentrations in contact with water.

1080 is readily soluble and dilutes quickly in water to low concentrations. Natural processes will break 1080 down in water to non-toxic by-products. 

More than 500 water samples have been taken after 1080 operations in the last five years. 1080 residues have never been recorded in public drinking water supplies. 

What are the risks to native species? 

1080 is ideally suited for use in New Zealand because while introduced mammals are extremely vulnerable to the poison, monitoring shows most native species are not at significant risk from 1080 operations. 

On-going refinements in the use of 1080 have seen the amount of toxin used per hectare cut by up to 90% over the past decade. Bait quality is now carefully controlled and baits are dyed dark green and have cinnamon lures which attract the possums and rats but repel most birds. 

A small number of bird species – in particular kea, weka, tomtits and robins - are known to be susceptible to eating baits and individual birds can die as a result. DOC takes particular steps such as using less palatable baits and avoiding open areas to minimise any potential by-kill from these species. 

Studies also show that the benefits of protecting breeding birds and their nests from predators like rats, stoats and possums strongly outweigh the low rate of mortality recorded for these species. 

For example, monitoring on the West Coast shows kea nests in areas protected by 1080 produce up to four times as many chicks as nests in unprotected areas. The population benefits of this increased breeding success offsets the mortality rate of about 12% found among kea tracked through 1080 operations. 

Infographic showing 430 kiwi have been monitored using radio tracking equipment through 1080 operations since 1990. None have ever died as a result of 1080 poisoning. Rat tracking rates dropped to zero and ramined undetectable for 5 months after the 2006 Hawdon Valley 1080 operation.

What are the alternatives to aerial 1080? 

The application of 1080 from the air is one of a range of techniques DOC uses to protect native species from imported predators and pests.

The vast majority of DOC’s pest control programmes involve ground based techniques such as trapping, poison bait stations and shooting operations. But these techniques are often not practical in steep or difficult terrain. They are also considerably more expensive than aerial 1080 operations and unable to deal with the rapid explosions of rat or stoat populations that occur after forest 'masts'.

While DOC continues to research new methods of pest control such as self-setting traps and genetic techniques, aerial 1080 remains the most effective technique for large scale or rapid response pest control. 

Where else is 1080 used?

In Western Australia, 1080 is used over hundreds of thousands of hectares to control foxes, cats and wild dogs. It is also used in Mexico, Japan, Korea, Israel, and for coyote control in the United States. 

Elsewhere its use has been limited because of the need in these countries to protect native mammals. New Zealand, however, unlike almost all other countries, has no native land mammals (except bats), but a very large number of introduced, highly destructive mammalian pests, including possums, rabbits, rats, stoats, ferrets and feral cats.


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Pesticide summaries list where pesticides such as 1080 have been laid