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Russell State Forest: Shocking new footage of ghost forest in severe collapse

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Forest & Bird has today released shocking helicopter footage of rugged Russell State Forest days ahead of an aerial 1080 operation planned to turn around the fortune of this collapsing forest. Footage shows tōtara, northern rātā and pūriri dying on a large scale.

The proposed aerial operation follows years of pressure from Forest & Bird, who first worked to fend off mining interests, and then in 2015 released drone footage showing the collapse of the forest due to introduced animals.

“The collapse of this forest has happened slowly, over decades, and mostly at night. Since possums arrived in Northland during the late 1950s and early 1960s they have eaten their way through every part of the north,” says Forest & Bird’s Northland Forests Advocate Dean Baigent-Mercer.

“Armies of possums and rats are munching through leaves, flowers, fruit and seedlings every single night. These introduced animals, together with stoats, ferrets, weasels and feral cats, are progressively wiping out our wildlife. Native birds, bats, lizards and insects are disappearing.”

“We need to target all pests for our native forests to thrive, and 1080 enables us to do that.”                    
                                                                                         
Between 1979-93 wildlife surveys showed an 80 percent decline in kūkupa (kererū) numbers in Russell State Forest.

“People have forgotten what healthy native forests are like. We have inherited loss. But northern kaumātua in their 70s and 80s can remember flocks of 30-40 kūkupa as children. That was normal back then and we can have that again.”

Mr Baigent-Mercer says it’s crucial that fear and fake news recently stirred up by anti-1080 protests does not derail essential 1080 operations.

“If Forest & Bird – an independent organisation set up to protect our native forests and birds, running for nearly a hundred years – thought that there were mass killings of native birds from the way 1080 is used today, we would be the first to oppose it. But it’s not happening. It’s just the opposite.”

“The evidence is very clear - endangered species are being pulled back from the brink of extinction, more common native birds are exploding in number, dying ancient native trees are coming back to life and there’s carpets of seedlings that would otherwise be eaten by rats and possums.“

“Aerial 1080 is an essential tool in the pest control toolbox if we are to restore our dying forests and wildlife. No other method of pest control can knock down the worst introduced predators over difficult terrain in three days and three nights,” says Mr Baigent-Mercer.

“We should not be letting native forests get as sick as Russell State Forest before we use 1080.”

“To bring this ngahere back to life and return what was lost will need intergenerational commitment and action. The 20 year hapū-led recovery strategy in development for Russell State Forest is the breakthrough this forest needs.”

Edited clip of footage is available here. Raw footage available on request.

High-res images available here. Please credit Dean Wright.

Timeline:
2010: 50,000 people march down Auckland’s Queen Street against mining proposals in national parks. The next day Gerry Brownlee as Minister for Energy and Resources announces all of Northland (except Waipoua Forest) will be surveyed using aerial geomagnetic imprinting for minerals.

2012: Northland is marketed at international mining fairs as a region ‘open for business’.

2013:  Mineral exploration licence granted to De Grey Mining Ltd over Russell State Forest from just behind Waikare papakāinga in the north, to the back of Puhipuhi in the south.

June 2014: A two page feature on the mining threat, the forest collapse and the Treaty claims over Russell State Forest is printed in the Sunday Star Times.

December 2014: De Grey Mining Ltd quietly hands in their exploration licence close to Christmas.

2015: With consent from kaumātua Uncle Sonny George of Te Kapotai hapū, Forest & Bird films the collapse of Russell State Forest by drone and releases the footage. The first hui at Waikare is held to discuss the issue, with plans to collaborate with the other eight hapū which surround and whakapapa into Russell State Forest.

2016: Many hui begin with the nine hapū and marae around Russell State Forest. Ngā Whenua Rāhui, Northland Regional Council and DOC come on board.

2017: Then Conservation Minister Maggie Barry announces DOC will support a hapū-led 20 year forest recovery strategy to turn around the collapse of the forest and return what has been lost. Hui continue.

2018: Hapū māngai lead the draft of a 20 year forest recovery strategy. Aerial 1080 operation planned across nearly 6,000 hectares (over 7,000 rugby fields) of steep, rugged forest. This is the biggest knock down of introduced animals across this forest since 1995.

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