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Pest: Possums like this are on the Southern Lakes Sanctuary consortium's hit list

By GUY WILLIAMS

A consortium of predator control and conservation groups is working on an ambitious project to eradicate and intensively control predators across a massive swathe of country between Queenstown and Hawea.

An independent study it commissioned concludes a ‘Southern Lakes Sanctuary’ could eradicate possums, rats and mustelids like stoats across a 660,000-hectare area.

It’d also provide a haven for at least 20 threatened or at-risk bird and lizard species.

Environmental consultancy Wildlands Consultants says if fully implemented, the landscape-scale project would have “no equal in any other region in New Zealand”.

The consortium, led by the Wakatipu Wildlife Trust, includes the Routeburn Dart Wildlife Trust, Central Otago Lakes Forest and Bird, Wanaka Backyard Trapping and about 45 community trapping groups in the Wakatipu.

Wakatipu Wildlife Trust executive officer Leslie Van Gelder says the group’s now exploring funding options for creating the sanctuary, which would extend from Makarora south to Kingston, and from the Rees-Dart catchment eastwards to Lake Hawea, and encompass Lakes Wakatipu and Wanaka.

Killer: Mustelids like this ferret are also in the firing line for the consortium

The project, instigated about three years ago by former Queenstown Department of Conservation ranger Chris Hankin, will join up professional and volunteer predator control projects throughout the district, including about 50 community trapping projects.

It’ll use natural barriers like lakes, rivers and mountains to create a network of pest eradication and control surrounding buffer areas, and connecting wildlife corridors.

Most projects to have received major funding to date are in “geographically defensible” positions, like peninsulas and islands, which enables predators to be eradicated without fencing, Van Gelder says.

“Our landscape has very few obvious opportunities like that, so we just have to be bigger and bolder.”

A huge advantage is the degree of coordination that already exists between the group’s partners.

“We have a strength in the community that’s bigger than in other parts of the country where there’re lots of disparate groups, but they’re not necessarily joined up the way we are.”

Creation of the sanctuary will also create dozens of “good, enduring jobs” in townships like Glenorchy and Makarora, which are in danger of losing residents with valuable outdoor
skills because of the Covid-19 crisis, she says.

Wildlands’ study, which was completed in February, was funded by DoC, Queenstown’s
council, the Otago Regional Council and a philanthropic family trust.

guy.williams@scene.co.nz