Predator Control to protect native New Zealand wildlife

Cam Rathe is the Predator Control Team Lead for The Forest Bridge Trust. Having worked for the Trust for the past five years, Cam plays a pivotal role in coordinating The Predator Control Team that covers 54000 hectares of the central bridge.

Cam can you explain what you do for The Forest Bridge Trust?

My main role is to oversee our predator control team and work out where everyone needs to be each week and what we need to cover. I’m responsible for implementing our trapping plan. As much as I enjoy getting out on the land trapping with the team, a lot of my time is spent in the office organising predator control.

The Forest Bridge Trust works with over 1800 landowners in the North Rodney (Auckland) area, how do you get the residents to engage with predator control?

We tend to work on a case-by-case basis, approaching individual landowners. We always have an idea of what needs to be done, but we must be mindful that we are on someone else property, so first, we have to listen and ask the owners what it is that they want. Many of the landowners we work with are motivated and keen to learn. They want to keep the rat and mustelid populations on their properties under control. Not everyone has heard of The Forest Bridge Trust, so we also rely on our Community Liaison team to approach landowners and explain more about the importance of what we are doing.

Can you give us an example of a success story?

Logues Bush has been a great success. It is a small DOC reserve in Tomarata. With the help of local trappers and volunteers, we have created a large buffer around the reserve and taken out over 700 pests in the last year. We are lucky to have a great volunteer coordinator here, someone with a good community network who does a lot to keep local trappers enthusiastic and engaged. The Predator Control team is always there to offer support when needed, but by and large, this group look after and manages itself.

The ultimate goal is to establish communities of trappers who are happy to maintain and sustain regular predator control in their area.

What wildlife are you working to protect?

With Little Barrier / Hauturu-o-Toi and Tāwharanui so close and reaching capacity, we have a lot of spillover from established predator-controlled sanctuaries. Here in the central bridge we see bellbirds, pāteke, kaka, kākāriki, hochstetter frogs and kiwi. The predator control team work hard to protect native wildlife in The Forest Bridge zone.

How much of a problem are Ferrets?

Initially, we didn’t think that we had a ferret problem. We work closely with the Tamahunga Trappers and they reported catching only one ferret per year over the past 12 years. Then conservationist John Bissel suggested that we take a closer look. We put out cameras on Mt Tamahunga and started seeing ferrets. Luckily only four this year. It’s possible that these ferrets originated from a fitch farm but more likely that they are just transient. They are still in low numbers, and we are quick to respond to any sightings. We have cage traps set up and we are expanding our network with DOC 250 Traps. The goal is to learn as much as we can about ferret behaviour. We’ve made good progress and we are doing all that we can to protect Mt Tamahunga, especially with the kiwi release planned for next year.

What are the challenges faced by the Predator Control Team?

Working with smaller properties can be time-consuming. You might end up only getting a few hectares under predator control, but you have to look at the bigger picture, all the smaller properties we work on add up. In many cases the owners of smaller properties become enthusiastic about the work that the Forest Bridge Trust is doing, and they offer to help by volunteering to maintain trap lines on a neighbouring property. They tell others about what the Predator Control Team does, and this helps to spread the word.

No person/property is too small for our reach as we want to get everyone involved and trapping, everyone can help, and everyone can contribute.

Motivation is another big challenge for the Predator Control Team. Often landowners start with a hiss and a roar and lots of excitement, but there are quiet periods with trapping, so maintaining the initial enthusiasm can be challenging. Communication is key. We audit traps and provide feedback to landowners; we keep them in the loop with what is going on with their traps. We revisit properties to maintain contact, check traps and answer questions.

We put on yearly BBQs so that communities can come together to discuss local trapping. You are often out there alone checking traps so it’s great to bring trappers together when we can.

A lot of what we achieve is done by maintaining open communication with the local community.

What needs to happen for the Forest Bridge Trust to reach its goal of 54000 hectares under Mustelid control by 2025?

Good continuous communication with local landowners is crucial and that is why our Community Liaison Team is so important. We have to continue to build good relationships with landowners and the local community to help build awareness and engagement.

Having a steady supply of traps is important, so we can act quickly and roll new projects out without delays.

Having a skilled team of trappers who know what they are doing means that we can work efficiently, but it’s also important that we have the right training tools in place, so that we can teach landowners and volunteers how to trap to a high standard.

Volunteers are also so important; we always need more people to get involved and help us to achieve our goals and help us to protect native wildlife.

What drives you?

I’m a conservationist at heart. I worked for DOC for 11 years before joining The Forest Bridge Trust. I love being in these wild places, looking at a new country, and accessing beautiful private bush blocks that not everyone else gets to see. I’m a keen hunter and I get a great sense of satisfaction in catching a predator that I’ve been tracking. I guess at the end of the day I have a soft spot for our threatened species, leaving them to be snaffled by a ferret, stoat or weasel just isn’t an option for me.

Cam Rathe The Forest Bridge Trust Predator Control Team Leader
Interview by Erin Reilly Save the Kiwi
Transcript – Nikki Morgan