Genesis Energy’s national Whio Forever recovery programme - conducted in collaboration with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society (Forest & Bird) - has achieved significant progress since its inception.
The number of breeding pairs at protection sites funded by the programme has increased by 117 to 322 since the programme began in 2011.
Such is the success that the programme has been fast-tracked to be achieved three years ahead of schedule. Protection sites expect to have 400 whio pairs under their care by 2016, rather than the original 2019 target date. There will also be an increase of an additional 100 pairs protected at the programme’s recovery sites. This will result in a total number of 600 protected whio pairs.
The whio is a nationally-threatened endemic species, and an important indicator species of river health. Fewer than 3,000 whio remain in the wild as a result of habitat loss due to predators including stoats, cats and dogs.
The Tongariro River and its nearby catchments, where Genesis Energy has a 362 MW hydro scheme, is an important environment for the whio. A programme to mitigate the threat to whio was required when Genesis was granted renewed resource consents for the Tongariro power station in 2004.
But Genesis went above and beyond mitigation and the statutory requirements placed on the company. It took a pro-active step by joining with DOC and Forest & Bird in 2011 to sign the Whio Investment Agreement (WIA) which established a five-year, $2.5 million fund.
A governance committee, including senior and middle management from the three parties, works with a technical sub-committee. Funds are allocated to national and community initiatives with the aim of growing the whio population so that it is no longer classified as under threat and to establish a level of support that will ensure the whio’s recovery becomes self-sustaining.
In the past year, investment in predator control has been a key focus. More than 1,600 traps have been purchased and deployed at 14 whio protection sites in the past year, bringing the total number of traps under the programme to 5,200.
During the same period, a national trial of self–resetting traps was supported with funding from the programme. The work involved field assessment and refinement of a new design for stoat traps at Te Urewera. This resulted in further suggested improvements, which will ultimately reduce the huge workload associated with checking traditional traps.
As an example, predator control, research around trapping methods and population monitoring has seen the number of whio pairs protected at Tongariro Forest increase to 114 from 88 in April 2013.
The programme also funds captive breeding operations run at Palmerston North, Mt Bruce, Peacock Springs and Te Anau under the Whio Operation Nest Egg project – WHIONE. In the past year a record 44 captive birds were released into the wild.
The Whio Recovery Programme provided funding to 11 community groups during the past year to support their efforts in whio conservation. Advocacy and education programmes have also been run to raise New Zealanders’ understanding of the whio’s plight and the value of the species in the country’s river systems.
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