… it is really difficult to have a meaningful conversation about conservation in New Zealand. Ecologist Jamie Steer
Need to be fair
By Roger Childs
Dr Jamie Steer supports the concept of accepting the present natives + invasives mix in our environment.
His view, which is shared by many, is that we can’t go back and re-create the ecosystem of pre-settlement days.
Hundreds of species of plants, insects, birds and animals have been introduced since humans arrived, mostly by European settlers. Many of them didn’t survive, but those that did have often thrived in the new environment. Radiata pine trees are a good example.
Jamie is adamant that we have a responsibility to all species that exist in our current biodiversity.
It’s not fair to wipe some of them out after having introduced them and encouraged them!
What are pests?
Pests are not always pests. Some people think that if we leave nature alone all we’ll be left with will be rats, stoats and possums. This is nonsense.
These three have been around in the country for a long time and haven’t wiped out native birds.
Over the centuries environments such as forests and wetlands have changed as a result of species being lost and gained. We can’t go back and make it what it was before.
Many people feel that the losses of native species are unacceptable, but in fact they are inevitable.
“Natives only” is too purist; biodiversity is inclusive. It’s not
- Good guys = natives
- Bad guys = introduced species.
They were brought in against their will and as the Acclimatization Societies records from earlier times show, many didn’t survive.
However, many have done very well especially those that were introduced in huge numbers and encouraged eg possums, mallard ducks and radiate pine. They like it here!
We can’t just walk away because we introduced them.
Biodiversity doesn’t distinguish between species that originated here and the immigrants. In New Zealand the preoccupation with natives v introduced has gone too far.
Warriors for the environment?
Jamie is very critical of the emotive, militarist language used by the eco-purists.
- Battle for the Birds
- War on Weeds
The desire to kill things we don’t like is abhorrent and has aroused criticism around the world. There is a serious ethical question here: are we against life?
The implications of the warlike approach on living things are terrible. In many ways it glamorizes getting rid of so-called pests and it is often a case of the needs justifying the ends.
The reality of the natural world is that all introduced series challenge the natives and that has always been the case. Things change in the ecosystem whether we like or not.
We lack scientific studies on a lot of species. Invertebrates and bugs are not glamorous and there are few in-depth research studies about them.
The glamorous birds
Our bird life is put on a pedestal – the flying things are fluffy and popular.
Birds are vital for our tourist trade and are very useful in selling the country to overseas visitors. The names of birds (and trees) are also popular as
~ street names
~ house names in schools
~ names for retirement village areas.
Not only are there advocates for wiping out introduced species, some people are obsessed even about growing natives in areas where they are not endemic.
Last year a group was intent on seeing pohutukawa trees removed from the Wellington-Kapiti area.
Local people will recall that a few years ago council officers pulled out some Waikanae River plantings because the species were not endemic to the area!
Such an approach is deeply hypocritical and there is a clear need for moderation.
Our biodiversity is what we’ve got – natives, introduced, birds, bugs, possums, rats, gorse, stoats, sheep, pigs, cattle, blackberry …
We need to look after them all.