Readers will be familiar with the grand mid-year launch of Predator Free NZ by 2050. Our Wairarapa-based ecology expert traces the background on its forerunner: Predator Free New Zealand (pfnz). (To read the first article, scroll down to December 13, for the second: December 18 and the third on December 22.)
Chasing rats up every drainpipe
By Bill Benfield
For pfnz to succeed, every rat in every roof, down every drain, in every house, every garden shed in every town in New Zealand will have to be eradicated.
To achieve that level of intrusion into the lives of every family in the country it is likely to require an almost police state right of entry.
Entry will be needed for trapping and poisoning. There will also be monitoring inspection to determine if eradication has been achieved.
To suggest that the public of New Zealand will be as welcoming as pfnz, for what many will see as an insane programme is naïve, especially as the first consequence of the programme that the public is likely to see as the campaign gets going will be a plague of mice.
Rats and mice compete for the same food sources. Rats also are predators of mice, but mice have a far greater tolerance to most rat poisons and are likely to survive the campaign. Without competition from other species there will be nothing to limit their numbers.
Rats and stoats breed rapidly
If pfnz were to go ahead, it is possible that, with the massive resources deployed, slow breeding possum could be eradicated from New Zealand. Rats and stoats are another matter due to their high natural fertility and ability to increase their breeding rate to compensate for control activities.
To get the last rat or the last stoat may be possible, but it can be quite a challenge as DoC demonstrated when they spent $600,000 to eliminate a single stoat on Kapiti Island. Transfer that to the mainland, and you can get some idea of the magnitude of the task.
Rats are ubiquitous. Wherever humans are, all over the world, there are rats. Even the first Maori settlers brought rats. If we eliminate rats, how do we prevent re-infestation?
Tighter border controls; monitoring every vessel right down to fishing boats that arrive at these shores. This ignores “irregular” arrivals”, say a foreign fishing boat wrecking in a storm and rats getting ashore, if indeed when this happens, the whole $27 billion dollar exercise will be for nought.
Going public with misleading messages
In the later part of 2014 “pfnz” went public with big promotions and opinion pieces in the major dailies, even articles in praise of Callaghan and the Royal Society from Rod Oram, the financial correspondent in the Sunday Star Times of 30/11/14. There was also an extremely lop-sided television presentation that can be seen on http://www.tv3.co.nz/tabid/3692/MCat/3304/Default.aspx featuring a Department of Conservation officer extolling the necessity of aerial 1080 to save endangered birds and wildlife.
Not only has pfnz gone public, but it is now spawning other public/private models, often as funding fronts to capture “significant donors” – corporates or celebratory suckers!
Next Foundation is made up of senior figures from New Zealand education and industry, and includes the almost ubiquitous Rob Fenwick. Among their goals, they claim: “The Next Foundation has been established with a vision “to create a legacy of environmental and educational excellence for the benefit of future generations of New Zealanders”.
The Next Foundation have joined with DoC and father and son businessmen, Gareth and Sam Morgan to form ZIP Ltd whose aim is “zero invasive predators”.
All this is being accompanied by a more intensive publicity campaign, such as a “feature” article in the New Yorker of 22 /12/14 titled “The Big Kill – New Zealand’s Crusade to Rid Itself of Mammals”; it is little more than an infomercial for New Zealand’s conservation industry.
Looking at it, it seems more than just an image polishing exercise; could it also be part of a sales pitch for wider PPP (public private profiteering) eradication programmes elsewhere, such as that already planned for Lord Howe Island where New Zealanders are already involved? Certainly Norfolk Island and some Hawaiian islands could be likely targets.
“pfnz” is now on the road, and its success will not be measured by its ability to save birds, but in the money that can be directed into the science establishments, academic institutions and the whole conservation industry. In fact, as it is so unlikely to succeed, it could continue forever, a cynical enhancement of New Zealand’s existing cost plus conservation industry.
All of this ignores two simple and obvious truths. First, the likelihood of failure is so high, even on small and uninhabited islands. The 2011 “Aguila” expedition to poison three small islands only succeeded with one.
A failure rate of 66%.
For a much larger inhabited nation, success in ridding it of “predators” is just an expensive fantasy.
The other truth is the simple and obvious evidence of Stewart Island and Te Urewera National Park: where there are no aerial poisoning operations, the native bird life is in good health.
The case can certainly be made that it is not “pests” that are driving our native wildlife to extinction, but an unholy alliance of greed and zealotry.
Bill Benfield was Chairman of Action for the Environment in the late 1970s, and in that role assisted with submissions to the McCarthy Commission on Nuclear Energy and the Upper Otaki hydro development proposals. From his family he inherited a lifelong interest in fly fishing and the conservation of nature. He is the author of “The Third Wave – Poisoning the Land” and the more recent “At War with Nature – Corporate Conservation and the Industry of Extinction”. Both published by Tross Publishing of Wellington New Zealand.