A Programme To Poison A Nation 1

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).

Killing off native wildlife

By our Environment Columnist, Bill Benfield

1080-flagSince the mid 1950’s, when New Zealand started aerial poisoning to rid the land of invasive mammals, there has been a steady decline in its native wildlife which the poisoning was supposed to advantage.

In the past 20 years, the decline has become dramatic to the point that people who visit the forests note and comment on it.

As it is the nation’s conservation agencies, who do the poisoning supposedly to protect the forests and birds, they must blame the decline on something other than their own activities – i.e. “pest” and “predators”.

Predator Free New Zealand (pfnz)?

pdnz It is against the backdrop of an escalating decline despite poisoning, that increasing shrill claims are made against non-natives as the cause. “pfnz” as it is titled is the product of this misdirected exotiphobia.

It was in odd circumstances that we became aware of the existence of “pfnz” when in late November 2012, a friend received by Email an unusual and out-of-the-blue sales pitch, “a short history of pfnz” and a covering note.

It was the blueprint for an extraordinary programme to poison a whole nation and “eliminate” all pests (including cats) based on a new conservation model of a public / private partnership.

Its originators wrote that they had been deliberately flying below the radar for around five years. Looking back, there had been signs, but we had never recognised them.

Fewer birds sparks the campaign

Its originators were Les Kelly, a New Zealander who had been working for around 25 years in the Australian mining industry, and Paul Jansen, a former DoC manager who had been involved with kakapo recovery programmes.

bird-and-orchardThe two had gone tramping through the New Zealand bush for several months, and Kelly was shocked to find that what he had seen twenty-five years ago as the world’s greatest aviary was now almost silent.

In a newspaper interview, Kelly did say that he thought it could have been 1080, but subsequently adopted the official view that the cause was predation of birds by rats and stoats as well as by vegetarian possum.

Over the five years of discreet activity they had gathered together some “friends” which included the then deputy Prime Minister, Bill English, who, it seems, facilitated an invitation to address the National Party’s (conservative) “blue green” forum at Taupo.

There followed further meetings with the then Minister for the Environment, Nick Smith (now Minister for Conservation), and other MP’s.

Kelly seems to have been thoroughly involved in pursuing his mission, recruiting and networking to build up a support base from the movers and shakers in the corporate conservation sector.

Wealthy and influential pfnz supporters

Kelly in his Email describes pfnz supporters as “gold standard”. They include a considerable group from the business world such as Don Huse, a professional company director and trustee of the fenced “sanctuary” Zealandia, philanthropist businessman Gareth Morgan, William Rolleston of Federated Farmers and Rick Boven of Stakeholder Strategies Ltd.

Helping to promote pfnz
Helping to promote pfnz

Their biggest coup was enlisting physicist Professor Sir Paul Callaghan, a trustee of the Zealandia sanctuary who was at the time a very sick man close to death. Callaghan seems to have embraced the concept and added the authority of his position to the programme.

It was also Callaghan who probably made the most accurate partial assessment of pfnz when he called it “this crazy idea of getting rid of these animals for good from the (New Zealand) mainland was worth a go as it just might work”.

To which we could add that on the basis of high failure rate for the smaller island eradications, it is more likely it just might not!

With the push of Callaghan’s involvement the whole thing seemed to gather pace. In Feburary 2012, Forest & Bird organised and sponsored a meeting at Ruapehu of scientists who, smelling enhanced career opportunities, concurred with Callaghan’s conclusions.

Gathering momentum

Initially on the target list
Initially on the target list

A further meeting was held in Gisborne, chaired by Gareth Morgan and reported in the Gisborne Herald on 11/6/12. There has also been a scoping document prepared by Landcare Research and DoC in May, 2012. This was called “pest free new zealand” and added as predators vegetarian deer chamois and tahr; in effect all non-native wildlife not behind wire for the purposes of farming are “pests” or predators to be eradicated.

A conservation management model like New Zealand’s, which is in denial of the origins and evolution of its environment, needs a lot of money. After all, it is fighting nature, and nature will keep trying to come back.

For this reason, embracing corporate funding is almost necessary to maintain an unworkable programme and, in this context, pfnz would seem like a manna from heaven concept to the nation’s conservation managers.

The DoC and Landcare Research scoping paper by Andrea Byrom and Susan Timmins estimates the costs for the whole project to be around $27 billion spread over 40 to 50 years. If they can find that much money, it will be a very considerable cash injection into a science and poisons industry gravy train!

To be continued.

(This article was originally published in the Tasmamian Times.)