James Russell: Giant leap to pest-free NZ is attainable

Concerted effort will repair past damage and leave a country which is source of pride for future generations.
James Russell says the 2050 target will require a huge cultural shift. Photo / Supplied
James Russell says the 2050 target will require a huge cultural shift. Photo / Supplied

Dr James Russell is in the school of biological sciences and the department of statistics at the University of Auckland.

New Zealand is the world leader in killing invasive predators. We're so good at it, other countries around the world seek our help and advice for their own eradication projects. But our focus, replicated by many other countries, is generally on offshore islands such as Tiritiri Matangi where mammalian predators would otherwise have eaten island-dwelling native species to extinction.

We have eradicated predators and herbivores from more than 100 offshore islands but in 50 years our pest-free island area has only increased from 0.5 per cent to 10 per cent. While offshore and back-country conservation makes a lot of sense when money and resources are limited, do we really want our precious taonga native species tucked away in remote places where most New Zealanders rarely get to see them?

The Government has said no, but by any standard scaling up our efforts by the order of magnitude required to achieve a pest-free New Zealand by 2050 is a giant leap from where we are now.

Can we do it? I believe we can and I think we must. The Government's decision to commit a further $28 million to the 2050 goal on top of the $60m to $80m already spent on pest control every year is a significant step forward and, perhaps more important, demonstrates the leadership required. It sets up a multi-year programme which successive governments must all support - our precious biodiversity, unique in the world, must be seen as more than a political football.

We have around 4000 volunteer groups already working hard to protect species in their own backyards and adding countless volunteer hours to the existing funding for pest control.

While tourists flock to our off-shore island sanctuaries, the majority of visitors are New Zealanders, as are the majority of the 80,000 people who visit the Zealandia predator-proof ecosanctuary in Wellington each year.

Invasive species threaten to undermine agriculture, horticulture and forestry.

To achieve the goal of a mammalian predator-free country by 2050 we will need new knowledge, including better science and technology. We will also need better economic appraisal - something we often don't consider when we think about the cost of controlling invasive pests is the cost of not controlling them.

Invasive species threaten to undermine agriculture, horticulture and forestry. Rodents chomp their way through fruit and vegetables while possums eat an estimated 7.67 million tons of vegetation annually and spread bovine TB among cattle.

More importantly, the 2050 target will require a huge cultural shift. Cultural changes do not happen overnight, but do happen.

New Zealand is a small country with unique biota that has existed on these islands for millennia. Since humans arrived around 700 years ago, nearly half of our native birds have gone extinct. Currently, about 25 million native birds are killed each year by predators and we know that is not sustainable.

We owe it to coming generations to do as much as we can to repair the damage of the past and to re-create a New Zealand that is not only a source of enormous national pride but that serves as a beacon of hope for all endangered species around the world.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 27 Oct 2016 02:26:09 Processing Time: 567ms