War on pests avoids targetting pets and dinner

6:27 am on 30 July 2016

Opinion - Introduced pests, according to Landcare Research, kill some 25 million native birds every year.

The unholy trinity of pestilence - possums, stoats and rats.

The unholy trinity of pestilence - possums, stoats and rats. Photo: 123RF

Suddenly it becomes clear just why fully half of all our endemic vertebrate species have disappeared forever.

It's good news then, if long overdue, that the government means to set up a $28 million joint venture, Predator Free New Zealand Limited. This is capitalist conservation, a public/private enterprise, in which the government will put up a dollar for every two raised by local government and private sector investors to tackle large-scale pest eradication projects.

It's a declaration of war on the unholy trinity of pestilence - rats, possums and stoats, but it avoids some sensitive semantics.

There's a whole other pillaging cohort out there doing demonstrable damage - cats, hedgehogs, wasps, wallabies, wild pigs, goats, deer, thar, chamois, and while we're committing blasphemy, trout and salmon. There: I said it.

Few others are prepared to, because they know that if they want public buy-in, it's best to leave their beloved pets and dinner of choice out of this.

So while we can do our wildlife a huge favour by getting the big three off their backs, the public deserves to know that it won't solve our biodiversity problems entirely.

Trout will continue to eat our native fish into oblivion (three-quarters of them now face extinction). Deer will continue to change the very face of our forests. Pigs will continue to destroy whole populations of endemic snails and dig seabird chicks out of burrows.

At some point we have to acknowledge these elephants in the room. And that will be a tough conversation, because one person's pest is another's prize: as a stuffed trophy or their next meal.

Kereru

Introduced pests kill some 25 million native birds every year according to Landcare Research. Photo: SUPPLIED / WCC

You might wonder why anyone would oppose the notion of an Aotearoa free of pestilence - of forests ringing once more to the peal of birds. Of firework bursts of rata. Of rich, intact ecosystems.

But oppose this plan they will.

The anti-1080 lobby is already incensed: "If you want to help the environment," implores one activist on Facebook's 1080Eyewitness page, "the best thing you can do is trap rats and possums live and reintroduce them to 1080 dead zones."

Not everybody yearns for a paradise lost. Invoking some bastardised Darwinism, they insist that whatever new world order stochastic extinction has in mind should be freely allowed to assert.

Even an MP, New Zealand First's Richard Prosser, blowing hard into a dog whistle aimed at the hunting lobby, told the New Zealand Herald: "Our birds and lizards have coexisted alongside ferrets and stoats for more than 130 years, cats for 200 years, and rats for more than 800 years, yet we still have birds and lizards," which only tells you that he hasn't ventured into the bush in recent decades.

Mr Prosser is frontman for a hunting faction out to ring-fence what they regard as their resource - introduced game animals - the more paramilitarily-inclined some of whom routinely capture deer and pigs live and liberate them around those parts of the country where they're absent or few. For these individuals, a short drive to a hunt is more important than a clamourous forest.

The first thing we might learn from Predator Free New Zealand is that not everyone wants to live in it.

* Dave Hansford is a freelance science and environment writer and blogger.

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