Predator Free New Zealand an 'ambitious' and achievable challenge - minister

South Island robins being released into Kaipupu Point Wildlife Sanctuary in Picton harbour in the area's first ...

South Island robins being released into Kaipupu Point Wildlife Sanctuary in Picton harbour in the area's first successful translocation.

The time is ripe for the Government's ambitious predator-control plan, argues MAGGIE BARRY.

For millions of years New Zealand was a land without teeth. The introduction of mammals and other exotic species overturned a natural ecosystem and pushed our native flora and fauna to the brink of extinction – over the brink in some cases.

Isolated islands like ours naturally produce an extraordinary variety of unique life, but isolation also makes us incredibly vulnerable. We are not alone in facing these challenges – the same pattern is being repeated in Hawaii, Mauritius and the Galapagos Islands, among others.

Minister of Conservation Maggie Barry holds on to 15-month-old male takahe Punchbowl as he and nine others are released ...

Minister of Conservation Maggie Barry holds on to 15-month-old male takahe Punchbowl as he and nine others are released at Plateau Creek in Fiordland's Murchison Mountains in December last year.

Landcare Research has estimated pests kill 25 million native birds every year, eating eggs, killing chicks and even fully-grown adults of some species.

These predators that don't belong here also drain our economy of as much as $3.3 billion a year, according to an estimate by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Since the 1960s we've eradicated predators from more than 100 islands. By refining our pest-control techniques and with more knowledge and growing confidence, the size of the islands the Department of Conservation (DOC) has been able to rid of pests has increased by a factor of 10 every decade.

Predator Free New Zealand is designed to supercharge large-scale predator control on the mainland, such as Project Taranaki Mounga in Egmont National Park or Project Janzsoon in Abel Tasman.

DOC's threatened species ambassador, Nicola Toki, is developing a starter toolkit with advice and traps as well as a special fund to help people that want to join forces with us and help make New Zealand predator-free by beginning in their own back yards, schools and communities.

By working with philanthropic partners like the NEXT Foundation, businesses and local government, we can pool our resources to achieve things no one group could do alone.

The second part of our initial $28 million investment in the Predator Free vision will fund research into new methods of predator control and eradication which can be rolled out across the country in the next few decades.

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Through the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge we will back New Zealand scientists to find new solutions to our predator problem.

I recently opened a new facility in Christchurch run by ZIP – the Zero Invasive Predators initiative, in conjunction with Landcare Research and Lincoln University.

They're researching new and more efficient ways to both exclude and kill predators, ranging from working out the most effective lures through to the behaviour-changing effect that artificial light and noise can have on stoat, possum and rat control.

Innovative New Zealanders have also developed self-resetting traps which reset themselves 24 times, which enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of trap networks.

However, at this point in our conservation history, in the hard to reach rugged landscapes and where the predators are at unmanageably high levels, we have to face the fact that aerial drops of 1080 are the only way to save our native species.

What 1080 opponents do not want to accept is that the real reason forests are silent is not because of 1080, but because the increasing numbers of predators are killing our songbirds. Look at the evidence from the outcome of the 2014 Battle for our Birds. We know that where there are drops, native bird breeding success increases significantly.

South Island robins raised seven times the number of chicks after 1080 application than in areas where predators have not been controlled.

Yellowhead (mohua) in the Dart and Routeburn valleys raised on average double the number of chicks after 1080 treatment than without it.

Use of 1080 has been thoroughly examined twice – by ERMA (the Environmental Risk Management Authority) and the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright. She concluded, after extensive research, that it was the safest and most effective way to control predators. Her only question was why we did not use more of it.

1080 is a naturally occurring plant-based toxin which breaks down quickly in the environment and dissolves in water. The rigorous science behind its use has been proven many times. If we had not used 1080 during the past 40 years, it is likely native species such as the yellowhead and whio would be extinct by now.

Opponents of the use of 1080 should realise if we achieve the goals we've set there will be no need to use it in future – Predator Free New Zealand spells the end of 1080 as well as rats, stoats and possums.

Ridding this country of predators by 2050 is an ambitious goal and not without its challenges. But the time is right to set the target and the course to eradication and I back us to succeed.

Even five years ago this seemed an impossible dream that the late Sir Paul Callaghan called our "Apollo Moonshot".

This is a great goal for conservation and an exciting time for anyone who values our natural heritage and wants to be part of protecting it for future generations to enjoy.

Maggie Barry is the Minister of Conservation.

 - Stuff


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