Transit forum: the pest-free imperative

by Toby Manhire / 08 June, 2012
Sparks fly in debates on the challenges facing New Zealand’s environment.

On Wednesday night, Kim Hill led a lively panel discussion on the topic of “Pest-free New Zealand”.

Many people have talked about trying to rid New Zealand of introduced pests. Early this year Sir Paul Callaghan raised awareness of the idea – and launched a plan for a network of a dozen 100,000 hectare predator-free “mainland islands” – at his Zealandia lecture in Wellington.

I wrote about the lecture in the science pages, there was an editorial about it, and we got loads of letters to the editor – most strongly in support of the idea. On the online poll question “Is the idea of a pest-free New Zealand a goer”, 88% of respondents went with “Yeah, how cool would that be”.

So what did the panellists think? In New Zealand we're privileged enough to have this “amazing blow-your-undies-off wildlife”, said Forest and Bird advocate Nicola Toki.

But at the same time as iconic species like kakapo, kiwi and kea are threatened with extinction, “we're guilty of self-congratulating back-patting about how clean and green we are”.

Everyone agreed that we’re not living up to our much-touted “clean and green” image. As Kim Hill pointed out, we’re the only country in the world that has individual names for a whole species, “which is vaguely embarrassing”.

Panellists were also in agreement about 1080 being a key tool in pest management. “Forget the fenced sanctuaries, use 1080, deal to the forests,” said Gareth Morgan.

Toki, who sees 1080 as something that can work alongside fenced sanctuaries, agreed that people should stop worrying about the environmental effects. “You should be more worried about cow crap than 1080,” she said.

With other panellists, Professor Charles Daugherty from Victoria University, and Rick Boven, director of Stakeholder Strategies Ltd, in agreement that we need to take action, the debate was about where to start. Morgan didn’t favour what he called “grand plans”, and “think big” projects; he said the way forward was by individual action.

“Ideas are cheap,” he said about Sir Paul’s grand plan, “it’s all in the execution”. With grand plans, he said, “you have to have consensus, which in my view is disastrous half the time”.

Without Kim Hill’s wit for speakers to spark off, Thursday’s session on How can we restore and enhance our environment?,which had several of the same speakers, was by contrast a bit tame.

Boven gave what Morgan called a “top-down” view by talking about economic growth. The dominant paradigm, he said, is that economic growth will continue forever, but ecological footprint analysis says that the current level of growth is already more than we can sustain.

Don Huse, a trustee of Zealandia, then provided a “bottom-up” view with a case study of Zealandia, the fenced mainland island – now home to kaka, kiwi, takahe, tuatara, Maud Island frogs and more – in the Wellington suburb of Karori.

Locally based initiatives can make a difference, he said. This community-based, independent, not for profit, charitable trust, is “a microcosm of what we’re trying to achieve here today,” he said.

Nigel French, from Massey University’s Infectious Disease Research Centre, talked about his work at the interface of human, animals and ecosystem health before Nicola Toki wrapped up the session with her message “of hope and national pride, not doom and gloom”.

Echoing Paul Callaghan’s message from earlier this year, she said, “Let’s bite the bullet and make New Zealand predator-free”.

Then from the audience, Ian Taylor asked what we were all thinking by now – “when do we go from hui to do-i?”.

That’s what today’s afternoon session is about – Sir Peter Gluckman will wrap up the forum with a sessions on “Where do we need to go as a country and how can science help?”

Full Listener coverage of the transit of Venus and the Transit of Venus Forum from the east coast is here.

Follow the live webcast of the forum here.
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